Monday, March 9, 2009

Will WOM kill advertising?

I’m currently reading a fairly entertaining, Google-worshipping book titled What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis. But there was one passage, a lengthy endorsement of word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising, which stopped me in my tracks:

Here’s the goal. Eliminate advertising. Or at least fire your ad agency….every time a customer recommends you and your product to a friend is a time when you don’t have to market to that friend. It is possible today to think that one good word can spread as far as an ad word.

Here’s why that’s a bad idea: While every marketer’s dream is to have a product that is so good everyone is talking about it, real life rarely works that way. For starters, there just aren’t many category-busting companies like Google out there.

Unless you’re in a niche market with an established customer base (like my local seafood market which has no competition within 20 miles), some form of advertising is needed to assure your continued success—not just to attract and acquire a steady stream of new customers, but more importantly, to tailor relevant communications to connect with your existing customers.

A recent study by my friends at the loyalty marketing think tank COLLOQUY showed that the best word-of-mouth proponents for any business are its most loyal customers—most specifically a group they termed “Champions” who are most likely to spread a good word on behalf of your brand.

Yet, it’s my belief that Champions aren’t just born, they can be created. How? Through a steady diet of personalized communications via mail, e-mail and members-only Web sites, that show your most loyal customers you truly care about them and their individual needs. (After all, you’ve got to show some love before you can expect some WOM love in return.)

Another helpful tool in pumping up word-of-mouth: company blogs where you have an actual dialogue with customers, and don’t just try to market to them. Conversations in the new public square of blogs and social networks are just like the old one—bystanders are listening to every word—so the potential upside of these exchanges is amplified and could result in earning you additional brand loyalists.

So by all means, if you’re not happy with your ad agency, fire them as Jarvis suggests. But do it because you’ve found another vendor who can better meet your customer communications needs, who among other attributes can take the necessary steps to help your word-of-mouth efforts succeed. These days, you need all the help you can get.

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