Word of Mouth Marketing

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Summary
Word of Mouth Marketing

What is Word of Mouth Marketing? Meaning.

Word of Mouth Marketing is a marketing technique based on the effects of direct interpersonal communication.


The concept of Word of Mouth is deeply rooted in the nature of human beings as a form of referring the information from person to person. The concept has been unconsciously used for marketing purposes for hundreds of years.

Since the 1970s many marketers started recognizing the benefits of personal referral in relation to a product or a service of a company. Hence the name Word of Mouth Marketing or its acronym WOMM.


Origin of Word of Mouth Marketing. History

A recognized pioneer of this Marketing tool is George Abraham Silverman, a Harvard-graduated mathematician and statistician who worked for US government prior and during the Second World War. In the early 1970s he created a word of mouth model called “teleconferenced peer influence groups” that he lately discussed in his 2001 book “The Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing”. Silverman gathered a group of physicians to make them discuss new pharmaceutical products while he experienced the power of influence of members’ feedbacks on the entire group, appreciating its benefits.


Building from Silverman’s ideas many marketers from disparate industries engaged behaviors aimed at leveraging the power of positive referrals made directly from person to person, especially within Pressure Groups. In the context of doubtful effects of social influence exerted by mass communication and consumers traditional reluctant to conventional advertising, the communication focus of marketers shifted from traditional top-down marketing campaigns to more naïve and original approaches.


Opinion Leaders

The power of WOMM is based on the high level of social influence credited to Opinion Leaders and in general by individuals within their network of friends, family, etc… See: Two Steps Flow Model, Persuasion Theory and Persuasion Techniques. Since opinion leaders are more exposed to any form of external communication, they have become the target of most of marketing word of mouth campaigns. Many marketers recognized the strong influential power of opinion leaders and used it to boost the diffusion of innovation.

On the other side, the main concern of WOMM was originally to whom should the messages be addressed to benefit later on from the viral effect of word of mouth, and how those people should be reached.  To address this issue knowledge is required on how to run an effective marketing word of mouth campaign. Unfortunately, in word of mouth campaigns opinion leaders can not be easily spotted and reached at local level by a company’s marketers. The main three problems to reach them, are following:

  1. Limitations concerning the monomorphic opinion leadership: an opinion leader may be specialized in only one interest area.
  2. Opinion leadership tends to be acknowledged to different people according to individuals’ preferences; a leader in the eyes of one person might not be recognized as such by another person.
  3. Even among opinion leaders there can be big differences: some are harder to influence compared to others. Also they can have different timings in adopting innovations.

Design and Implementation of a Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

Some general guidelines that marketers should take into account when designing and implementing an effective WOMM campaign are:

  1. Educate prospects and existing customers about products and services offered, stress their features, uses, benefits and limitations.
  2. Attempt to identify people who are most willing to share their experiences and disclose their opinions.
  3. Work hard to reach high level of customer satisfaction. Happy customers will be highly self-motivated to refer their positive experience to other peers.
  4. Gather and analyze information about how opinions are shared, where, via which channels (i.e. internet, events, workplaces, schools, home, etc…) and when in time.
  5. Improve the two-sided dialogue with customers and proactively listen to them. It is fundamental to promote transparent communication, acknowledge consumers’ intelligence and avoid any unethical or one-sided quick win.
  6. Create simple tools that facilitate the referral process. Start up incentive programs that can convert customers into marketers, create rooms for conversation about the benefits of a product or a service through events and offer free sampling to selected members of a customer network.
  7. Make sure that most influential people within certain target groups feel comfortable about a company’s products and services.
  8. A strong brand can help to boost the effect of a WOMM campaign. See also: Brand Management, Brand Loyalty, Brand Asset Valuator.

Benefits of Using a Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

  1. Extremely cheap if compared to traditional marketing campaigns based on advertising through mass communication channels.

  2. Even if it starts producing its effects in the medium-long run, usually its benefits are exponential and follow the experience curve.
  3. Word-of-mouth has proved to be effective in most industries, such as: traveling, movies, retail stores, cars, software, clothes, newspapers and magazines, TV programs, websites, investments and restaurants.

Limitations of a Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

  1. The success of a WOMM campaign can be hard to measure in the short term.
  2. Due to its nature, integrating word of mouth strategies into traditional marketing campaigns is difficult, because the concept of word-of-mouth is somehow indefinite, and its supporters don’t welcome traditional mass communication.
  3. To be more effective it is advisable to perform a product / market analysis before implementing a WOMM campaign. Some researches argue that the  effectiveness of a WOMM grows somewhere between the growth and the maturity stage of a product life cycle, others argue it is more effective when the  adopters overcome the number of non adopters.

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