02 September 2009

Back Into the Future: Word of Mouth - Turbo Charged

What could be more everyday than word of mouth? We all have a mouth and most of us use it often too much, to our own detriment (especially marketers). Therefore, it long escaped the attention of marketing experts, how important the word-of-mouth-share was in buying decisions.

You could measure the significance between industries and between products, but in most cases word of mouth (WOM) contributes 90% or more to the final decision in a purchase process.

Exceptions apply for new product trials, but WOM catches up with that pretty fast. How often have you asked friends to give you their take on the latest movie? Was your decision impacted? I bet.

This did nothing to bolster the self confidence of marketers, quite the contrary. Therefore some clever marketing guys invented the concept of "Word-of-Mouth"-Marketing, also known as "Viral Marketing", "Buzz Marketing" or similar.

However, this was just a creative way to acknowledge that customers have their own darn mind, when it comes to making buying decisions. And then these thankless consumers also talk to their friends about it (particuarly if they did not like the product). And it does not matter a lot what the product manager concocted with his ad agency (or how much that had cost).

In terms of customer retention and loyalty it is well researched that customers talk with each other about staying or leaving with companies. Really great experiences are talked about as well, alright, but really interesting are the lousy encounters. Such stories are spread a dozen times more and damage the reputation of a brand pretty fast.

Slowly, marketing and media managers meekly admit to their big moneyed clients that despite all the advertising, a bad product will not become better through them - or sell more. Blame it all to the good ol´word of mouth.

Web 2.0 - The turbo charger

Now enter Web 2.0 and the word of mouth factor multiplies dramatically. Not only will my family and friends listen to me, no: even stranger heed my two cents. This we will call Word of Mouth - turbo charged.

The turbo as we know it now at engines was invented in 1905 by a Swiss, here. In marketing we know the Web 2.0 and I would suggest to apply the analogy of Word of Mouth - turbo charged to it.

The Web 2.0 world puts the charger on WOM with social media, user generated content, customized online ordering, crowdsourcing, semantic web, etc ..... what the heck else will they cram into the Internet anyway?

The WOM turbo will be the default, normal, run-of-the-mill marketing. Bad news for ad agencies, but guys - the times they are a-changin´.

What really happened is the end of classical mass marketing, which was the actual aberration. It is abnormal to produce millions of the same goods and then expect that people - who are endlessly different and vain on top of that - will buy it.

This was just possible in times of scarcity and when people were still fascinated with television. But, these times are long gone and with new customization, database and mobile technology will never return.

Therefore we are back to the normal world: I want mine, and that is not like yours. And I tell my story, which is mine and not like yours.

And so we all can feel we are different and unique: a free, individual person. Thanks God. And I will tell everyone who wants to hear it.....

P.S.: And, by the way, you cannot control word of mouth. And don´t even try with WOM turbo.