The New Art Of Word-Of-Mouth Marketing
In the world of Dave Balter, the founder and CEO of the word-of-mouth marketing firm BzzAgent, consumers are like big, round grapes. Interconnected with all of the other grapes in the vineyard by a collection of vines and roots, there is a consumer grape that is the marketer's target. Balter explains that shouting to that grape from across the vineyard might not be so effective. But saying something to the grape that is nearest to you and mentioning that the target grape in the middle of the vineyard might be interested in what you are saying is an important way to get the target grape, as well as the rest of the grapes in the vineyard, to hear your message. In Grapevine, Balter's first book, he writes that it doesn't matter whether the message is repeated just as you said it, or how long the message takes to reach its destination. "The target grape is far more interested in what other grapes have to say than it is in catch phrases shouted from a distance by message purveyors," he explains.
This type of indirect marketing is known as word-of-mouth, and Balter has discovered that it is most powerful when it is delivered by ordinary people. This is because the people around us have a bigger influence on us than the experts we hardly know. In Grapevine, Balter and writer John Butman describe what BzzAgent has learned from real marketing campaigns about what does and does not work to get people talking about a product or service.
Balter explains that he has found a way to measure and harness word-of-mouth without corrupting it. His agency does this by coordinating a community of more than 100,000 people who volunteer (for the cost of a free sample, a coupon, or a potential free trip) to talk to their friends and acquaintances about products they love. These products include books, beer, jeans, perfumes and restaurants.
Balter classifies the people who first share their honest opinions as generation zero (Gen-0). He explains that his agency chooses Gen-0 people based on certain characteristics or demographics, and then lets them experience a product and helps them understand how to communicate the experience more effectively. By helping the Gen-0 people talk consistently about a product with others, he prepares them to begin a 12-week campaign of interacting with their acquaintances that produces about five to seven interactions about a product or service. Although this might seem like far fewer than might be effective, Balter believes it is highly effective. He writes, "Five or six or seven genuine, honest word-of-mouth interactions may be more powerful than 500 advertising impressions."
The Gen-0 people also report their activities, which gives BzzAgent an idea of who the Gen-1s are, how they interacted with the Gen-0s, and how the Gen-1s responded. The marketing agency also learns where the interactions took place, how the product figured in the interactions, what was communicated, and what resulted.
Realizing the Power
The next step — when Gen-1s carry the communication along to the next group of people — is no longer controlled or monitored by the agency. This communication is left to the consumer, without control or management. Balter explains that this realizes the power of the word-of-mouth medium. By making sure that the original communication with the Gen-0s is "entirely genuine, honest and worth talking about," the Gen-1s will have received honest opinions as opposed to marketing tag lines. The credibility of the Gen-0-to-Gen-1 interaction, he adds, carries over to the next levels of communication that follow.
Word-of-mouth must be allowed to proliferate naturally, Balter explains, or it isn't word-of-mouth. He warns that marketers should not attempt to track it because tracking damages its purity and corrupts it, reducing the credibility of the message.
Grapevine describes dozens of scenarios when word-of-mouth marketing worked, and how other types of marketing — buzz, viral, shill (which involves people being paid to recommend a product without disclosing their relationship with the marketer) — compare to the honest, genuine sharing of real opinions and information about products and services. One surprising aspect of word-of-mouth marketing that the authors describe is the fact that it does not have to be positive to be good. They write that negative word-of-mouth can add credibility to a product or service, and can bring out the quiet advocates "who can be even more powerful than everyday fans."
Why We Like This Book
Packed with specific examples of how BzzAgent is able to spread the word about new products and services using an unconventional yet exciting new marketing technique, Grapevine offers marketers a complete guide to word-of-mouth. Offering step-by-step instructions on creating a word-of-mouth campaign, along with the case studies that show how BzzAgent has been successful at communicating to potential customers through real people and their honest opinions, the authors reveal a shiny new tool for the marketer's toolbox.