How brands are using viral quizzes to grow their email lists

 

Kayla Hollatz. Source: http://kaylahollatz.com/

Josh Haynam didn’t set out to launch an online quiz-building platform; he just happened to notice that more and more of his marketing clients were integrating quizzes into their campaigns.

While enrolled at UCLA, Haynam and a college classmate, Matthew Clark, launched a small digital agency focused on building websites for brands. “We started building quizzes every once in a while,” he told me in an interview. “Everybody wanted different ways of capturing emails. We would build an entire website but all they wanted was to collect more email addresses, and quizzes just really stood out as the one thing that was different but also working super well.”

Building the functionality of a quiz from scratch, however, wasn’t very easy, and it would often take them days to complete each one. But eventually it dawned on Haynam and Clark that there was enough demand for a platform that would allow anyone, even those without any coding skills, to craft their own quiz and incorporate it into their marketing campaigns. So in 2014, they launched a new company called Interact Quiz Builder.

Using a quiz as a form of interactive entertainment is nothing new — just ask longtime readers of Cosmopolitan — but it was Buzzfeed that unlocked the viral potential made possible by social platforms like Facebook. In a 2014 interview, then-editorial director Summer Anne Burton said she had been perusing some audience analytics the year before when she noticed that a quiz titled “Which ‘Grease’ Pink Lady Are You?” continued to generate strong traffic long after it was published. “I mentioned the ‘Grease’ quiz a couple times in meetings with my team,” she said. “They all are addicted to getting a lot of reactions and sharing, so it was inspiring for them to hear that that could do so well. They started making a lot more quizzes.” Soon after, Buzzfeed designed a quiz template to make building them much easier and began training staff on best practices. A quiz created a few months later — “What City Should You Actually Live In?” — racked up over 20 million views and is one of the most popular pieces of content in Buzzfeed’s history.

Soon, more and more news publications started jumping on the quiz bandwagon. An amazing quiz developed by the New York Times, “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk,” was the newspaper’s most shared article that year. Playbuzz, a platform that allows everyone to build their own Buzzfeed-like quizzes, launched in 2014 and within a year surpassed every publication as the most-shared content company on Facebook.

Why do quizzes spur virality? The way most of them are designed, respondents can easily share their results to social media. This then leads to their followers taking the quiz, and then they share it to their networks, ad infinitum.

But while most of these media companies are utilizing quizzes to drive traffic to their web properties, more and more brands are leveraging them as part of their email acquisition and lead generation strategies. They do this by making one small modification to the quiz: after you’ve answered all the questions but before you’re given the results, the form forces you to enter your name and email address. Though some consumers are turned off by what they consider a “bait and switch,” many are more than willing to hand over their email addresses after sinking so much time into answering the questions.

An example of the penultimate page before you receive your quiz results.

Haynam and Clark knew that if Interact was going to provide value to brands, it would need to integrate with major marketing platforms. Its first integration was with Mailchimp, and it soon expanded to other platforms like Constant Contact, Marketo, and Eloqua. “Once we had those integrations in place for the email capture, which was obviously the number one priority, we started charging for it,” said Haynam. “And people slowly started adopting it and paying for the product.” For simple email marketing integration, the product costs $29 a month, and the pricing goes up to $200 for more sophisticated marketing automation integration with products like Eloqua.

The benefit of running a viral quiz platform is that you get natural word-of-mouth every time someone creates and shares a quiz. Interact quickly attracted major brands and media companies. “Red Lobster’s most-liked Facebook post of all time is a quiz they made on our platform,” said Haynam, referring to a quiz titled “What endless shrimp flavor are you?” “It did 192,000 likes on the post, which is just absurd. Millions of people took it.” Forbes launched a quiz to help high schoolers choose the right college, and both the UN and Red Cross have developed quizzes to test people’s knowledge of disaster preparedness.

Kayla Hollatz decided to create an Interact quiz to coincide with the redesign of her website. She’s a copywriter and brand strategist, and her email newsletter has played a key role in getting her new clients.”I ended up finding a lot of my clients would come from newsletter replies,” she told me. “It’d just be from someone getting a newsletter from me in my inbox consistently and then one day they’re like, ‘I’ve been wanting to work with you for a while, and now I’m just ready to do it.’”

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Haynam approached Hollatz a few months ago about trying out the Interact platform, and so she set about crafting questions that would align with her target audience. She came up with the idea of a “brand voice” quiz that would tell a respondent what type of communicator they are. She created segmented lists based on the outcomes of the quiz (I took the quiz and found out I was an “educator”) and then created an email nurturing campaign that was tailored to those outcomes. This means that, depending on your results, you’ll receive a series of automated emails that are tailored to you specifically.

An example of the “results” page.

Hollatz relaunched her redesigned website and debuted the quiz in February. She placed a link to the quiz in all her social media bios and at the footer of all her blog posts. “The brand voice quiz actually stole the show,” she said. She immediately began seeing social media chatter as people shared their results to social media. Her list grew considerably. “From around February to now in June, my list has grown by more than a thousand subscribers; it’s actually been closer to 1,500. So yeah, it’s been really great.”

It’s not uncommon for companies and individuals to purchase targeted social media ads to give their quizzes a push. Leisa Peterson, a life coach who specializes in helping entrepreneurs with their money problems, created a quiz to identify a respondent’s “chakra,” a kind of spiritual focal point on a person’s body (I took the quiz and got the “throat chakra”). Because the quiz helps people identify the source of their money problems, said Peterson, a respondent is less likely to share their results to social media.

So Peterson put some money toward Facebook ads, targeting users who have shown an interest in Eastern spiritualism. “It’s been funny, because I thought I was spending $20 a day on Facebook,” she said. “It turned out the results I thought were from $20 a day were instead $20 for a whole week. That was how skewed this was.” (This means the content was highly engaging, since the cost-per-engagement goes down on Facebook when a post attracts higher interest from users.)

One thing I wondered when researching viral quizzes was whether they produce quality engagement. Sure, people like to take and share quizzes, but even if your email list grows considerably, what’s to say those people actually want to read any emails you send them? After all, they only input their addresses so they can see the results of a quiz. Hollatz said she continued to monitor her metrics after launching her quiz and noticed no discernible drop in email engagement. “I still had open rates around 70 percent,” she told me.

According to Haynam, the quality of your email list depends on how closely you align your quiz to your brand. “You shouldn’t try to go viral, but you should try to create something that’s entertaining and useful to the right people,” he said. Anyone can create a “Which Beyonce song are you?” quiz and get thousands of people to share it, but if you run a software company, you’re much better off reaching a smaller, more highly-targeted audience, even if it results in fewer emails.

But are online quizzes a fad? Anecdotally, I can say I’ve seen far fewer shared in my Facebook newsfeed. According to data from Newswhip, social media engagement for Playbuzz fell off sharply in the Fall of 2016. But Haynam is confident that the quiz market isn’t close to being saturated. “Realistically it’s probably another few years before [quizzes are] included in the marketing plans of most brands,” he said. “But the percentage that are using them is increasing dramatically right now. It’s insane how quickly people are becoming aware of this.”

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com