Did you “Elf Yourself” last holiday season? OfficeMax’s seasonal marketing campaign featured a viral Web component which allowed customers to superimpose an image of their own face on an animated dancing elf. According to Internet tracking service comScore, more than 17 million people visited the Elf Yourself Web site during the 2007 holiday season. But did all of those unique visitors translate into increased sales? The answer is not really: the company’s reported total sales in Q4 2007 were down 2.6%. The economy’s slide hasn’t helped either; in 2008, OfficeMax reported that its 2008 Q4 earnings were down more than 14%.

Ava Seave, an adjunct associate professor in Finance and Economics, recently blogged about the correlation between viral marketing success and sales totals. Seave suggests that marketers examine traditional metrics to gauge the success of their campaigns. She writes:

Viral marketing can decrease acquisition costs for new customers because your current customers essentially endorse your product when they send along a game or video they think is funny or interesting, and, of course, is associated with your product.

However, the acquisition cost calculation needs to be done over time, since a viral marketing campaign almost never leads to direct sales from that game or video viewing. The right goals for a viral campaign should be a lot more old school: Does this campaign generate leads and does it help with brand recognition?

Judging a viral campaign’s success for lead generation is straight forward — count the number of the leads that close and judge the quality — i.e. total revenue — of the new customers. To count, how many leads land on the registration form and actually fill in the information, and how many abandon? What percentage of leads make a transaction? What is the cost of the lead and the cost of the order?

Compare these statistics to all your other sources, naturally. Does this campaign help with brand recognition is a harder question to pull out a quantitative answer. You can point to the number of downloads or pass-alongs as new exposures to your brand, and we assume exposure will lead to recognition. You also could look at what terms are put into search engines that lead to your site and determine if this indicates the effectiveness of the campaign.

Photo credit: Judy Baxter