March 5, 2013, 8:41 AM

Encouraging influential shoppers to share sparks sales for Tesco

The U.K. retailer works with word-of-mouth marketing firm BzzAgent.

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When Tesco Plc last year launched its “Easy Home Bake” line of ready-to-bake cookies and cakes, the U.K.-based retailer wasn’t sure its customers would understand the concept of buying a pack of refrigerated dough that the consumer just has to cut and bake. “While it’s a familiar concept in the United States, there wasn’t anything else like it in the U.K.,” says Paul Duszynski, the retailer’s dairy customer manager.

That’s where the awareness component of the product launch fits in. To help spread word of the new product range, as well as to help increase consumers’ understanding of what the products are, the retailer turned to BzzAgent Inc., the social marketing arm of marketing firm Dunnhumby Ltd. BzzAgent helps companies drive word-of-mouth buzz via its pool of BzzAgents—consumers who sign up to try new products, often for free in exchange for talking about those products with their social connections in-person and via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

When a consumer signs up to be a BzzAgent, she fills out a questionnaire that gathers information such as her age, household income, the types of products she typically buys, activities she enjoys and who does the shopping in her household. BzzAgent then uses that information to help marketers find BzzAgents who fit their specific criteria. For instance, Tesco focused its Easy Home Bake line campaign on Tesco shoppers who enjoy baking, but who also often purchase convenience items. It then sent the roughly 3,000 BzzAgents who fit those criteria coupons for free items from the line.

BzzAgent gives the shoppers it selects for each program talking points about the product and asks them to spread the word about the product. In the Tesco campaign, BzzAgents were given recipes that consumers could use to adapt the products—for instance, how to use the Easy Home Bake pizza dough to make a calzone. BzzAgents are asked to enter relevant details about face-to-face conversations on a campaign web site operated by BzzAgent. That site also serves as a portal where agents can post to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, along with blogs. BzzAgent then tracks those BzzAgents’ actions so that it can give Tesco regularly updated metrics on what consumers are saying across the web, as well as how many consumers see its agents’ posts.

For instance, more than 399,000 consumers saw at least one BzzAgent message on a social network or blog—or talked with a BzzAgent about the products—during Tesco’s campaign, which ran from last April to June. During the campaign the retailer’s sales for the line rose 7%.

Both BzzAgent and Tesco declined to disclose the cost of the campaign.

Tesco is No. 3 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Europe.

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