How to Define and Communicate Word-of-Mouth Success

By Jul 16, 2009

After embarking on a campaign to promote your brand with word-of-mouth its is now time to present your report to company management. But how will your group communicate WOM results to show the real value? How do you define success with WOM, both online and offline?

Word of Mouth Marketing Association spokesperson John Moore said marketers shouldn’t try to track dollars in, dollars out when measuring the success of a WOM program.

“Studies show that 76% of consumers don’t believe the advertising they see, while 80% say they trust recommendations from people like themselves,” he said. “You don’t want to compare WOM with advertising, for example, because what you achieve with each strategy is different. With online and offline word-of-mouth marketing, success occurs when conversations are generated about your brand and companies learn from consumers freely sharing their experiences.”

Businesses interested in WOM to increase brand awareness must first overcome any fears they have about surrendering one-way communication control associated with advertising or other non-interactive tactics.

“One piece of advice is be confident about your products and services because low confidence usually means a business won’t be comfortable with what consumers might say in conversations,” Moore said.

To assure success with a WOM program a company’s culture must willingly accept criticism and appreciate that listening to what consumers say can help the company respond better to consumer preferences and needs and stay competitive. There are reasons why consumers buy your brand. So if they are smart enough to choose it over others, isn’t their wisdom valuable for mining ideas for new products as well? Also, should negative comments arise in conversations, management can take responsive action to address consumer concerns.

Success with WOM, therefore, is measured by the conversation levels it generates, proving that the company and its brands are relevant and top-of-mind with consumers. One company that has achieved excellent success in stimulating ongoing conversation and engagement is Fiskars Brands, the firm best known as the maker of those orange-handle scissors we all have tucked in a drawer somewhere at home.

Fiskars started its WOM initiatives in 2006 and has achieved almost transformational success in building strong and supportive relationships with a devoted following of scrapbook enthusiasts. It first recrutied four part-time Fiskars “ambassadors” and brought them to its headquarters in Madison, WI, for an intense educational briefing about the company, its products and its values. The goal was to empower the ambassadors to start blogging, attend trade shows, give scrapbooking classes at retail stores, and pursue other activities on their own to spread good will from Fiskars. They also recruited other scrapbookers, called Fiskateers, nationwide. New Fiskateers receive welcoming kits with engraved scissors, a booklet on what it means to be a Fiskateer and tips for recruiting more to their ranks. The recruiting effort has created a powerful and influential community.

Fiskateers organize local gatherings for scrapbookers called “crops” where participants talk, crop and build relationships. The events are organized online by Fiskateers but are intended to achieve face-to-face interaction. This is an excellent example of how Fiskars leverages both online and offline WOM. So far, Fiskars has enlisted more than 4,800 Fiskateers in 50 states and 47 countries compared with its original goal of 200. That’s impressive, but how did it help the brand?

As the Fiskars product development managers reviewed passionate and insightful comments from their evangelists and fans, they realized this community could be a valuable focus group. Until then, new products were conceived and developed in a vacuum. Fiskars began to survey the Fiskateers and quickly learned from the feedback that customers are a great source for product evaluations and ideas.

Engagement and conversation online and face-to-face among scrapbookers forged strong loyalty to Fiskars Brands and strengthened its connection with customers. Online chatter in which Fiskars products were called by name has increased by 600%, and visits to the Fiskars Web site and blog have topped 1 million. Offline, there are more than 1,000 Fiskateers getting paid by craft stores to teach classes using Fiskars products.

WOM changed the culture at Fiskars Brands. Cultivating a relationship with its evangelists inspired Fiskars to change its scrapbooking product development process. Clearly that success, brought about by skillful use of online and offline WOM, has favorably increased brand awareness as measured by conversation frequency and tone.

Conversation levels in which brands are mentioned favorably are a key yardstick of WOM success. WOM, therefore, builds credible brand awareness in ways advertising can’t achieve. When brands appreciate the power of consumer engagement and rely on it to help guide decision making, there’s no better testament to the value of WOM for any business organization.

Kristen L. Smith, CAE, is the executive director of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. She can be reached at Kristen@womma.org.