RepNation Empowers Consumers to Build Buzz

NEW YORK In an age of digital media overkill, guerilla marketing has a new-fangled communications channel made of flesh and blood.

Its name is RepNation Consumer Powered Media, a company that uses social networks to focus on the buying habits of young people.

Until now, RepNation has been a division of Mr. Youth, which specializes in the college market. The new spinoff will expand its purview to include teens, young professionals, “soccer moms” and technology enthusiasts, said RepNation managing director Brandon Evans.

The New York agency begins independent life with a network of 30,000 “feet on the street,” which Evans described as “everyday people we’ve identified as those who would influence their peers in fashion, technology and beauty products.” Conscripts range from “brand ambassadors that go out and develop marketing campaigns to word-of-mouth influencers who are given info about new and hot products,” said Evans.

Brand ambassadors are compensated, whereas other recruits are not (though they are eligible for brand rewards).

“Consumer-powered media is marketing that’s driven by personal interactions,” Evans explained by way of differentiating his model from user-generated content, which he said refers to a “media or advertising product.”

In essence, RepNation looks to plant and nurture the seeds of an idea, rather than craft multimedia executions.

For example, to promote a new JetBlue contest, the agency has unleashed brand ambassadors to host events, develop a microsite and reach out to budding filmmakers (via online community outreach) who will submit videos about “why they love” the airline, as Evans put it. Winners will be announced Jan. 31.

Given JetBlue’s focus on the college market, “having these folks on the ground in the thick of it allows us to talk to students in ways that resonate with them,” said Tracy Sandford, director of advertising and promotions at JetBlue. Along with the immediacy of the message delivery, she stressed the evangelical fervor of the reps, including those who have allegedly rebuffed the advances of rival airlines out of loyalty to JetBlue.

RepNation’s brand ambassador initiatives typically last two to three months and cost $200,000-500,000, according to Evans. Other offerings, such as its word-of-mouth influencer and product sampling networks go for $50,000-250,000, whereas party programs may only take a few weeks and cost $100,000-300,000.

RepNation’s roster also includes Microsoft and Victoria’s Secret.

The company uses proprietary technology to gauge campaign performance, allowing clients to view real-time data distilled from a group of variables ranging from idea sharing and online networking to promotional inventory and type of event.

Buzz agencies like RepNation “respect that consumers have a voice and represent a recognition that consumer advocacy is a highly effective marketing tool,” said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer, Nielsen BuzzMetrics. Yet Blackshaw, the co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, also cautioned that “businesses embarking on consumer marketing need to make sure that the recipients of this are aware that overt incentives [are involved].”

He continued, “If everyone is turning word of mouth into a [marketing] channel, how will consumers ever know what’s organic?”