It seems safe to assume that everyone knows what “word of mouth” means. However, “word of mouth marketing” is a topic that appears frequently on many of the blogs and newsletters that I subscribe to and I’ve often wondered what the heck it actually means. Word of mouth has been the best form of marketing since the dawn of time but it appears as though there is more potential in it now than ever before. Here’s what you should know as a social media consultant.
Traditional advertising vs. word of mouth
- It’s made for the masses and its sheer ubiquity can be overwhelming – often causing us to tune out the “noise.”
- Although we become aware of the messages, we are not always receiving them at times which are convenient to us.
- We do not always know or trust the source of the ad, creating a loss of credibility.
With word of mouth, we can see the opposite effect. Messages are:
- individualized and relevant
- sent at convenient times – when we are actively listening
- sent by credible sources – the people you know and trust (your friends, family, colleagues, etc). These sources are also considered credible because they have nothing to gain by sharing their experience/sending the message.
So, we can see that advertising creates impressions and awareness and word of mouth (WOM) creates credibility. Alright, but how does word of mouth marketing work? David Balter, CEO and founder of BzzAgent, defines word of mouth marketing as “the most powerful medium on the planet. Itʼs the actual sharing of an opinion about a product or service between two or more consumers. Itʼs what happens when people become natural brand advocates. Itʼs the holy grail of marketers, CEOs and entrepreneurs, as it can make or break a product. The key to its success: itʼs honest and natural.”
How are marketers creating/using WOM?
The two of the most common WOM-related marketing techniques are:
Viral marketing – an attempt to spread a message quickly and exponentially. Social media enables users to share the messages that have made an impression on them. Viral marketing has turned to videos/YouTube to disperse their messages quickly. Take a look at some of the most successful viral videos from 2009. You’ll notice that they don’t promote any specific product or features, but rather, they simply create interest and curiosity.
Buzz marketing – Dave Balter explains that buzz marketing “typically includes one shot of adrenaline and a chaser of product information. The adrenaline is intended to help customers forget theyʼre being marketed to. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnʼt.” Essentially buzz marketing is the promotion and advertising of a brand using non-traditional and innovative means. It captures the attention of both consumers and the media to the point where the message becomes entertaining and newsworthy. Some attempts are considered humorous, taboo or outrageous. To better understand the idea of buzz marketing, check out this example from IKEA.
As the last example strongly demonstrates, the advent of social media supplies people with the tools they need to spread WOM online. But as Spike Jones, former “firestarter” with Brains on Fire, has explained, 90% of WOM happens OFFline. Nothing is more powerful than face to face WOM. Pay attention to both your ON and OFFline strategies and make sure they support one another. Build your credibility by being real with your clients and sharing these facts with them.
What about ethics?
My boss and I stumbled across a German company’s website who offer a “new” type of service, claiming to be the “leaders in buzz marketing” (in Europe). I watched their company video outlining their word of mouth marketing techniques. Their process: select groups of people, give them the tools to spread WOM, generate more trials through qualitative sampling – enabling a bigger reach. At no point did they say who these “select” groups are…which leads me to believe they are paid focus groups who are given products to try out for free…then send positive WOM messaging across social networks. This seems unethical to me. Isn’t WOM supposed to about genuine recommendations without ulterior motives? There is an organization that exists to maintain ethical WOM standards: The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Take a look and see what the best practices are for WOM marketers.