Three Ways To Generate Word Of Mouth

June 5th, 2009   •   no comments   


Courtesy of maiskelin

The most prominent idea in marketing right now is probably Word Of Mouth marketing, a term that is defined as “the act of a consumer creating and/or distributing marketing-relevant information to another consumer” according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  Unlike other forms of advertising or marketing, Word Of Mouth (WOM) marketing usually has greater credibility because it comes from trusted sources of information like one’s family members, friends or associates.

According to WOMMA, the process of word-of-mouth can be represented through five components:

1) The Word-of-Mouth Unit or what we can identify as the contents of the message that gets disseminated.

2) The Participants in a word of mouth process, ie those who are sharing information to each other.  This can be one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many depending on the connectivity of participants to each other.

3) The Places or venues where communication takes place.  They can be both real life locations (coffeeshops, pubs, offices, schools, homes) or online social networking platforms like forums, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Emails and others.

4) The Actions that are desired from the Word Of Mouth exercise.  These will be the tasks that we want recipients of the message to do.  They can either visit a venue, perform an activity, purchase something, add on to the message, or convey it to others.

5) The Outcomes of that communication and its end results.  In a commercial enterprise, it should lead to either higher sales or greater brand awareness, while a non-profit organisation may want to elicit greater support for its cause in terms of donations, participation, or audience numbers.

Is there a difference between WOM, Buzz and Viral Marketing? Apparently, they are all related to each other, with Buzz and Viral Marketing seem as subsets of WOM Marketing.

Buzz Marketing is usually used more loosely than WOM, and there appear to be several different versions of it floating around. I like the definition by Mark Hughes (author of the book Buzz Marketing) best. He described it as “capturing attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy.”

From the above, one can see that buzz marketing frequently involves generating something sensational which is strong enough to hit the headlines in the daily press. Buzz normally has elements that include excitement, imagination, theatricality, shock appeal, surprise and often controversy. Buzz is usually time-limited and will normally eventually die down and be supplanted by other news. Examples include half.com, Ashton Kutcher’s humungous Twitter following, and I guess any major Internet sensation (like Tammy NYP, and Susan Boyle)

Viral marketing, on the other hand, is usually an online version of WOM which normally entails some form of stealth marketing where the identity of the perpetrator is often not known from the onset. It has a more underground and covet feel to it, and is normally conducted on a smaller and more “experimental” scale than a buzz marketing campaign. In most people’s minds, viral marketing usually take the form of a viral video conveyed through video networks like YouTube.

Again, like buzz marketing, there is usually a time limit to how long viral campaigns can last. Lots of alcohol brands employ online viral videos or games in their campaigns. Examples of viral marketing include Hotmail, the subservient chicken, the Million dollar homepage and others.

I have created another form of Word of Mouth marketing called “Enduring WOM” (for want of a better name) which may or may not overlap with Viral or Buzz marketing. This is the kind of Word Of Mouth strategy which enterprises may want to aim for that is more sustainable and enduring over the long-haul with a unique competitive advantage that goes beyond fads and trends. In enduring WOM, one should pay greater attention to customer relationships, quality services, and premium yet unique experiences.

While enduring WOM may weave in elements of viral or buzz marketing, it should focus on a financially sustainable longer-term approach which offers something of value to customers long after the initial hype is gone. Generating long-term WOM is more often a function of one’s business model than one’s marketing campaign. Examples of businesses in this category include Nordstrom, In-N-Out Burger and Zappos.com.

The relationship between all three can perhaps be conveyed through the following diagram:

Is there an appropriate form of WOM for one to consider? Well, this depends on one’s individual circumstances and needs.

If you are starting a business or launching a new product, you may want to initiate a viral campaign or generate some buzz so that there is a greater initial brand awareness. Once the business gets going and customers start streaming in, a longer-term enduring WOM strategy (providing top-notch service, unparalleled after sales support, and/or a unique experience) may be more important. For major product launches, you may want to incorporate both buzz marketing and viral tactics coupled with longer-term WOM strategies. If you are targeting a more youthful and niche market, something with a more underground feel, ie a viral marketing approach may work better.

Of course, there is no hard and fast rule on what works or what doesn’t. Sometimes, external factors which one cannot control do play a major role in the success of one’s WOM campaign. Whatever the case may be, one should look towards WOM not simply to become an overnight sensation but to develop a sustainable way of cultivating positive and enduring long-term relationships with one’s customers.

PS – There are actually 11 forms of WOM marketing in WOMMA’s website here!  Do read them if you are keen to know more.

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