Word-Of-Mouth: Marketing's White Knight?

All marketing is "word of mouth"; it's just a question whose mouth the marketing words/messages are coming from. Give a brand a chance and it will be happy to tell you all about itself. Brands have been using words from celebrities' mouths to spread their brand messages since there have been celebrities. It seems that the difference between the aforementioned marketing methods and the commonly accepted definition of word-of-mouth is that the mouth must belong to a.... what? Friend? Peer? Consumer? Influencer? Person? Most would answer all of the above -- and say that these people will lend you their mouths for free. I would take exception.

MarketingVox has a good write-up on a PQ Media study outlining the rise of budget dedicated to word-of-mouth marketing. One of the most interesting sections:

"Though Keller Fay Group research indicates that 90% of WOM marketing still takes place offline, brand marketers have become actively involved in online WOM marketing via new media, metrics and WOM specialists"



Online word-of-mouth marketing is just beginning to get tapped. Social media is "word-of-mouth" marketing. Once marketers realize their full potential to participate, we will see an exponential growth in this area. A couple of things to remember:

· Activating word-of-mouth in social media is not free media any more then activating word-of-mouth in offline media is. Just because it's easier for people to share your brand's message doesn't make them more inclined to do so, in fact it likely means that they will be inundated with brands asking them to share their message.

· Treat word-of-mouth online as any other media buy/channel. Agencies can activate word-of-mouth for you if you treat it as a paid media channel with dedicated budget.

· Consider the consumers/friends/peers/people you hope to be your word-of-mouth channel as the equivalent of any other media channel you hope to spread your message through. It may be where nearly half of your market's attention is, and it could be the most influential medium for you. Those consumers/friends/peers/people have what you want. What do you have that they want?

· Don't limit word-of-mouth campaigns to brand advocates. People can spread/enhance your brand message without ever interacting with your brand. It doesn't have the same effect, but not all campaigns are about the purchase. Remember that most people in social media aren't in consumer mode, they are in social mode. How do you fit when you're not hawking your product?

When blogs first became the rage (about the time when blog became an official word) I remember people talking about customer service as the key to marketing success, because now "average" people could blog about bad experiences and influence thousands. I guess they just missed the old days where you could treat a customer like crap and the damage would be contained to their neighbors (removing tongue from cheek now). Let's not even dignify this idea with a response. We could fill the rest of this article just listing companies that succeeded based on putting customer experience first, long before the word blog made it into Webster's.

As consumer-review Web sites took the forefront as the vogue purchase influencer to discuss, it put the marketing community in a tizzy and people were at it again. I am not really sure I understood this one. Let's give it a shot: If you build bad products, people will tell others -- and you won't be able to convince them, through marketing, that your products are better, unless your products really are better. This was certainly revolutionary, as a focus on superior product hadn't crossed the minds of the product development folks to this point (tongue exiting cheek again).

What both of the above evolutions in consumer-to-consumer communication did do was make visible and tangible (read measurable) exactly how impactful these consumer-to-consumer communications have always been. It made it possible for organizations effectively leveraging these mediums to optimize and react to the new visibility. It's just that previously marketers couldn't listen in to the phone call where Bill told Sally "Don't get that car, it's nothing but trouble," -- but now they can listen in. Visibility changes things -- even if it just makes us better at doing the things we always should have done.

Social media is just another evolution of consumer-to-consumer communication that marketers are getting to listen in on. Only people in social media are not normally playing the role of consumers with purchase intent; rather, they are just being social with each other. Insight into all of the new conversations is blowing marketers' minds (see Brandweek's piece discussing teen talk about brands). And asking marketers to participate constructively/appropriately in these conversations seems to be out of the question for the moment (with a few pleasant exceptions). Marketers' ability to participate in the conversations constructively will be realized once they realize that as good marketers they have been participating in people's social conversations all along. Now they get to optimize and react.

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