Where traditionally marketers have used incentives to get people to make purchases, they are now applying similar tactics to motivate people to spread the word about their brand online. In some cases, influential people are being given incentives to help drive business growth.
Music streaming site Deezer, for example, sees personal recommendations as fuel for its growth. Having launched in the UK last September, it is still building its profile. Creating a buzz that emanates from existing users is, therefore, a priority in its marketing strategy.
Like its competitor Spotify, Deezer has integrated its service into Facebook, so that customers sign in using their profile on the social network and can share what they listen to if they choose. With its expansion powered by sharing on Facebook, Deezer seeks to inject extra impetus by giving incentives to influential people in the hope they talk about the service.
Deezer recently offered a three-month free subscription to social media users considered authoritative on the subject of music, as determined by social media measurement site PeerIndex. Through its PeerPerks service, consumers can find out whether their history of followers, friends, tweets and ‘likes’ on sites like Facebook and Twitter make them eligible for these kind of rewards from brands.
Those who receive the perks are not required to do anything, but Deezer UK managing director Mark Foster believes that simply giving influential users experience of the brand will prompt greater awareness (see Viewpoint, below). “There is an enormous number of brands that are using Facebook now as a social media marketing tool. It is a very effective means of getting to scale very quickly or reaching a large volume of people very quickly,” he says.
Consumers who sign up to measure their influence on PeerIndex are rewarded with PeerPerks not for the act of recommending a brand, but simply for their influence score. According to PeerIndex chief executive Azeem Azhar, this is better than giving a reward for sharing something, because consumers naturally recommend products they like anyway (see Q&A, below).
It also makes any eventual recommendation more genuine. Media sharing website Via.me ran an offer through PeerPerks that gave eligible users free access to its Pro service, enabling sharing of larger media files without restrictions on the internet bandwidth they used. Rupert Staines, European managing director of Via.me’s owner RadiumOne, says that any response from an informed and engaged user is beneficial.
“A relatively small number of people like to see themselves as influencers or have a passionate interest in a product or service. It is only fair to let them trial it. If they can be positive or even negative in their assessment, that is obviously of value to us,” says Staines.
This model is essentially the same as providing a free trial or sample, having faith that the recipient will be impressed enough to pass the experience on to others. The GetJam mobile app takes a similar approach with branded content, offering iTunes vouchers as an inducement for watching videos (see Top Trends, below). Both GetJam and PeerPerks now face the challenge of pulling users to their own sites and apps to find the content they host.
Restaurant booking website Toptable has succeeded in this goal of becoming a destination site. But unlike PeerPerks and GetJam, its attraction comes in the form of direct rewards for the act of contributing reviews. This has become crucial to building a critical mass of restaurant ratings, so that people considering where to book have a wealth of informed opinions to help them decide.
After making a booking and having a meal at a restaurant, members of the site receive 200 points for reviewing the experience. These points can then be redeemed for a free meal. The range of restaurants where a customer can use the points depends on the number amassed. The lowest level requires 1,400 points, while for 40,000 a customer can earn the opportunity to attend a one-day cookery course at the Novelli Academy in Hertfordshire.
According to Toptable marketing director Carl Mesner Lyons: “People trust reviews on Toptable because they’re written by people who have actually dined at that restaurant. We incentivise people to leave reviews as we know that peer rating is an important factor in deciding where to dine, and thus is a crucial service we provide for free.”
Customers have the freedom to write a full review or just leave marks out of 10, and they can be as scathing or as praising as they wish. Ratings can also be given anonymously or under any name customers choose. Offering an incentive to leave a review doesn’t make a fulsome recommendation any less genuine, as they get the same reward for leaving a bad one.
“People simply prefer to read authentic opinions from fellow diners,” says Lyons. “Having a steady stream of fresh reviews ensures the site is providing up-to-date, useful content to help people choose where to eat out.”
Social network Yourvine, currently only available by invitation, takes an even more involved approach to incentivisation. Its members are given challenges by brands, presented in increasing levels of difficulty, with greater rewards for completing them. YourVine chief executive Callum Negus Fancey says the challenges are designed to reflect the nature of the brands themselves, but they also create a resource of user-generated content.
“The lower levels of activity are things you can do online, like mini digital campaigns for sharing content. Then they progress into activities with video, social media tagging or location-based gaming, to be carried out in the real world. It could be anything, like doing a treasure hunt for a pair of event tickets or having a bath in chocolate for a year’s supply of chocolate bars.”
As the challenges get tougher, only enthusiastic brand advocates are likely to complete them. And indeed, with all the possible approaches to encouraging consumer engagement, one common thread is clear. Genuine recommendations only result from genuine experiences. So the first requirement for marketers before setting out to create word-of-mouth influence is to be sure they believe in the product themselves.
Azeem Azhar, chief executive, PeerIndex
Marketing Week (MW): What is the value of giving incentives for someone to become a brand advocate?
