The Power of Viral Marketing: Companies Need to Account for It!

Recently there’s been several stories across the net about people in the real world that have underestimated the viral nature of the internet with regards to business promotions.  Sometimes it comes from official channels  like GroupOn.  However, sometimes this can come from places that the store simply cannot account for.

The picture above is the toy aisle at my local Kroger.  No they are not going out of business but it sure looks like it in the picture above.  The above picture is the result of a promotion that has gone horribly wrong.  The promotion?  Well, from October through the end of November, for every dollar you spent at Kroger, you would get a 10 dollar reward on your Kroger card that you could spend on first through the fourth of December on toys, housewares, home furnishings, books and more (except food).  By Friday, most of the toys and everything else were gone.  Kroger employees worked tirelessly trying to keep the shelves stocked but to no avail.  Kroger employees were also eligible for the promotion and even they did not get to purchase gifts with their credit because they worked 12-18 hour shifts over the weekend.

How did it get this way?  There were many blogs and forums across the internet that reminded us all to spend our holiday thank you rewards.  People talked about it on Facebook and other social networks.  The next thing you know, in the Columbus area, over 90,000 customers had visited the 7 area stores and cleared practically everything off the shelf.  I was trying to get some gifts with mine, but only came away with a French Press Coffee pot and a chopper/grinder I’ve needed for my kitchen.

You can’t count on the message only being distributed from your own web page any more.  With Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and blogs spreading this sale, it was massively popular and Kroger failed and displeased many customers including myself.  Now it won’t stop me from shopping at Kroger, but I bet it may stop some!  Why would you go to a store who just utterly failed to keep up with a promotion?

According to stories on our local news, Kroger is evaluating how this sale was done this year and I bet they do something different next year.

Here’s my ideas on how they can do better next year:

Scheduling

The worst time of the month at any store that sells groceries is the first of the month.  Kroger should have known this.  The first of the month is when many people get their welfare checks and food stamps replenished.  So it’s already busy.  Adding a few thousand shoppers looking for a freebie is only going to make things worse.  A better idea would have been the following weekend or week.  This will help keep the crowds from mixing.  Also, make sure you have plenty of help and stock. You didn’t have enough of either with empty shelves and three-hour waits.

Change the Promotion

Next year, if you do the same promotion, let people spend it on anything in the store including groceries.  If the bottom line doesn’t support all of grocery, then limit it to stuff surrounding the holiday like hams and turkey.  Again if the business can’t support this, then maybe prioritize who can get it on what days or spread it out.  The point is do SOMETHING.  You can’t do exactly what you did this year.  Not with things going viral like this sale did.  If you do, then you face the possibility of it being even more popular next year.

Don’t Count out Social Networks

Don’t forget the power of social.  You can’t stop something, good OR bad from going viral.  So, embrace it.  Maybe give less of a discount to more people and give a bigger discount to those who like you on Facebook?  I don’t know, but I do know that if you forget the unofficial sources of promotion, namely the word of mouth from your customers, it will bite you.  The previously excited customers will become your staunchest opponents and will generate much negative feedback if you fail them.

Apologize

Apologize.  That simple.  I do not mean talking to the local media.  Put a note about this somewhere on your site and do something for those who are displeased.  Maybe honoring the discount on a few more select days after you prepare for it might help.  If you don’t officially apologize and make it visible to all then that is as bad as the failure to begin with.

What about you?  Did you get stuck in the mess at Kroger?  What about other stores?  What would you do?

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.