Jim Calhoun: Bringing science to viral marketing

In the brave new world of online advertising, your e-mail address book is a cash cow that many marketing companies, Jim Calhoun’s among them, want to milk.

Co-founder and CEO of PopularMedia, Calhoun understands that personal recommendations go a long way. In fact, he’s counting on it. He points to the popularity of online music, electronics and restaurant review sites on the Web as evidence. People seek out recommendations. We applaud ourselves for being the first to know about a deal, but relish the kudos of friends we tip off equally.

With that in mind, PopularMedia, and companies likeit that specialize in “viral marketing,” are going beyond the casual posting of recommendations on Web sites to capture business. PopularMedia creates incentives for customers to recommend products or services to their friends in their social network, either through e-mail, Web sites such as Facebook or other means, Calhoun said.

“It is a very word-of-mouth phenomenon,” Calhoun said.

As infectious as the name sounds, there is no junk-mail filter or other protection against viral marketing. But, in the end, you might not want to be protected. After all, it is coming from a friend.

Calhoun sees viral marketing as the future of online advertising. Instead of husbands rapping about the latest brand DVR they purchased at the bowling alley or wives chatting at the gym about a wonderful new shoe shop they’ve just discovered, recommendations arrive in your e-mail inbox or even on your cell phone.

“Consumers are really bombarded with ads these days and they’ve really started to tune them out,” Calhoun said. “But, people pay attention when their friends introduce them to something because it’s prescreened and relevant.”

And that’s where PopularMedia comes in. Its patent-pending Pop Commerce program is the first Web-publishing platform to bring science to viral marketing, according to Calhoun. The big difference between his firm and his competitors is that PopularMedia tests and tracks its customers’ response to see what is successful for its clients, said Calhoun, who now counts among his clients such well-known names as Borders books, Epic records, Dish Network and UNICEF.

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