MediaPost Publications – WOM: Real People Win Deals, Corporate Blogs Spin Wheels – 12/30/2008

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by: David Polinchock

As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m not always really crazy about the whole idea of WOM marketing. You can go to here to get a good primer on our thoughts if you’re not familiar with them. But our basic thinking is this:

WOM is not a tactic or strategy by itself. It is the outcome of doing something really well.

So yes, people respond to other people telling them that a product or service is good. Isn’t this how product messages got out for thousands of years before mass and now social media came into play? But, at the end of the day, the product and/or service has to be worthy of WOM and that’s the only way to do it well!

My concern about turning WOM into a marketing discipline is that we lose what makes it work. Too many clients/agencies start at how can we make a cool WOM campaign and not enough of them start by asking how we can make something that people truly want to talk about. And by focusing on the wrong end first, we will devalue the entire idea of WOM.

This video was done as a spoof, but it’s actually something that has gone on in liquor/tobacco advertising for years, when people in bars pretended to be interested in you simply to get you into a conversation about the brand they were pitching. It’s also an idea that was part of the book Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

Sure, that video is very funny, but what does it mean for advertising? Having a 7 year old (Sydney), I frequently think about the world we’re leaving to our children on many levels and certainly, how our work in marketing/advertising will impact how she lives in the future. And I do worry that our manipulation of WOM will create a world where Sydney has to somehow check everything she’s told by people just to make sure it’s not just a sales pitch.

So, WOM has always worked in the past and will always work in the future. It’s not really all that new, we just have better ways to track it today. But it won’t work if people believe it’s something that our industry has manipulated so that it has little or no validity to the audience. Advertising is when someone pays to get their marketing message out. That’s not WOM. WOM is a natural outcome of brands, big & small, doing really cool things organically and authentically. If it’s manufactured, people will know and, at best, it will have a short term impact. The truth will almost always prevail!

Word-of-mouth marketing remains one of the most effective marketing channels–provided that it’s done well (Emphasis mine), according to two new studies from DEI Worldwide and Forrester Research.  

Consumers don’t put much trust in corporate blogs or social network profiles, but will readily listen to people–even if they are employed by the company selling the product–provided that they are open about their mission and relationship to the company.

DEI commissioned a study by OTX, a consumer research and consulting firm, which surveyed 500 Americans over the age of 13 from August 8-13. The study showed that 67% of consumers are likely to pass along information from an actual ("real live") brand representative to other people, and 57% are likely to take action based on that information–if it is believed to be accurate. Sixty-two percent of consumers felt that information received from a brand representative was more valuable than advertising or promotional materials.

In addition, DEI found that 70% of consumers have used social media–including networks and chat–to get information about a brand or product, and just over one-third have then passed that information along to others.

Of this second cohort, 60% once again used social media to propagate the information (that’s about 20% of the total). DEI is also launching a social media analyzer tool on its Web site that allows marketers to see how their target audiences respond to different social marketing channels.

Consumers are far more skeptical of information insinuated into social media but lacking the personal touch, according to another study from Forrester Research, which found that just 16% of consumers trusted corporate blogs. A mere 18% trusted corporate social network profiles.

By contrast, 77% of consumers say they trust emails "from people you know," and 60% said they trust consumer reviews.

MediaPost Publications – WOM: Real People Win Deals, Corporate Blogs Spin Wheels – 12/30/2008

Experience Manifesto: Goodbye, Mary*.

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