Azeem Azhar (AA): I do not think it is about incentivising people to do something. Instead, it’s about creating the conditions that allow people to be authentic. Everybody is a brand advocate. I can’t think of a single person who has never said they love a TV programme, a pair of jeans or a holiday.
Every person is a brand advocate because brands, experiences and products are a part of our lives.
MW: Your PeerPerks site rewards social media users with product trials when they are considered influential on a relevant topic. Are their recommendations more credible than other people’s?
AA: Recommendations are good when they are from somebody you trust about a particular subject, when they have experience of the product and when they are the kind of person who would make a recommendation. If my mum, who is 70, recommended a drum and bass night, it would feel very odd, and it would not have that authenticity. Likewise, if a 17-year-old kid recommended a stakeholder pension to me, I would feel there was something weird going on there.
MW: Is this way of encouraging brand advocacy suitable for all brands and product types?
AA: My view is that recommendation is so natural that it can apply to nearly every category. But it will apply more to some categories, and sooner, than to others.
MW: Why does PeerPerks reward consumers for their influence, rather than for making an actual recommendation?
AA: You have to get around a logical fallacy, which is if you haven’t directly experienced the product, how on earth can you recommend it to anyone?
The goal is not to get people to make recommendations. The goal is to make sure that they have direct experience of a product, so they are in a position to tell their friends whether it is good or bad.
We are not going to create brand advocates by giving them products. They are already potential brand advocates. What you are doing is giving them the information they need to make a choice about whether to advocate something further.
MW: Wouldn’t it provide more measurable results if you rewarded the consumer only when they recommend the brand?
AA: We don’t think that will work. It’s very short-term and it doesn’t build relationship or trust capital for the brand. It builds a buzz that is immediately measurable by tracking systems, which might excite brands, but it is not going to build long-term value. The moment you try to make it a ‘payola’ exchange, your authenticity diminishes and the impact you get diminishes.
Top trends 2012 predictions
Callum Negus Fancey, chief executive, Yourvine
I think advocacy will become more and more important and will shape the future of marketing. I am not only talking about using people as brand ambassadors. I am talking about personal recommendation being the most important thing for a brand. What advocacy is about is brands doing rather than saying – so rather than talking about what they are doing, actually being authentic.
The web has opened up the need for a lot of things. One is authenticity, another is transparency. Third, and most importantly, is connectivity. Really what we want is for brands to help us connect with our friends more effectively.
Oliver Felstead, director of sales and marketing, beforeIshop (coupons, vouchers and discount website)
Procter & Gamble is doing interesting things. [The business is] rewarding engagement and user-generated content. It might not be so overtly obvious to consumers that they are getting a coupon for commenting online, but P&G has a lot going on in the background that looks at how people have posted and will connect their comments up with a relevant coupon. The back-end systems are getting quite sophisticated and that is only going to increase.
Rob Povey, founding director, GetJam
You need to have a place where people come to have fun and get content and rewards. That, we find, delivers good results. What we reward is the engagement rather than the action. Whether they share or take up the offer should be up to the consumer. What works is word of mouth and inherent respect for the product.
People watch and engage more deeply with content that is inherently engaging – it makes you smile or gives you a bit of insight into something you didn’t know before. That is what we see more of from brands.
Rupert Staines, European managing director, RadiumOne (owner of Via.me)
Word of mouth is the nirvana of what marketers would like to get to. There is going to be increased investment in that type of activity as technology becomes smarter, and social data becomes the most important signal for marketers to understand where influence and opinion can be garnered.
Incentivisation as a whole is a very interesting area of business, let alone marketing. In my opinion it is going to become more important to marketers as consumers become more comfortable with having digital content as a form of currency.
Mark Foster, managing director UK and Ireland, Deezer (music streaming site)
Social media as a viral marketing tool is hugely important to us, particularly at this stage in our development. Word of mouth is obviously very reassuring and convincing for people. We have Facebook integration, so if we were Facebook friends and I allowed it, you would be able to see what I was listening to.
If you want to listen to the track, you can click on it. If you have Deezer open it will take you straight to the track, if you haven’t it will offer to open Deezer for you, and if you don’t have a Deezer account it will offer you a 15-day free trial. That seamless integration is very important.
If you look at market stats among the 16 to 24 age group, a third of what they talk about is music. One plank of our strategy in the UK is to reach out to early adopters and people with influence – people who by definition have large networks of friends and who have an authoritative view on what social media is, and on products and services. In order to qualify for a three-month free Deezer subscription you have to have a certain score on PeerIndex, which means you do a lot of tweeting and Facebook sharing.
Digital music as a whole, and certainly subscription streaming services in particular, are not very well understood yet. Penetration into the mass market is still reasonably small, so word of mouth is very important.
Artists posting messages on Facebook are reaching a huge audience. The promotional advantage for artists is that they can post tracks from Deezer to their fanbase, and engage on a deeper level than just ticking the ‘like’ box. With our Facebook integration, if a fan clicks on a track that takes them to Deezer, that converts into paid-for streams for the artist. Deezer is a hybrid between a promotional platform and a retailer.