Word of mouth marketing is often overlooked in the world of internet marketing, as it is not technically “e-marketing,” and not “new,” so to speak. However, in today’s world of social media, instant messenger, and mobile phones, word of mouth marketing is more alive than ever. It’s becoming more and more of a better and more effective way to market and advertise your product or service.
Viral vs. Word of Mouth Marketing
Let’s take a minute to differentiate word of mouth marketing from viral marketing, as these are a few terms that some people sometimes get mixed up, or even use interchangeably. They overlap drastically, and are defined much differently by various professionals.
For example, Seth Godin, in his blog post “Is viral marketing the same as word of mouth?” says that:
“word of mouth is a decaying function. A marketer does something and a consumer tells five or ten friends. And that’s it.”
Viral marketing, according to Godin, takes the phenomenon a step further:
“A marketer does something and then a consumer tells five or ten people. Then then they tell five or ten people. And it repeats. And grows and grows. Like a virus spreading through a population.”
Dave Balter, founder of both the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and BzzAgent (which we will talk about later) looks at “viral marketing” from a different perspective in an interview with Guy Kawasaki:
“Viral marketing is typically reserved for programs where the advertising is talked about as opposed to the product itself. A good example are viral videos, where the humor trumps the brand, ala Cadbury Schweppes drumming gorilla video—humorous partly due to the Phil Collins soundtrack, of course—and the parodies which followed.
Word of mouth is the actual sharing of an opinion about a product or service between consumers. Your viral marketing only works if it gets people talking about the product itself. If it doesn’t, you might create some laughter and awareness, but there won’t be a change in sales.”
Although both Godin and Balter do an excellent job of defining their individual takes on these two terms, I have a slightly different way of looking at them.
Word of Mouth Marketing
Word of mouth marketing takes place mostly offline (although it can take place online). A marketer does something to impress an individual, and tells a few friends (through instant messenger, telephone, social network messages, or in person) about it.
Those people sometimes will pass on the message to some more friends. This third group may or many not pass on the message. Eventually, the message dies off. It’s basically a downward funnel. The message begins large and trickles down. This can be seen in the image provided (Click for larger view).
It is important to note that individuals could tell either nobody, one person, or multiple people, through instant messenger conversations, emails, group meetings, or any other communication medium. The conversations are usually on the small scale. Instead of announcing the news to a crowd of 50+, you are having a conversation about it with one or a few individuals.
Viral Marketing works in the opposite way. A marketer once again does something to impress an individual- whether it be a great viral video, or an extreme customer experience, and that individual goes forward to announce it to larger crowds, generally, rather than have a conversation with a few individuals.
Some mediums that are generally used in viral marketing include blogs, mass / group emails, forums, instant messenger, social networks, etc. It is more of a transfer from one person to a large group of people. Each one of the individuals in that group will continue to pass on the message to either another group of people or to one person.
In viral marketing, the message begins small and grows as more people, “announce,” or “shout” the message to larger groups of people. This can be seen in the diagram provided (click for larger view). The conversations usually taking place here are more one person talking to a large group of people, rather than a one on one conversation. More of the online mediums, such as YouTube, are used to promote a lot of the viral marketing materials out there.
It’s also important to point out that a Viral Marketing Campaign is more purposeful- it’s designed to attract attention and spread, where as word of mouth marketing is more, “accidental.” If an individual experiences an incredible customer service experience, they will share it- this is word of mouth. An example of something that’s typically viral is a video designed specifically to be viral.
But these are only guidelines- there could be a customer service experience that goes viral (Vincent Ferrari’s AOL Cancellation Audio).
As you can see, word of mouth and viral marketing are two very similar types of marketing that could very much overlap at some times, as they do.
Measuring Word of Mouth Marketing
After describing the nature of word of mouth and viral marketing, it might be questionable as to how this type of thing can be measured, and added into our total marketing mix so we can find out its ROI as compared to other marketing mediums, as well as to better track our overall marketing effectiveness.
Well today’s answer is BzzAgent. In Dave Balter’s own words:
“BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth media company. We have nearly 450,000 volunteers who learn about products and services through our network and share them with their friends in an open, natural way… Do you like tasty food or cool cleaning products? Sign up for our network and you may get into a campaign for Back to Nature Nuts or a new plug-in air freshener, and we’ll send you out some samples to try, and then you share your opinion however you’d like!”
This is how it works.
1. A company works through BzzAgent to begin creating “buzz” about their product through the volunteer buzz agents.
2. Eligible buzz agents are invited to the company’s “campaign,” which usually consists of some method of trying out the company’s product or service and some general information about the company.
3. The agents then try the product or service, and begin spreading the word to other individuals naturally, usually as it comes up in conversation. The agent then reports this conversation, or “buzz” about the product to BzzAgent in a few paragraphs.
4.The report is read by a real human, and an individualized response and “thank you,” is sent to the agent by a BzzAgent employee.
5. The reports are shared with the company, which act as the measurement!
More on Word of Mouth Marketing
Dave Balter wrote an incredible, 119 page Word of Mouth Manual: Volume II book, that is available for you to download from a variety of quality marketing bloggers.
You can also purchase your own, physical copy here if you’re like me and like to educate yourself while enjoying the sunshine. 🙂 But hurry! Only a few thousand copies were made and few remain.
I’ve read this book from front to back. Balter’s writing style is easy to read, the words are larger than usual, and the content is intriguing. If you’re interested in word of mouth marketing, this is something you can check out. And why not? It’s FREE!
You can find out more about this book and where you can download it by visiting the BzzAgent page promoting this book.