9 posts categorized "word-of-mouth"

06/11/2009 Asking the Wrong Questions

My grandmother always told me if I asked the wrong questions I’d never get the right answers. I thought of this when I came across an article titled “Word of Mouth Beats Online Recommendations.”

“Aha!” you think immediately. “More proof of Online’s hype.” It’s interesting how much we see this, to be honest, and while some of this comes from old media defensiveness, I think some of this comes from people who like seeing upstarts get what’s coming to them.

The actual study by Mintel, according to the news releases, showed that a lot more people bought something after they heard about it from someone they knew as opposed to a recommendation of a blogger or chat room person. Weirdly enough, people trusted the advice of someone they knew less well, preferring friends and relatives to partners and spouses. I could go on for days about that, but I digress.

What sticks in my craw is asking people if they trust the recommendations of a blogger or someone in a chat room and letting that represent Online Recommendations. It’s as if they asked people if they listened to recommendations from their dentist and doctor and considered that to encompass Word of Mouth.

If you ask the wrong questions, you can’t get the right answers.

Online word of mouth is much more than bloggers and chat rooms (of course, I have no idea what they even mean with chat rooms; it would be good to see more data). Most online recommendations I read come on product pages themselves, like on Amazon.com, or describe different experiences on aggregation sites, like TripAdvisor.com. Neither of these are bloggers or chatters, but I’d be surprised if these recommendations didn’t impact buying decisions more than the online described by Mintel.

And I’m not even getting into something like Facebook and other social networks.

Are online recommendations the be-all-end-all? Of course not. Will online completely replace offline connections and relationships? I hope not. I can’t ever see that happening.

But don’t try to convince me that online impact is minimal using poorly worded surveys to produce dubious results that get sensational headlines.

Doesn’t everyone have something better to do?

04/15/2009 Word of Mouth Marketing

Cover of "Word of Mouth Marketing: How Sm...Cover via Amazon

I took advantage of my travel time this week to jump into a book that I ordered two months ago but never made the time to spend reading it. I turned off the TV on Jet Blue and tuned into Andy Sernovitz’ “Word of Mouth Marketing” second edition.

It felt right that Seth Godin wrote the foreword to this book because it seems like a logical extension from Seth’s “Purple Cow” and “Free Prize Inside” to Andy’s “WOMM.”

This is another book that is well written, easy to read, and supplies good examples to get you going. Most importantly, it gets you going of doing word of mouth and not just talking about it. That was one of things Purple Cow did at an old workplace: it got everyone talking about remarkable but no one agreeing on what remarkable was or what we were actually going to do differently.

In some way it feels like the manual to a lot of Seth Godin’s thinking.  And I have to admit that I like it when Andy stops you and points out the key points and reminds you to, well, remember.

The book has two sections: Essential Concepts and How To Do It. The How To Do It section is so full of different angles that it almost feels silly NOT to do try any of these.  Reading this section gave me 5-10 immediate ideas I’ll be talking to my clients about over the next few weeks.

More importantly, it spurred a great idea for my own business. I love it when you see something and it just goes “Pop” and there the idea is. I can’t wait to do this, I hope my clients have as much fun with it as I’m going to have putting it into action.

And isn’t that word of mouth is all about? Generating interesting, creating something fun or unexpected and not being able to wait to tell someone about it?

I think, though, that one of the things that make Andy’s ideas stand out is that he seems to promote what I call “Moral Marketing™.” As he puts it “word of mouth marketing is about being good to people.” If you took out the words “word of mouth” from that sentence and just let it speak to marketing, imagine how different our world and the work we do would be.  Social media seems to embrace this philosophy, when done correctly, which is perhaps why word of mouth marketing now has a platform to flourish on.

So add “Word of Mouth Marketing” to your reading list. When you finally get around to reading it, you’ll be glad you did. It will either reinforce what you now do and spur more ideas, or it will get you to start looking differently at the marketing you currently practice.

