The KellerFay Group, in conjuction with BzzAgent, just dropped a new report on word-of-mouth, drawing largely from solicited opinions from the BzzAgent panel. Very good read, with key learnings that both reinforce (with more focused clarity) what we know and suspect, as well as break open a few new opportunity zones. I particularly agree with the conclusion that "word of mouth marketing can produce impacts beyond spreading the word." Among their headline recos for marketers: "aim for higher impacts" (get consumers to website, drop samples, drop coupons), Go in-store ("foster interactions at point of purchase"...recall my "Ex-Spot" piece), Be Social ("build socialability in campaigns"), and Help Your Advocates be online and offline (create a blog, upload a demo video, etc). I'm always a bit skeptical about comments like "Again, the interactions need to be natural" (far easier said than done when marketing of any sort is at the heart of the process), but the spirit and intent of the comment (like the online video panel last week emphasizing "authenticity") is right.
Intimate versus Incidental WOM Revised: In skimming through the charts, the one question that keeps jumping to mind is one I've called out before: is there any risk that such research is too anchored to the world of "familiars" versus the "incidental" impact of word-of-mouth. Moreover, does the process of emphasizing intimate (e.g. I know this person) offline connections discount or undervalue true word-of-mouth impact, especially online. In one of the KellerFay/BzzAgent report charts, its reported that between 9 and 16% of agents suggest they talk about products in "chat rooms or blogs," versus 99% who talk face-to-face. The latter is irrefutable, but the former seems to betrays 90 million MySpace pages, 50 million blogs, 10 million LiveJournal accounts, and more online Skype accounts than the average person can count. Every day, I see product recos, explicit reviews, and de facto brand-centered buzz across the gamut of online venues, and the numbers, if broadly distributed across the population, beat the 9-16% number hands-down. Which begs some very important questions:
- Definitional Scope: Is our definition of WOM too narrow? I'm obsessed with the term consumer-generated media (of which I consider WOM to be a subset) because I believe it speaks to a bigger tent of consumer expression, inclusive of "familiars" but well beyond that.
- Solicited Omissions: Do consumers have a precise handle on what they actually recommend or tell others about when you ask them directly? Do we as marketers even know how to ask the question in the right way? What are the right questions?
- Recommendational Parameters: What constitutes a recommendation or an endorsement, especially in the age of social media. Most of us are walking billboards for products and brands, often without even knowing it. It's especially common online where photo and video imagery allows us to capture a more complete picture of who we are, what we buy, and even the values we wrap around those attributes. I call this "indirect product placement." Is this word-of-mouth?
- Incidental WOM: How do we account for the indirect or incidental effect of WOM, especially via search engines. Most offline and online rumors are turbo-charged at the moment of search. Search results reinforce and "affirm" hunches and suspicions or curiousity-triggers, and the fact that the validation expressed in search results comes from consumers (i.e. more trusted than advertisers...even though we no earthly clue who these folks are) makes it even more powerful. Is this part of word-of-mouth?
- Quantifying Latency: Related, what's the "Net Present Value" of buzz that's permanent -- not fleeting or ephemeral. Just think about Jeff Jarvis and Dell. The power of that incident is the "latency effect" of the negative experience. The incident continues to create media...almost in perpetuity. How do we account for that?
So What's Next: Anyway, it dawned on me a couple days ago after having a rather petty ("Dude, you're WRONG!") e-mail back and forth with my friend Dave Balter on this topic that we need to break open a fresh new conversation (a meme perhaps?) on this topic. Just to make it interesting -- dare I say, engaging -- I went ahead and registered the domain "WomWars.com" so we can really focus this debate. This is a really important conversation. If you agree, let me know, and I'll include you in the follow-up. Thanks for listening!