Experimental marketing: 1 out of 20 ain’t bad

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OfficeMax's Elf Yourself Holiday Tradition

If you think a hit rate of 1 out of 20 for marketing ideas is a poor showing, go Elf Yourself.

No, really. Take a lesson from OfficeMax’s “Elf Yourself” holiday campaign, that has been a viral brand marketing hit for four Christmas seasons in a row. The www.elfyourself.com web site lets people upload photos of themselves, friends, family, pets, etc., and transpose their faces onto animated dancing elves — and then share those e-cards via email, Facebook, Twitter.

Over 378 million people in 50 countries have elf’d themselves. The site has been featured on CNN, ABC World News, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Fox News, and hundreds of blogs (including TechCrunch).

All told, we’re talking about millions of dollars worth of public relations and brand exposure.

Yesterday, I was on a marketing technology panel at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show with Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing and advertising at OfficeMax, who offered some unique insight into the campaign.

“We were trying to create a holiday tradition, to help people connect the idea of holiday shopping with OfficeMax,” said Bob. “Most people don’t think of office supplies for gifts — but we’ve got computers, cameras, GPS’s.”

Elf Yourself was incredibly successful in achieving that goal.

But what I found most interesting was the way this viral hit came to be. Bob related that they actually launched 19 other web sites at the same time as Elf Yourself. Each had a rationale for why it might be a winner, but it was Elf Yourself that ended up taking off. OfficeMax ran it with and quietly dropped the others.

OfficeMax’s plan from the beginning was to experiment and harness crowd feedback.

This is a terrific example of what makes agile marketing — working quickly and iteratively to efficiently test new ideas with low risk — so different and powerful than the old approach of “place a couple big bets and pray.”

“The cost of those 20 web sites was less than a single TV spot,” said Bob. The ROI of Elf Yourself made the cost of experimenting with the other 19 ideas not much more than a rounding error.

Thanks to Darrell Fry at CrossCap, who organized and moderated the panel, which also included Greg Navalance of American Eagle Outfitters and Jay Kolbe of Weber Shandwick.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.

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