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02/08/2009 The Noismakers

David Armano got me thinking the other day, as he usually does with his blog posts and diagrams, with a Tweet. Now on his blog, he was explaining the difference between paid media and unpaid media. I was fumbling to think of a response to that and I realized that the word “media” got in my way.

Maybe because I spent the last 9 years in an ad agency, in my head, media is something owned by someone else, like TV, newspapers and radio. Paid media meant buying a piece of that, usually advertising. Unpaid media usually meant public relations, where you get an article written without paying the journalist. Still, you have to pay the public relations specialist to get the article.

With Web and Digital, media has blown apart. Either everyone owns a piece of the media (such as blogs) or they own the content of the media (such as things like TripAdvisor.com reviews).

Instead of media, I thought, maybe, we should use the old term “voice.” But after reading Marcel Lebrun’s great post on share of voice vs. share of conversation, I think a better term would simply be:


There’s paid Noise (every time you pay someone to make Noise for you).
There’s unpaid Noise (every time someone you know or don’t know decides to make Noise about you).


I see Noise as value neutral, although dictionary.com might argue with me. A beautiful song is good Noise. Flatulence is bad Noise (unless you make the iPhone app iFart). Advertising is definitely Noise, some of it good Noise, most of it bad Noise. Customer reviews are Noise. We hope customers are noisy like a boisterous party and not noisy like a violent mob.

Paid Noise would include everything a company pays for marketing. Work like ads, PR, search engine marketing, event marketing, and guerilla marketing. Unpaid Noise is Noise that emanates from a customer experience. Reactions to products, customer services, physical locations, and services.

Where this breaks down is characterizing the response to paid Noise. If someone goes online and reacts to a Superbowl ad, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?  We’re not paying that person, but he or she responds to our paid Noise. In the very least, paid Noise gets an assist. Same with building a great microsite. When people pass on and talk about Elf Yourself, is that paid Noise or unpaid Noise?

I’m going to stick with this for a while and push on it. I like where Armano is going with earned vs. paid, though. It's also a great distinction between digital media strategy and social media strategy, something I'll have to try out on some clients.

We marketers are  Noisemakers. The question is: are we singing or farting?

01/16/2009 Puma Combines Fun with Business

I’m a total sucker for mashups where you upload your picture and do something silly with it. I’ve written about this before but I have a ton of fun doing this. And I’m not the only one, apparently, if you look at the success of sites like Elf Yourself and In The Doghouse.

One of the challenges with all of these is that while they may be a blast, drive engagement and get people to spend lots of time on these sites, the business benefits aren’t so clear. There were articles a while ago describing how Elf Yourself didn’t provide any business boost to Office Max (yes, Office Max is the company behind the famous elfs, although it was easy to miss).

The question with all of these is: Is it relevant to your brand and market? Yes, awareness is important but if it’s easy to forget your brand and what you offer then engagement will only get you so far. In The Doghouse was fun but the connection between Doghouse, Penny’s and diamonds was tenuous at best.

Along comes Puma with its “I Am 60” collection, highlighting its fashion over time and inviting people to go retro. They also have a mashup; you can upload your photo, change hairstyles, clothing styles and more. Here’s what I might’ve looked like in a previous age (better, worse, what do you think?). So far, pretty fun, but the kicker is about to show up in my inbox.


Once I’m done, Puma sends me my picture in a promotional e-mail and then encourages me to shop different styles/eras. They’ve firmly connected my fun engagement with what I’m really supposed to do: buy Puma gear. Hey, there are the sneakers I wore in my junior year in high school!

Seeing myself together with products in this space ties together business and fun in the best way I’ve seen for a while. Great job Puma and whatever agency was behind that. I hope we see more fun, relevance and business in this down year.

12/10/2008 Those Untrustworthy Blogs!

The blogosphere and marketing pubs are abuzz about a Forrester Research report this week, penned by Josh Bernoff and Co., showing that Company Blogs rank last on the ol’ consumer trust-o-meter.

