January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

For consumer response, Sephora finds viral networking better than banner ads

When beauty products retailer Sephora wanted to create buzz among consumers loyal to its brand to build a broader network of engaged shoppers, it turned to a viral marketing campaign that produced a response rate three times higher than attempts made through banner ads and e-mail marketing.

When beauty products retailer Sephora.com wanted to create buzz among consumers loyal to its brand to build a broader network of engaged shoppers, it turned to a viral marketing campaign through its In Girl consumer panel that produced a response rate three times higher than attempts made through banner ads or click-through e-mail campaigns.

“The program provided key insights into the viral potential of our consumer base,” marketing director Tiffany Lei says. “In addition to generating valuable new leads, our In Girl program provided concrete word-of-mouth metrics that will help our current and future marketing strategies.”

Sephora, in a viral marketing program designed and managed by Popular Media Inc. on Pop Commerce technology, e-mailed existing customers an offer to join its In Girl consumer panel, which provides participants with Sephora products to review. Customers could win a spot on the panel, they were informed, by getting the most nominations from friends.

The idea was to get participants interested in winning a place on the panel by leveraging their online social networks for the nominations. Customers, for example, could quickly and easily spread the word about the panel via all their friends in their MySpace or Facebook accounts.

The nominations guided nominators back to shop on Sephora.com and in the process gathered information on both the nominator and the nominee, such as the size of their social networks and the number of contacts invited into the program.

The average program participant generated 2.5 brand impressions online, Sephora says. The most influential In Girl candidates each recruited more than 100 new brand enthusiasts and promoted the program on their own blogs, in MySpace pages and other social networking sites.

Successful participants were able to leverage social networks and motivate a large number of people to engage with the Sephora brand, according to Popular Media, a vendor of web analytics-based viral marketing technology.

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