Word of Mouth Demystified


Ian McKee, CEO of Vocanic, shared at the recent PR Academy Conference about the importance of Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing. Anybody who has spent time on the blogosphere will probably have heard about this term. However, what does it truly mean?

In his presentation, Ian shared some startling findings.

Media Consumption Patterns in Asia (time spent):
Internet 47%
TV 29%
Radio 12%
Newspaper 8%
Magazines 5%

However, this is how brand managers are spending!
TV 42%
NEwspaper 38%
Radio 9%
Posters 5%
Periodicals 5%
Bus/Taxis 2%
Cinema 1%

In other words, hardly any marketing is spent online even though consumers spent 47% of their media consumption time there! This correlates with my earlier observation on media spending patterns in Singapore.

From surveys, most people are twice as likely to trust their friends compared to information direct from companies. In addition, 19% choose brands solely due to recommendations.

Word of Mouth Marketing isn't necessarily Viral Marketing. Viral marketing usually happens with a promotional piece so entertaining that people tell each other about it. This normally is either a URL/Microsite, an image, a video clip or a game.

While viral marketing can generate eyeballs, it doesn't necessarily work. Burger King's Subservient Chicken, one of the most successful viral campaigns ever, generated a total of 14 million unique visitors. However, it led to 0% increase in product awareness and no increase in sales for its franchisees!

So how can one do Word of Mouth?

Step 1 is to identify your Influencers. These are "Super Recommenders" whose personality and communication style, size of their social network and affinity for the brand make them great allies.

Step 2 is to activate your Influencers. Most influencers are motivated by being better informed than the market, being the first to know, and having the chance to be "up close and personal" with the brand. Exclusive invites and previews may help here.

Step 3 is to develop the 3 components of WOM campaigns.

1) Identified and Activated Influencers
- Engaged, persuasive, highly connected recommenders

2) Remarkable Stories
- Correctly crafted for word of mouth communication (some deft copywriting needed)

3) Coversation Triggers
- the reason for them to have the conversation

There are of course ethics in WOM. Ian advocates the following 3 step test for programmes (ROI):

Relationship - transparency of their relationship with the brand
Opinion - truthfully representing their own opinion
Identity - not pretending to be someone else

I certainly found the session very fruitful and illuminating, confirming my own observations in marketing and advertising. The challenge of WOM marketing though is that it takes time to brew. I wonder how many executives and senior managers would have the patience to wait for the results to happen?

However, it is certainly the way forward, as highlighted by one of the world's biggest advertisers P&G:

"The mass market push, BIG brand model, push the advertising on TV, LOUD as you can, as LONG as you can is not as effective as it used to be. And it certainly isn't efficient" - AG. Lafley, CEO P&G (2003).

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