New research from Professor Olivier Toubia featured in the current issue of Columbia Ideas at Work demonstrates the power of viral marketing. Working with Aliza Freud ’01 (EMBA), who is the founder and CEO of the social media platform SheSpeaks, Toubia examined how influencer communities can promote and track viral product buzz.

The case study
The research centered on OPI nail products. “They were a very traditional brand and wanted to tap into consumer insights and advocacy,” says Freud. Using the SheSpeaks online community, samples of the new nail product were mailed to 10,000 self-declared beauty enthusiasts. The same women also received coupons for future purchases. Meanwhile, OPI also placed traditional coupons and ads in magazines and newspaper inserts. The result? The viral campaign outperformed the print campaign by 1200%. “It’s not surprising,” says Freud. “There is a much deeper engagement online than flipping through a magazine.”

What does this mean for marketing?
In the past five years, brand marketing has changed dramatically with the emergence of social networking. Current research, such as the data from Toubia and Freud, is backing that up. Freud, who spent 10 years at American Express in marketing and product management, says that marketers are in the rapid evolution phase of brand strategy.

“Brand managers need to change their way of thinking,” she says. “Historically, marketing has been a one-way communication and brands tried to stifle or control conversations about the product. Today, it is very different — it’s a two-way conversation between the brand and the audience.”

“In the future, managers will care much more deeply about these opportunities and make consumer conversations integral to their marketing program,” continues Freud. “They can engage with consumers online and capture a lot more information.”

Photo credit: Will Vanlue