Saturday, April 24, 2010

Word-of-Mouth Rises Again, Louder Than Ever

A recent conversation with another long-time advertising professional made me think. Actually, made me talk about the "old days" when word-of-mouth advertising was often cited as a top selection factor for various products and services. For ad professionals, this always made us cringe. We would develop unique strategies, create breakthrough work, and place it with innovative media ideas. Yet, when research was conducted, many consumers would often cite "yellow pages" and "word-of-mouth" as reasons for having awareness of a company, service, or product. Yikes! Cringe!

Fast forward a few decades and "word-of-mouth" and "yellow pages" are still major factors - but now in their digital avatars of "social media" and "internet." And now, instead of a cringe factor, it's a "cool factor." And, it's a fact of life in brand-building and advertising strategy.

Mass media is still being used to create broad-based awareness and positioning of new products and services. But word-of-mouth has gone from neighbors talking to neighbors to people all over the globe weighing in on their feelings, likes, dislikes, and other thoughts pertaining to your products and services. Remember the old formula, if one person likes your brand, they'll (maybe) tell someone else. But if they don't like it, they'll tell five people who will tell five other people who will tell five other people. And so on, and so on, and so on. Multiply that by a thousand times and that's the world we live in today and the pressure it places on product performance, brand standards, and integrated communications.

As marketers, we can no longer blow off the value and importance of "word-of-mouth" and talk about how it's all driven anyway by our brilliant mass media tactics. Yes, television, radio, print, and outdoor campaigns do build market awareness and serve to position products and build emotional bonds with consumers. But there's a whole new undertow to customer perception in this current climate that works independent of these broader strategies.

What's a marketer to do? First, be proactive on social media - start the "word-of-mouth" conversations and deliver it in a way that supports your brand promise and personality. Second, integrate your broad-based brand media with your social media strategies - many companies are already using their Facebook and Twitter pages as calls-to-action in their advertising. Third, measure your "word-of-mouth" efforts with more than a grain of salt - it is meaningful and, at the rate it's growing, will soon take over the salt shaker!

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