Word-of-mouth Marketing Will Change Your Business

  • Influencers rely on the Internet as a critical resource in helping to inform decisions.
  • In the absence of an authentic, well-constructed brand message, consumers will unleash their own impressions.
  • It’s no longer just about selling product; brand owners are recruiting and equipping fans, building an infrastructure to manage their advocates and empowering them with useful tools.

Undoubtedly, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing gives brands a powerful and influential way to engage their target audience—many of whom are already VIP members of vast information sharing, brand advocate-building communities. For those who began their career on the beauty retail floor, it is has long been known that consumers are vocal with their opinions, but now more than ever, consumers are opinion-publishing moguls—increasingly broadcasting their point of view across numerous mediums and finding enjoyment in being the self-appointed “expert,” doling out advice and converting their friends and family along the way.

A projected 72 million U.S. adults will regularly give WOM advice about products or services in 2011, up from 65 million in 2006, according to eMarketer. There are 3.5 billion WOM conversations occurring daily in the U.S., according to the Keller Fay Group, the vast majority (92%) of which are off-line, specifically 75% face to face and 17% by phone. Yet another researcher, Nielsen, showed that 78% of consumers said they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from other consumers, while only 26% trust banner ads. These figures point solidly to the advantage of a personal recommendation over blogs and ads. “Over the fence, backyard selling” still carries the most weight with consumers, which must account for the continued dominance of direct sales companies, notably Mary Kay and Avon.

But before ruling out the online channel, more than eight in 10 influencers say they often go online to find out more after reading something in a magazine or newspaper, or hearing something on TV or on the radio, according to a recent survey by MS&L Digital. This shows that, while most recommendations are made off-line, influencers rely on the Internet as a critical resource in helping to inform decisions.

While most beauty marketers would be hard-pressed to disagree that a WOM campaign is an effective and necessary marketing tool, many marketers have not yet acted. Even more puzzling, many marketers either don’t know or do not care what is being said about their brands. In a recent CMO Council survey, 56% of senior marketers said their companies have no programs to track or propagate positive WOM. In addition, only 16% said their companies have a routine system in place for monitoring what people are saying about them or their brands online.

In this hyper-competitive beauty environment, this simply won’t do. If someone was talking about you to thousands or millions of others, wouldn’t you want to know what was being said? Or better yet, know how to infiltrate, influence or spark that conversation yourself?

Word-of-mouth Strategies That Work

In “Is Your Digital Marketing A Turn-on?” (GCI magazine, July 2009), many of the online tools brands can leverage in their digital marketing efforts were discussed. When it comes to WOM, the same names are relevant (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc), but these are merely tactical tools to implement a carefully articulated WOM plan. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association outlines several positive WOM guidelines, and some beauty marketers are already taking note.

1. Creating communities and connecting people. This can include creating user groups and fan clubs, supporting independent groups that form around your product, hosting discussions and message boards about your products.

WOM TREND METER: Avon hired Communispace to create a private online customer community, where the company can develop and maintain relationships with its brand advocates.

Brands should be on the alert for the new brand communities formed by BzzScapes, where BzzAgents place to-share content about brands. The Maybelline BzzScape is an early favorite.

2. Creating evangelist or advocate programs. This entails motivating brand advocates and evangelists to actively promote a product—providing recognition and tools to active advocates, recruiting new advocates, teaching new advocates about the benefits of the products and encouraging them to spread the word.

WOM TREND METER: WOM services such as SheSpeaks and BzzAgent are a great way to recruit new brand advocates and engage them into your brand. The initial conversation starter is product sampling, but long-lasting relationships can be formed. SheSpeaks, in particular, provides a private, online discussion board for brands to continue the conversation with consumers. The impact: interacting directly with the brand produces a positive change in the SheSpeaks participants’ opinions, which can be measured before and after the program.

