Daniel Burstein

PURL Jam: 6 ways personalized URLS can help increase the virality of your campaigns

April 12th, 2012

Virality is that state of marketing nirvana where your campaigns are liberated from the earthly confines of your own media spends and marketing efforts, and take on a free-floating life of their own.

As I’ve said before in “Social Media Marketing: Going viral is so easy it’s hard,” I don’t believe there is any secret to going viral, but you can position yourself well for that opportunity. That blog post has a few of the factors that influence your chance of going viral, but in today’s post I want to focus on one very specific tool that can help your efforts — personalized URLs, also known as PURLs.

If you’re unfamiliar with PURLs, personalized URLs are simply, as the name implies, unique URLs for each recipient. As with many marketing terms, different people tend to use the term differently (usually to the advantage of whatever they’re selling). Some people consider a PURL actually having the person’s name in the URL (for example, I might receive a mailer with a CTA that goes to DanielBurstein.MECLABS.com, while my neighbor’s CTA would point to TheJoneses.MECLABS.com).

Others consider a PURL to be any URL that leads to a personalized landing page (so the URL might be a random string of letters and numbers; however, the landing page would say “Hello Daniel Burstein”). And still others consider a PURL to be any custom URL assigned to only one person (for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll use this, the broadest definition).

Who can use PURLS? Pretty much any marketer. “Historically, the high cost of PURLs would limit the technology to larger companies with the matching budgets,” according to Martin Thomas, founder, Purlem. “But today, PURLs have become much more affordable and easier to use.”

Now that we’ve gotten in a little background info, let’s take a look at some ways PURLs can help position your campaigns for virality:


1. Give your customers a taste

If you want your customers to share something with their friends and colleagues, you have to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question. Why should they promote whatever you’re promoting?

Here’s the answer to that question that responds to your customers’ basest desires — because you’re giving them a kickback. By creating a PURL for each customer, often after they’ve bought, you have a way of tracking how many of their friends and colleagues buy (or simply act, if you have another conversion objective), based on that specific person’s recommendation.

In that way, you can reward the individual, perhaps with outright cash for each action, but usually with some free product or extension of what they’ve already purchased. This is, essentially, affiliate marketing. However, in this case, your audience isn’t professional marketers simply seeking to make a buck, they are your customers who are just looking for a little extra taste of whatever you offer.


2. Bring the offline world online

It’s very hard for direct mail to go viral, chain letters of olden days notwithstanding (essentially, unless you threaten your recipient with seven years of bad luck, will they really go to the effort of photocopying your direct mail piece and sending it to all of their friends?).

This is where PURLs can help. In the case study, “Referral Program: 18,000 customer participants create more than 60,000 shares, $100,000 in sales,” the team from SquareTrade used a URL shortener to create PURLs distributed through direct mail that would be easier to share.


3. Make sharing easy …

By equipping your customers with PURLs, it makes it very easy for them to be your advocate … especially if, like SquareTrade, you provide an already shortened URL.

“PURLs can be easily pasted into any sharing channel — blogs, instant messages, Facebook and Twitter, etc. — providing a simple and very flexible sharing option for consumers,” said Angela Bandlow, Vice President of Marketing, Extole.


4. … even in personal emails

I know when I think of virality, I often think of social media. But don’t overlook the effect email can have on virality as well. Remember, social media is a technology. But social networks exist between people, and they may choose many ways to share what matters to them.

Angela provided this example from J. Hilburn, the online retailer of custom-tailored menswear.

“J. Hilburn launched a social referral program in September 2011 to boost sales and awareness via word-of-mouth recommendations. Knowing most of its referrals had come through J. Hilburn stylists, each stylist was given a PURL to include in their email signatures to drive referral sales. For J. Hilburn, these PURL shares see a CTR of more than 500%.”

A 500% CTR from an email seems almost too good to be true. So I dove down a little deeper with Angela to understand how virality impacts PURL metrics. Keep in mind, this isn’t your traditional email link where you’re only measuring clicks from the email itself. With a PURL, you’re tracking that virality through your audience’s social network across many platforms.

“A PURL can be shared across one-to-one channels — email, IM, text, etc. — which results in one or less friend clicks per share,” Angela said. “They can also be shared across one-to-many channels — Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. — which can result in more than one friend click per share. In the case of J. Hilburn, the average number of friend clicks per PURL share is five clicks.”



5. Sell first then evolve to sharing

Often, the primary goal for marketers is not to go viral, but to sell or gain some other conversion. Since you can track individual user actions, you can first focus on getting individual customers to convert, and then change the PURL to a viral message once they have.

“The Oakland Raiders have done a great job of extending the life of their season ticket holder Renewal PURLs,” said Bernie Turner, Marketing Manager and Digital Strategist, FanOne Marketing. “Their early renewal PURL was changed into a payment plan PURL, and then morphed into a refer-a-friend PURL.”

The team used referral points for bonus rewards to incent this sharing.


Click to enlarge


6. Always focus on customer value

Value comes first. If you don’t give your customers a reason to share your PURL — whether it’s because it’s such a great offer they simply want everyone to know, it’s so entertaining they need to show their friends (say, a cute cat playing the piano and singing a song about Kony 2012), your topic is extremely newsworthy (Men Walk on Moon! Facebook Buys Instagram!), or because you’re giving them a little kickback — just having the PURL really isn’t going to make a difference.

“If you bake a great tasting cake, the icing will make it taste even better. But if you bake a cake that tastes like leather, the icing won’t do you much good,” Martin said. “In other words, by putting PURLs on top of a poorly executed campaign, you’ll still end up with poorly executed campaign.”


PURLs ain’t all sunshine and rainbows

To paraphrase Rocky Balboa, there is a downside to everything. And since we are vendor-agnostic reporters here at MarketingSherpa (and not a bunch of vendors simply guest posting on a blog to try to sell you on a specific tool or tactic), we can share the good with the bad. So I asked the above sources about the downsides of PURLs. Here’s what they had to say …

 Bernie: “PURLs require some planning and development time, and should be avoided if an organization doesn’t have at least two weeks to strategize, create and deploy.”

Angela: “While amplification drives awareness, it also comes with a loss of control. PURLs can be shared almost anywhere and with anyone, so marketers looking to run very targeted social media marketing initiatives need to keep this in mind when evaluating the inclusion of PURL sharing.

“Because PURLs can be shared across channels, they are more difficult to track — a brand cannot see the number of shares over different channels, it can only see the resulting clicks, making accurate metrics hard to come by. Marketers looking for more targeted social marketing initiatives or more detailed analytics on sharing and CTR should consider whether PURL sharing makes sense for their program objectives.”

Martin: “Despite the fact that PURLs have become much easier to use, there is still a slight learning curve. Some can pick up the basics in a few minutes, others may require a day. But regardless, there needs to be a willingness and desire to learn a new technology.”


Related Resources:

How Email Series + Personalized Landing Page Lifted Webinar’s ROI by 2000%

Examples of pURL campaigns (via Purlem)

How do I wrap social elements into my email marketing program? (via BtoB)

PURLs of Wisdom: Digital Marketing Strategies for Increasing Online Engagement and Revenue (Archived webinar via Neolane with a squeeze page)

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Viral Marketing Tags: , , ,

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