Click Here Or Else: The Evolution of Chain Emails
The notion of "share or else" is still alive and well. Columnist Jason Warnock explains how marketers can leverage it to identify brand influencers.
Do you remember those awful chain emails from the late ’90s and early 2000s? They came in three varieties: a personal survey, an email you sent to your crush or a depressing, moralistic story. You know the ones. And, regardless of their content, the end message was always the same: Share with friends … or else.
Luckily, we’ve left those emails in the past where they belong. What happened to the concept of “share with your friends” is another story entirely.
What Does This Concept Look Like Today?
Today’s message of “share or else” is far less ominous, but still highly present in the form of social media. Our newsfeeds are filled with our friends’ most delicious meals, artistic beverages, luxurious vacations and newest purchases. These messages make social media users envious enough to change their purchase behavior.
In fact, a Canadian study of Millennials’ spending habits found that FOMO (fear of missing out) from social media drives Millennial spending. That’s right. Over half of Millennials decide what to buy because they fear missing out on something if they don’t make those purchases. And they develop this fear from their friends’ social media posts.
That’s a powerful message for marketers: The largest consumer population is driven by what their friends share on social media.
Why then, are brands not prioritizing social media influencers? These are the people who share pictures of their new car on Facebook or check in every day on Foursquare. They’re also the ones who friends turn to for recommendations on books, music, movies and places to buy clothes for work.
These consumers are not necessarily who will purchase from brands every time, but they have a unique influence over others’ purchasing decisions. This group should be marketers’ real target audience.
A great way for brands to leverage these influencers and appeal to millennial FOMO would be to send them exclusive email offers, encouraging them to share on social media channels in exchange for a deal.
For example, Banana Republic might send an offer promoting “50% Off All Merchandise This Week If Your Share with Five Friends.” This would use three campaign strategies that spark FOMO: time sensitivity, incentive, and attribution measurement.
• Time Sensitivity – One thing ’90s chain emails had going for them was a sense of urgency. They always claimed that you had to forward to a certain number of friends by midnight or else you’d be cursed.
Today’s marketers should take a cue from those chains by making these offers time-sensitive. The Banana Republic example above achieves this because the offer is only valid “this week.”
• Incentives – The Banana Republic example is not only valid for a short period of time, but it also works only for those who share the coupon with five friends. This incentivizes recipients to share the deal, which increases brand awareness and potentially brand sales as well.
If one person shares the coupon with five friends, and those five friends share with five more friends, that’s now 25 people talking about Banana Republic and thinking about shopping there. The benefits go on, and with minimal effort on the part of the brand.
• Attribution Measurement – The final component of this modern chain email is attributing influencers. In order to send future personalized offers to select individuals, marketers will want to identify the people who bring them the most brand awareness and sales.
Personal offers feel exclusive, a quality that many influencers greatly value.
Just as CDs, mail and cell phones have evolved over the last 20 years, it’s time for chain emails to do the same. Brands should take steps to resurrect the chain email moral of “share or else” — the first of which is to identify their best social media influencers.
How Do You Identify Brand Influencers?
Here are some of the characteristics to look for in a prospective brand influencer:
• First and foremost, a brand influencer should be popular. People with hundreds of Facebook friends and email contacts are obviously influential to more people than those with 20 followers. But, popularity goes beyond the number of followers someone has.
Good brand influencers have strong enough relationships with a large amount of their friends and followers to be able to encourage them to make a purchase and impact a brand’s sales.
• A brand influencer is a good listener. Brands can count on their influencers to follow a call-to-action (CTA), whether the CTA is to invite friends to like a Facebook page or share a coupon with a friend. Influencers can only be influential if they’re following through on the CTA.
Take note that influencers are not necessarily a brand’s best customer. They may not always buy, but they always encourage their friends to buy. Both influencers and customers are important to brands, but it’s important to remember the distinction.
• Brand influencers possess strong leadership skills. In other words, influencers need to be able to influence their friends and followers. They can lead customers to the brand, instead of the other way around.
Too often, marketers talk about the importance of customer-relationship management. But in reality, marketers should practice customer-managed relationships. Brands should let their customers and influencers manage the brand relationship and spend more time marketing to its established influencers than seeking new customers.
• The best brand influencer is an overachiever. These are the people who go above and beyond the call-to-action. Perhaps they share an email offer with eight people instead of the five requested in the Banana Republic example above.
Brands can encourage overachievers by recognizing what kinds of offers people prefer to share. Most people prefer to share restaurant and entertainment offers. Understanding what makes influencers tick will help marketers bring out those overachiever traits in its influencers.
The chain emails of the early 2000s may have only taught us to share online information with our friends, but it’s a concept that has stood the test of time. While we have moved from sharing on email exclusively to sharing primarily on social media, consumers continue to share.
Marketers can leverage this long-term notion by identifying influencers, creating compelling content for those influencers and encouraging those influencers to share … or else.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.