This week, the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship help a start-up founder build a viral marketing campaign to lure more customers. 

The entrepreneur 

When Danielle Tate got married in 2005, she took a day off of work to change her name. Three aggravating trips to the Motor Vehicle Administration later, she finally had a new driver’s license. And she still had to complete her name change with all of the other necessary entities.

The frustration of wasting hours sparked her idea for a online name-change service for brides — something like TurboTax for name changes, that autocompletes everything, tells you where to send everything, what to sign and you are done.

The pitch

Tate, founder and CEO, MissNowMrs, based in Potomac, Md.:

“MissNowMrs is an online name-change service for brides. We condense the 13-hour legal name-change filing process into a 30-minute online experience.

“Within 30 minutes of turning on Google Ads, we had our first customer. We have attracted more 300,000 customers through online advertising and strategic partnerships with wedding industry players including Wedding Wire and MyWedding.com, and outside the industry with Legal Zoom and DMV.org. We pioneered a new niche.

“We are the most comprehensive name-change service available. It costs $29.95 to attract brides in any income bracket. The process is easy: We ask a series of questions such as your name now, your new married name, address, etc. Then we autocomplete all the necessary paperwork: Forms for Social Security, passport, driver’s license, IRS, Postal Service, voter registration. We also provide notifications to banks, credit cards, insurances, mortgage providers, professional licenses, utilities, down to your gym membership.

“I realize that a bride needs our service hopefully only one time in her life, which leads to a fixed customer acquisition cost. My challenge and objective is to lower that cost and entice brides to help us market. Some users buy MissNowMrs giftcards for their friends. We’ve done videos and marketing to get customers to tell their friends. But we’ve never hit critical mass. What are better ways to achieve this?”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland:

“It is important for start-ups to understand their primary ‘engine of growth.’ Lean start-up pioneer Eric Ries talks about the three engines of growth: sticky, paid and viral. It’s good that you already concede that most brides are one-time customers, so your engine of growth is not ‘sticky.’ So focus on paid and viral growth.

“When things don’t naturally go viral, you can catalyze this growth in some way. Consider paid incentives for users to spread the word for you. Diapers.com had a lot of success with this model. For you, it would be too expensive to go after the whole world of brides, but you can bring your customer acquisition costs down by getting one bride to spread the word about the MissNowMrs service to others.

“When it comes to weddings, people really depend on word-of-mouth referrals. And groups of friends tend to get married in clusters within a few years of each other. This is how you can move virally through groups of brides. Even with a bit of an incentive – a small discount – this will cost you less than just trying to blanket a mass audience.

“Think about and test what makes people want to refer MissNowMrs. Generally, people want to refer things when they’ve had a really good experience. Your existing customers are your best brand ambassadors.

“Other things you can do: Think about earned media. Find ways to position yourself as an expert on name-changing to gain visibility from a marketing and PR perspective.”

The reaction

Tate: “Paid incentive is an excellent suggestion to boost the virality of our online name change service. We
have discussed various ways to incentivize MissNowMrs clients to tell their friends about our product. Your advice will push the paid incentive option to the top of our to-do list. Earned media is something we have been utilizing, as I am positioned as a name change expert and have had the opportunity to discuss married name-change trends on national television, radio shows and in various wedding publications.”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.