The dilemma many brands face today is trying to maintain, or dare we say, grow their sales in a near dormant economy with far fewer resources to execute consumer marketing programs.
Despite pleas to spare advertising and promotional expenditures from the chopping block, more than a few brand managers are losing battles with the folks who peer into spreadsheets full time. Doing more with less is the corporate mantra these days, but some brand managers are coping successfully through creative and clever usage of word-of-mouth marketing programs.
Let’s be clear, word of mouth (WOM) has become an integral element in the marketing mix for major brands, and shouldn’t be misconstrued as an extra or optional tactic, or a fallback strategy to pursue when promotional resources are tight. In both up and down economies, WOM delivers solid results and payback because it offers the most credible form of communication with consumers.
According to research from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association consumers are more motivated to try a brand if they learn about it from a trusted source. And who is most trusted than one’s friends, family and colleagues when they recommend a product or service? For many, bloggers fit that role. It’s a truth as old a human communication itself. Word-of-mouth marketing leverages human nature and credibility and the intimacy of person-to-person communication. Consumers become aware of many brands from advertising, but they might never try them without a push from a trusted, more credible information source.
So, in these difficult times, can WOM help brand companies grow sales even though management is slashing sales and marketing budgets? With major reductions in promotional spending, is it feasible to rely even more than usual on WOM to help maintain product awareness and keep consumers interested and excited?
WOM guru Geoff Nelson, partner at Buzz Corps, an Austin-based marketing firm specializing in developing social media campaigns to increase brand awareness, believes social media allows brands to go with the flow online and benefit handsomely as consumers freely and enthusiastically talk about and recommend their brands. This strategy was employed to near perfection by Buzz Corps for HP notebook computers.
“When HP started working with social media, the goal was to create a lasting viral communication network that not only would drive sales of HP laptops but also help build a stronger, more resilient brand to be successful in a very competitive market,” Nelson said.
It’s no secret the home computer business has been hard hit by the recession. Despite the miserable economy, HP last year launched a $4,500 laptop, HDX Dragon, a monster that weighs 15 pounds, has a 20.1 inch screen and a 500 gig hard drive designed for computer gaming, high-end graphics and other HD visual media. HP knew that even for the most enthusiastic video gamers this purchasing decision wouldn’t be made casually. Potential buyers would want to learn more from trusted experts. And who better to consult on the benefits of one laptop vs. another than computer geeks who blog regularly about hardware and software?
HP reached out to leading PC bloggers to spread the word about the HDX Dragon. The goal was to gain enthusiastic and credible support from bloggers for the new system, motivate them to endorse it, and urge their followers to buy it and chat in their communities on Facebook, My Space and Twitter.
HP approached 31 leading PC bloggers and offered an irresistible chance to use the high-powered entertainment laptop for 31 days and give it away in unique competitions they would develop for their readers. As expected, the creative juices flowed freely on sites like digitalmediaphile, geekstogo and thedigitallifestyle. All of the bloggers used the competitions to promote their sites. No incentives other than being able to use and give away the notebook were offered to bloggers to participate.
“The bloggers did all their own promotions, and we didn’t even provide HP logos,” Nelson said. “One blogger took advantage of the HP giveaway to promote participation in a newly created forum on their site. Others produced contests asking readers to submit YouTube videos of their entries, and all wrote enthusiastic posts and linked with other blogs to maximize reach and their own results.”
According to Nelson, what helped make the program a success was viral effect combined with third-party endorsements.
“We grew their readership by an average of 284% and more and more of the blogs’ readers took this information to other venues outside the 31 original sites,” he said. “The compounded word-of-mouth action spurred a significant sales hike, as readers accepted advice from the bloggers and bought not just the Dragon but other HP notebooks a well.”
It was reported by a blogger that a Google search showed that the first five pages of results for HP Dragon consisted of posts about the giveaway and showed more than 350,000 links discussing the campaign. Nelson added that the participating bloggers have maintained a 50% increase in traffic as a result of the campaign.
HP triggered a bountiful WOM chain reaction and all they had to invest was the cost of the donated notebooks and Buzz Corps’ fees. According to Nelson, the blogger campaign also was kicked off to coincide with HP’s introduction if 16 new notebooks.
According to results from Hpshopping.com, HDX Dragon sales jumped 84% in the wake of the blogger campaign and sales overall for HP PCs posted a 10% increase. And all of this happened last year in May and June, which usually are slow months in the year for PC sales.
Yes, times are tough. But as the HP experience shows, the power of WOM can help overcome the tough challenges brand marketers are coping with these days.
Kristen L. Smith, CAE, is the executive director of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. She can be reached at Kristen@womma.org.