"AIM" High and Win
But there's scant evidence that one can pinpoint individual consumers who have extraordinary sway over significant numbers of family, friends, and neighbors. "Reconsidering Models of Influence: The Relationship Between Consumer Social Networks and Word-of-Mouth Effectiveness," a paper published in the Journal of Advertising Research, debunks the notion of pyramid structures of consumer influence. Rather than power concentrating among a small number of highly connected individuals at the top, the paper posits that "the moderately connected majority...hold the greatest potential for influence."
Instead of dedicating efforts to seeking these Holy Grails, marketers should focus on facilitating the spread and circulation of messages across aggregated groups of mid-level influencers.
Find Your Hive, Buzz Will Follow
In cultivating these conversations, you will not only position your brand as a potential solution to problems, but also as a legitimate member of a concerned community, establishing long-term relationships that can extend to future efforts.
Unlike in DTP marketing, where KOLs are critical influencers, successful AIM campaigns draw strength from democratic non-expertise. Everyone in the hive is invested in helping each other; they adopt a brand not only because it helps them address a common medical problem, but also because it honors the value of their group bond.
Identifying High-Potential Hives
In developing a new AIM campaign for one of the world's largest producers of influenza vaccine, we analyzed client CDC, category data, and psychographic profiles of potential vaccine customers in order to find valuable new space from a marketing communications perspective. Many schools, large businesses, and pharmacies were already engaged in flu vaccination programs with our client, so we sought a new arena in which to generate interest in the vaccine. The result was a successful program conducted in conjunction with Kiwanis International. The novelty of a flu prevention campaign, plus the effort's natural fit with Kiwanis' overall mission, helped win strong chapter adoption across the US.
The two-phase program began with a lightly branded health education campaign, including training kits created by Dorland Global that allowed chapters to help members understand the importance of annual vaccination. Turn-key kits were developed that featured both our client's and Kiwanis' branding, and the training was offered by group members to other group members. The second phase featured Kiwanis-sponsored community vaccination clinics where our client's brand was the administered vaccine.
The Kiwanis vaccination clinics were promoted via national and chapter Web sites and newsletters, and were featured in chapters' local newspapers, extending the impact of the buzz beyond Kiwanians to broader communities. Our client's brand was regularly included in press releases and coverage.
Develop Your AIM Campaign
In the development process of an AIM campaign for a major prescription drug, our data crunching led to an unexpected hive: companies that employed large numbers of shift workers. We traveled to major cities and conducted unbranded employee health education programs. Workers were encouraged to visit a dedicated Web site featuring a self-assessment tool, and to speak with their doctors if they suspected they might suffer from the indicated condition. During the one to two months we spent in each market, Dorland Global also ran advertising, along with a PR campaign to reinforce the health education messages and extend those messages to the general public. The program drove thousands of unique visitors to the Web site.
While businesses, community organizations, and other affinity groups often provide strong targets for AIM efforts, less formal short-term hives can also be generated as part of a campaign. On behalf of a major osteoporosis brand, we conducted free disease education and risk screening events in a dozen markets with large potential patient pools. These branded events were designed not only to drive individual attendees to physicians for testing, but also to generate discussion among women in high-risk groups; attendees were given education tools to take home and share with friends and family. The potency of this ad hoc hive was strengthened by simultaneous public relations campaigns and DTP outreach in each market, which drove women to the events and reiterated messages beyond the events.
Go Beyond Boundaries
While DTC influencer marketing often focuses on online efforts—especially identifying and leveraging specialist bloggers—AIM campaigns are most effective when they use tactics taken from across the marketing spectrum, incorporating online elements, collateral materials (teaching kits, brochures, etc.), events, and direct mail. Ultimately, advertising and PR can move the campaign beyond its starter hives, winning the program—and the brand—broader credibility. It may be wise to cross agency boundaries as well: While a single lead agency should conduct the research and analysis for hive selection and develop an overall messaging guide for the program, specialty agencies can be brought in to handle specific tactical elements of the campaign.
The successes of our AIM consumer campaigns has informed and inspired other programs for groups directly tied to medical issues, including allied healthcare professionals and patient advocacy groups. The common denominator in their success has been the recognition that in groups whose members share values and interests, everyone's an influencer. If your brand shares those values, perhaps it should join the group.
Richard T. Minoff is president and CEO of Dorland Global Corp. He can be reached at RMinoff@dorland.com
Maryellen Royle is executive vice president of Dorland Global Public Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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