3. Engaging in transparent conversation. Any WOM campaign requires two-way conversation with consumers. Some simple ways to execute include creating blogs and other tools to share information or participating openly on online blogs and discussions WOM TREND METER: Bobbi Brown, L’Occitane and Tarte are some of the beauty brands that are using Twitter to engage with their following.

The Building Blocks of a WOM Campaign

Profitable brands can be built on deploying WOM smartly. The online success of the breakthrough beauty brand e.l.f. Cosmetics is a perfect example. “Word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly effective,” says Joseph Shamah, the brand’s CEO. “More than 80% of our customers say they heard about us from a friend.”

So how does a brand build an impactful WOM online or off-line campaign? The following touchpoints all need to be defined before embarking on a WOM brand journey:

  1. Talkers—Who are the ideal brand advocates who will tell their friends about your brand? Define the target group and remember to woo and inspire them to became true advocates for the brand.
  2. Topics—Based on your campaign objectives, define the topics or the message that you want to impress on your advocates.
  3. Tools—What are your campaign mediums? What resources can you galvanize and how can you help the message travel? Agree on the landscape (online, off-line or integrated) and tactics up front. Are you including a viral loop with Facebook and Twitter, for example? What agencies or outside experts do you need to involve in the campaign creation and implementation?
  4. Taking Part—How should a brand owner directly or indirectly join the conversation—while being careful not to be heavy-handed and while giving thousands or millions of potential consumers the forum to discuss your products, amortize the opportunity by listening in or—even better—participating?
  5. Tracking—What are people saying about the brand and company, do you care (you should, good or bad) and how long do you want to listen? Decide on how research will be collected, analyzed, disseminated and utilized to best impact the brand.

And before going any further, ask this question: Will people care and should they? If the answer is “no,” don’t go any further. It is imperative to be “brand real;” keep the conversation authentic, meaningful and sincere. Beware of the dangers of off-line brand alienation or online “astroturfing” (an unscrupulous or false campaign), and don’t succumb to manipulation while trying to achieve a desired response. You may want to get results, but you must be concerned with getting results the right way.

After successfully moving through these steps, the actual campaign can be created—including sending invitations, activating the information forums and flipping the campaign switch. A helpful step between includes pre-testing and fine-tuning the messages. Once the production and distribution of the campaign is up and running, do not forget to monitor the swapping of stories, passions and ideas with a formal evaluation—as these insights will lead to the understanding of the full impact of the results.

Remember The Rules

The rabbit hole many marketers fall into is rushing into a WOM campaign without a clear strategy or vision, but the dangerous flipside to WOM should make brands tread carefully. In the absence of an authentic, well-constructed brand message, consumers will unleash their own impressions, right or wrong, to fill the void, and today’s speed of light communication platforms enable those homemade brand messages to travel far and fast. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is virtually impossible to contain its power—good or bad.

Brands must fiercely protect the brand assets and remain loyal to the core brand identity in order to gain the respect of the masses. “There are several misconceptions regarding WOM, the most important being the amount of resources required to mount a massive, targeted campaign and the speed of creative development required to retain the attention and loyalty of the network,” says Steven Mazur, managing director, Pisarkiewicz Mazur & Co Inc, a company that produces integrated branding programs. So remember, it’s no longer just about selling product, brand owners are recruiting and equipping fans, building an infrastructure to manage this army of advocates and, hopefully, empowering them with useful tools—not willy-nilly disseminating weapons of mass (brand) destruction.

Sarah Chung is the CEO of Periscope Solutions, a provider of advisory services for small businesses in the areas of strategy, marketing and operations. Periscope delivers research products and consulting services designed to inform and inspire the creation of great products, services and companies. [email protected]; beauty.iodcenter.com

Tina Hedges is the co-president of TWIST new.brand.venture, an end-to-end brand partner incubator that provides brands with development, marketing, sales and distribution services. The management team is renowned as “the brand experts” as seen on Bravo TV’s hit national reality series Blow Out as well as Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, Nightline—and other media outlets. [email protected]

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