It’s actually pretty funny to read the blog posts recommending killing off this untrustworthy fiend since just right above it, just saved from the bottom of the list, is the personal blog.

Whoa! And we all thought we were soooo much better than the corporate blogs. I mean we try to advise corporate bloggers. But it seems that no one, in general, trusts blogs. Except, of course, other bloggers. I’ll bet that will throw a monkey-wrench into the gears of some 2.0 PR firms.


Unfortunately, there’s not much buzz from this report about what people actually do trust. E-Mails from people you know, and reviews from people you don’t know top the trust list. That’s pretty interesting. I get the e-Mail piece but it’s pretty amazing that people trusts review from people they will never see, meet or hear from. But reviews are very personal and that is probably why they garner such trust.

Message board posts, on the other hand, rank way down the list. Too many rants, maybe? And e-Mail from companies slightly top direct mail. I’m surprised there isn’t a greater difference, since you’ve opted into one, but not the other. You’d think that the Direct Marketers would shift some of their emphasis to e-mail, based on this.

Looking at this list, its fun to realize just how little things have changed since Edward Bernays started this whole modern marketing business. Word-of-Mouth is still king, by a long shot.

Looking at this from a digital strategy perspective, the good news is that three of the top four items are online (I’m assuming most of the reviews are online). We should be doing everything we can to create great word of mouth promotion. Again, look at the post about Obama’s campaign. He created outreach and tools to do just that.

Bernoff and crew do give some good tips on how to improve company blogs. Personal bloggers should take note of them as well.

Trust me!

12/09/2008 Social Media: Obama is King of KAOS

Yesterday one of my Triibe members sent me a link to a study about Obama and his use of online and social media during the 2008 campaign. This e-paper, by Yovia founder Jalali Hartman, is titled “Obamanomics: A Study in Social Velocity.”

One of the more interesting premises is that Obama wasn’t taking his playbook from Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign; he was taking it from Stephen Colbert’s fake run for the presidency in 2007! (I think a better role for Colbert would’ve actually been Maxwell Smart instead of Steve Carell, but I digress). That campaign spawned a slew of social media activism.

Hartman points out that Obama spent less than 2% of his huge campaign war chest online, and that McCain actually outspent Obama on paid search by 22 to 1! So how did Obama do so well online?

The study identifies four key components of what they call Social Velocity:
1.    Content
2.    Connections
3.    Community
4.    Conversation

Ultimately, Obama gave up control to his advocates and let them create something unique. I think the best part in the study is describing how Obama’s camp gave every graphic, speech and video clip to a rock band to make a video and to do whatever they wanted. They carried this “no-rules” content strategy throughout the campaign.

Read the report. It’s a great lesson in social media and creating grassroots movements.

In the end, Obama embraced the KAOS of digital and gave up CONTROL. Most brands lack the cojones to do so.

11/30/2008 Motrin and Burton

I’ve been watching two customer generated protests unfold over the last two months, one online and one offline; one hugely successful, one not so successful; one driven by consumers and another driven by interest groups.

Motrin and Burton Snowboards both found themselves faced with an angry public. But the cases couldn’t be more different.

Motrin had posted an ad aimed at young moms. Their goal, apparently, was to connect with the challenges of young mom-hood and offer a solution. Motrin’s hip, typestyle driven online ad tried to bond with young moms with the inside scoop that carrying babies in slings or Baby Bjorns might make them feel like good moms, but that it gave them a pain in the back. Motrin to the rescue!

Unfortunately the audience, those young, online, urban moms, felt like Motrin didn’t get it at all. Believe it or not, the moms carried their babies like that because they liked to, it freed up their hands, made their kids feel better, and didn’t really hurt that much. But they didn’t like feeling talked down to. So they Twittered and e-mailed Motrin to death, and won. Motrin took down the ad and apologized.

Lesson 1: When your target customer is upset, you better listen!
Lesson 2: If your customer is online, you better move fast!

