Word-of-mouth marketing has become a cultural phenomenon, with chatter about great products and services no longer confined to family dinner conversations, but spreading rapidly across the globe via chat rooms, locker rooms, girlfriends’ rooms, shopping malls and blogs. In fact, some 26% of the online population has posted a review about some kind of product or service.
“Word-of-mouth marketing is giving people a reason to talk about you,” Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, said yesterday during a session. “It is real consumers talking to real consumers about your products and services. We’re listening to our friends and family. Not the experts.”
He said WOM is successful for great products and services, but can turn against marketers with not-so-great products hidden behind good marketing or by consumers who have had a bad experience with a brand.
“There’s nothing more powerful than a pissed off kid with a blog,” Sernovitz said. “The voice of the consumer is powerful. You should never ignore them and know how to respond.”
Sernovitz said that the permanence of cyberspace, where all comments, good and bad, can resurface with the click of a search engine, has changed the way marketers need to manage WOM. He suggested staying engaged in the conversation and make sure the “good stuff” gets out there too if something goes awry.
“The conversation is happening online,” he said. “And marketers who ignore this will be seen as aloof and clueless and will wonder where the sales are going.”
Sernovitz outlined five steps necessary to employ a word-of-mouth campaign.
- Find the right people (talkers)
- Create topics: give consumers something to talk about
- Give evangelists tools to help spread the conversation (blog, tell-a-friend components, message boards)
- Join the conversation (team newsletters and message boards)
- Track and measure results (demographic breakdowns, click throughs, membership trends, poll and survey results)
“There’s only one thing worse than being talked about,” he said. “And that’s not being talked about.”
WOM, or buzz marketing, has come under scrutiny, with some consumer advocates calling it deceptive if the brand is not identified.
In October, consumer advocacy group Commercial Alert has asked the FTC to investigate buzz marketers for deception. In its letter, it identified Procter & Gamble’s as a possible culprit (Xtra, Oct. 19).
The letter asked the FTC to review evidence that “companies are perpetrating large-scale deception upon consumers by deploying buzz marketers who fail to disclose that they have been enlisted to promote products.” The non-profit group also asked the FTC to investigate Procter & Gamble’s Tremor, which it said has enlisted about 250,000 teenagers in its buzz marketing sales force.
The group requested that the FTC require all brand ambassadors to disclose their relationship to the brand they are pitching.