Why Word of Mouth MUST Be Central to Your Marketing Plan

“If you build it they will come.”

Those are probably the most destructive words an entrepreneur can utter – aside from, “I already know that.” and “the government can pry those taxes from my cold dead hands!”

Sure, if you offer a great quality product and service word will spread. Especially if you’re at the forefront of a trend and you’re the only gig in town. But otherwise – you may need to encourage that word of mouth.

Why does it work? Well, as Mark Hughes points out in his book, Buzz Marketing:

“One of the secrets to word of mouth is that you’re speaking face-to-face, which gives you what tons of marketers are trying to get every day: attention.  Face-to-face attention competes with no other media, grabbing undivided mind share.  Media expert Ken Sacharin said it best: “Our ‘rules’ [of advertising] are rooted in another time – a time not too long ago when it was far safer to assume that we already had people’s attention and that all we had to do was inform, persuade, educate, and sell. The smart folks are catching on.  If you assume you have people’s attention, you are dead wrong.  Rule number 1: Get their freakin’ attention.  Don’t follow the herd, because you won’t get heard.

According to a study by the American Academy of Advertising, when a TV commercial comes on, 92 percent of us change the channel, mute the commercial, ignore the commercial, or divert our attention to something else.  Don’t forget TiVo, either; 71 percent of people interested in TiVo said the feature they liked the most was the ability to skip the commercials.  One of the most comprehensive advertising studies of the magazine sections in Sunday newspapers performed in the 1970s showed what you might expect: One’s ability to recall advertising related to the thickness of the magazine.  The more advertising in a given medium, the less effective each advertisement. More clutter, less impact.

More than twenty-three thousand new products are introduced each year in America.  Twenty-three thousand marketers and brand managers are competing for the same level of attention and the same purchaser’s dollar.  They all want to grow.  They all want to achieve breakaway sales. And those are just the new products. What about the brand products, and companies that already exist?

DEFINITION: Buzzmarketing captures the attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand or company becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy. To put it simply, Buzz starts conversations.

That’s the essence, the key.  If you haven’t given people something clever, amusing, catchy, remarkable…if you haven’t given them something they’ll enjoy sharing with others to entertain, to sound smart or clever, to sound with it – forget it.  You ain’t got buzz.”

But there’s other reasons. We all know that word of mouth (WOM) is the best form of marketing there is. People distrust advertising, but they trust their friends. Simple.

Says Salli Raspberry in the book Marketing Without Advertising:

“What counts is not what a business says about itself, rather what others say about it.”

We know that good WOM can make a business but that one bad piece of WOM can have a huge impact. As Winston Churchill put it, “A lie will travel half way around the world before the truth even has a chance to put its pants on.”

“I tell this story to make a point. Buzz is not about elegant advertising or glitzy trade shows. It’s about what happens in the invisible networks–the interpersonal information networks that connect customers to each other. It’s about what customers–the people who pay money for products–tell each other about these products.” – The Anatomy of Buzz – Emmanuel Rosen

“People will ask other people about you before they decide to buy from you. We turn to people we trust first-friends, family, coworkers, and other people like us-when starting to look for something to buy. Not ads, not brochures, not phone books.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

And this verbal ‘buzz’ plays a huge role in many people’s decisions to purchase products and services just like yours. I’ve heard it said that 25% of all conversations are about products and services. That’s a lot. Consider the following statistics (from page 5 of Emmanuel Rosen’s book  – The Anatomy of Buzz):

“Customers are scared (and rightly so) or being ripped off, buying something they won’t be able to use, or simply paying too much. Checking with friends before they invest their hard-earned dollars (especially in big ticket items) is a good way to reduce this risk. Consider that .. .

  • “sixty five percent of customers who bought a Palm organizer told the makers of this device they had heard about it from another person.
  • forty seven percent of the readers of Surfing magazine say that the biggest influences in their decisions about where to surf and what to purchase come from a friend
  • friends and relatives are the number-one source for information about places to visit or about flights, hotels, or rental cars, according to the Travel Industry Association. Of people they surveyed, forty three percent cited friends and family as a course of information.
  • fifty-seven percent of customers of one car dealership in California learned about the dealership by word of mouth. “This is not unusual,” says Jim Callahan of the Dohring Company, which conducts surveys for about five hundred car dealerships around the country every year.
  • Every year we hear about movies such as the Blair Witch Project or There’s Something About Mary that are driven by word of mouth. Fifty-three percent of moviegoers rely to some extent on a recommendation from someone they know, according to a study by Maritz Marketing Research. No matter how much money Hollywood pours into advertising, people frequently consult with each other about what movie to see.
  • Seventy percent of Americans rely on the advice of others when selecting a new doctor, according to the same study. Sixty three percent of women surveyed for Self Magazine cited “friend, family or coworker referral” as one of the factors influencing over-the-counter drug purchases.
  • Research shows the importance of referrals. According to Paul and Sarah Edwards (authors of Getting Business to Come to You) up to 45% of most service businesses are chosen by customers based on the recommendations of others.

And yet most of today’s marketing still focuses on how to use advertising and other tools to influence each customer individually, ignoring the fact that purchasing many types of products is part of a social process.”

And as Mark Hughes points out in his book Buzz Marketing: “Firms like Euro RSCG have documented the impact of word of mouth: ten times more effective than TV or print advertising.  Ten times more effective.”

Or as George Silverman puts it in his brilliant book, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing:

“There is a large body of research that shows that people gather information from your marketing materials, including salespeople and advertising, then talk it over with their friends. They buy in response to what other people say about the product. Word of mouth is not just a welcome by-product of good marketing. you talk, people listen. Then they talk it over with their friends, family, and trusted advisors. Then they buy, but not before talking about your product. While they are trying your product, they talk. After they have committed to your product, they talk some more. Getting people to talk often, favourably, to the right people in the right way about your product is far and away the most important thing that you can do as a marketer .The best way to increase profits is to accelerate favourable product decisions. The best way to accelerate product decisions is to make them easier. The best way to make decisions easier is to deliver word of mouth, instead of confusing, low-credibility information in the form of advertising, salespeople, or other traditional marketing.”

“We never call it by its real name.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz “We’ve just started using the term word of mouth in formal marketing. That means that lots of things that should be considered word of mouth are not properly identified as such. This inconsistent naming means that we fail to measure word of mouth accurately. Take another look at all your sources of new customers. Rename anything that could be considered customer to customer. Give word of mouth its due credit to understand the real impact it’s having on your business.
Here are some of the hidden names of customer sources that are actually word of mouth.

-From a friend
-From a coworker
-From my boss
-From my doctor
-Online review or article (not an ad that you ran)
-Direct mail sent to someone else at my company
-Cross reference on Amazon
-Knowing someone who uses it
-None of the above
-And many, many more.”


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