The other example is the brouhaha up in Vermont about the Burton Love Snowboards. Burton released a couple of boards with old Playboy centerfolds on them. One board had cartoon drawings on top of the picture.


That caused a group in Burlington to hold protests outside of Burton’s headquarters. It called Burton “pornographers.” And it forced members of the city council to pass a resolution calling on Burton to “talk with” the protesters (counselors voted down a more adamant resolution). The group wanted Burton to withdraw the boards from the market.

In Burton’s case, the people protesting were not the people buying the boards. The Love boards were for a younger, male demographic, and after the protest, they're apparently selling out in light speed. And Burton, always a big supporter of youth programs and women’s program, was put on the defensive, enough so that both Jake Burton Carpenter and his wife Donna responded in not-so-nice tones in this week’s local rag.

The Burton protesters were all offline – a search on Twitter reveals almost nothing. They weren’t customers and they weren’t able to generate any of the parodies you see on YouTube about the Motrin campaign.

Maybe they were too serious in their protests. Maybe they were too extreme in calling Burton “pornographers.” Or maybe, they just didn’t matter and couldn’t master the technology.

Lesson 3: You don’t need to listen to anyone and everyone.

10/31/2008 Elf Yourself is Back

You only have to wait 10 more days until you can Elf Yourself for the 2008 holiday season. The OfficeMax campaign is probably the most viral online effort ever. And why not? People love seeing themselves and Elf Yourself lets you see yourself and others in a short, entertaining Web dance-o-mercial. My favorite last year was when my sister put all of her pets, cockatoo included, into the mix.

Of course OfficeMax isn’t the only one doing this. Time Warner Cable just launched Fame Star, where you can create your own trashy Hollywood rags to riches to rags story online. I don’t know why it’s so funny seeing yourself with weird hair, but there it is. This one is really mixes it up, as it keeps reusing your picture in different places. Well done, Time Warner.


I have to admit, though, that my favorites are on JibJab. While you have to pay for them, last year they let you send one on Valentine’s Day for free. It was, without a doubt, the best virtual strip-o-gram my wife’s every received, judging by how many times she looked at it, and how much she laughed at it. 


On the weirder side is the Baby Maker at VW’s Routan Boom. I didn’t get it. It didn’t do much, nor could I adjust anything. Maybe it’s the cross-dresser in me, but if it doesn’t make a movie, like the previous examples, I’d rather play around with something crazy like you find on SevenTeen.com.

Pffdd946e3adc4f724eb8684b73c918a9_7920001All of these are good, non-serious viral examples. Let people waste some time and have a good laugh, and they’ll share it. Whether that translates into sales is another question.

But from a branding stand point, if you can make a person’s day more enjoyable, especially in tough times like the next few months, you should come out ahead.

10/13/2008 I’m in Seth Godin’s New Book!

Well, would you believe, I’m on the inside of the book jacket? I pre-ordered the book “Tribes”, joined Seth’s online tribe, and he put my crazy picture (along with other tribe members) on the inside of jacket cover. I've received other cool things when pre-ordering his books, like getting a cool milk carton containing Purple Cow or a cereal box with Free Prize Inside. Why do I keep doing this? For one simple reason:

Seth Godin is my Yoda. That’s the best description I can think of (now that my son Felix is making me rewatch all of the Star Wars movies). His writing and the inspiration it’s given me has helped me make the move to go out on my own and leave my “safe” agency job.

Banana_tribes “Tribes” is about leadership. The best thing about Seth’s writing is that he doesn’t pull his punches; it’s a book that challenges and inspires.

Best of all, he practices what he preaches. I’ve written a number of blog entries about making your customers part of your product. Here’s a living, breathing example. It’s not surprising that Seth G. has a pretty close relationship with BzzAgent, a company devoted to this type of word-of-mouth marketing.

And if you’re reading this, it’s proof it works.

This is a good book for you if you’re stuck in a large organization, figuring out your next career move, or just trying to become more active in your neighborhood, local politics, or religious community.

Thank you, Seth.

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