Category : Word of mouth

New research: word-of-mouth effect on sales

A new “buzz action score” from researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management shows that  positive and negative online conversations are leading indicators of sales performance.

The research found that a relatively small group of people in online communities can have a substantial influence on purchase decisions, much like in face-to-face word of mouth.

Some implications for marketers:

  • Tracking online conversations is becoming essential. By understanding the “buzz” — good or bad — you can can act early to either change strategies to improve performance, e.g., pricing, longer warranties, or boost performance, e.g., increase promotional budget for product receiving a high “buzz score.”
  • Re-evaluate sales forecasting: rather than waiting until retailers report sales figures, you can being to get a sense of how well a product is doing real time by evaluating the buzz.
  • Ask your brand ambassadors for help, either providing an assessment of the buzz you’re seeing or  more actively sharing their views into online conversations. (And if you have no brand ambassador program or community, start now. These folks are invaluable to helping any brand succeed in a world where word-of mouth-is becoming so influential.)

8 ways to "social mediafy" marketing, PR campaigns

Creating marketing and public relations campaigns within a social media context requires some new steps– and greater attention to steps that hopefully have always been considered.

Here are eight ideas to “social mediafy” your campaigns.

1. Know what’s relevant and current: First, know what your audience cares about. What issues, topics, ideas are front of mind.  Not what your company wants to talk about, which is usually your own products and service features/functions (boring), but what people are already concerned about and interested in. Do this by analyzing the digital ecosystem for your category — blogs, tweets, news articles, YouTube videos,  Digg posts/rankings, Google searches, etc. What’s most popular, triggers the most responses?  If you have a corporate blog or a customer forum — what are the most popular topics?

2. What’s the business goal: Before doing anything, clearly understand the intention of the campaign. Is it to develop preference for your brand vs. another? Change a perception about your company? Make people more aware of the company’s expertise in a particular area? Help people understand an issue that is an obstacle to sales? Generate leads? Make your brand more likable?  The more specific you can be, the more effective your program will be — and the easier it will be to measure it.  I see far too little time spent on this important step. “General Awareness” is too superficial — nor does it guide how to execute.

3. Formulate a provocative point of view: What’s your take on a topic of current interest to your audience — and how does your point of view connect with your goal? Make the point of view is fresh, thought-provoking and even provocative.  As word of mouth author Emmanuel Rosen points out in an interview with Sean Moffit of BuzzCanuck, one of the worst practices in marketing is having nothing interesting to say. My research has found that there are nine themes that people like to talk about; here’s more on “The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing” from Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  My favorite is taking a contrarian or counterintuitive view. Done right, this approach creates interest, debate and longevity — and can help address a number of goals.

4. Put that point of view together in a shareable form: Take your point of view and develop it in a form (or multiple forms) that people can easily share with other people — eBooks, videos, ChangeThis manifestos, blog posts, presentations, white papers. And put those not just on your own site but where people are browsing — YouTube, SlideShare, Delicious, etc.  Some recent examples of content easy to share: Disney Park’s “make your own personalized video,” which you can then share with friends. IBM’s “Art of the Sale” mainframe videos by Tim Washer. And a great white paper, “EMC/One: A Journey in Social Media” by Chuck Hollis. Having some thing makes it easier to share. Of course, it needs to be interesting enough that you want to share it with your colleagues and friends.

5. Get your views out into the ecosystem: Now stir things up and let people know about your point of view– and where they can go to learn more.  Use Twitter, Facebook, blogger outreach,, YouTube, Digg, Sumbleupon and all the many, many other places out there.

6. Stay in the conversation: As people start talking about the topic, stay in the conversation, adding new perspectives, answering questions, providing other people/places about the issue. Set up Google alerts at a minimum to keep up with the conversation and post responses to what;s being said. The days of dropping a press release, talking to some media, and calling it a campaign are over.

7. Repackage: Take the highlights of what ensued and repackage them to further achieve your goals — use for customer newsletters, sales presentations, management reports, in employee communities/Intranets.

8. Measure what sticks: Lastly, learn from all the issues you initiate. Which garnered the most interest — and why? What fell flat? Was it the topic — or was it the execution. This execute-and-measure-and-learn is the only way to find what works for your audience — and is an ongoing education for you.

Positioning that helps word of mouth

Good brand positioning should be easy to talk about, especially since word of mouth remains the most effective marketing principle.

Many of these brand positionings exist and don’t need to be overly “created” — just ask a couple of straightforward questions and tune into what people knowledgeable about the brand say.   Yet  many marketers ignore these conversational jewels, instead creating starched, politically correct and bland positioning statements that people rarely use in conversations.

Here are a couple of good examples.

Before a recent talk at Fisher College I asked an instructor two simple questions: “Why do people come here? What’s the appeal?”

He didn’t even have to pause before answering: “It’s like a good community college but the students get much more attention and hand holding here.”  How interesting.

I asked similar questions at University of Massachusetts and got great though “off the record” answers that I use in explaining the university when the topic of colleges comes up with friends. (Talk about colleges dominates the conversations of parents of teenagers at social gatherings.)

University of Massachusetts Lowell is like a MIT-light, a great science and technology education with very successful alumni but at a state school’s lower tuition. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is like a small, private New England liberal arts college. Good programs, lovely campus by the sea.

What I especially liked was that the explanations were grounded in meaning making:  they explained the brand in context of the category and then said what’s different and relevant.  Meaning sticks, where buzz and traditional marketing materials usually do not.

Over at the School of Thought blog Andrea Jarrell explains that the best school marketing publications  “intrigue, inform, and entertain.”  Amen. And the best positioning statements do the same — and are “talkable.”

Creating new categories: social marketing delivers needed trust, emotion

Marketing as usual when you’re trying to create a new product or service category is doomed to fail.

The ads, the messaging, the press releases, the events are likely to fall flat for two reasons — people don’t trust information from companies and most marketing information is factual, filtered and rational.

Social scientists have proven that logic is ineffective in getting people to change their behavior and adopt new types of products. Similarly, so are most marketing campaigns. Harvard Business School professor John Kotter has said:

“Behavior changes happen mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. In highly successful change effort people will find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thoughts.”

As for trust, the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer finds that people’s trust in companies, the media and CEOs is at an all time low. Approximately 62 percent of the 25 to 64 year-olds surveyed in 20 countries said they trust companies less than they did a year ago. In the U.S. trust in a company’s CEO is at an all time low — just 17 percent  trust what a CEO has to say. Trust in business magazines is also down, from 57 percent to 44 percent.

I believe that social media and its first cousin, word of mouth marketing, are critical for a company intent on creating a new product category. All too often, however, companies spend more on mainstream marketing when building a new category because it feels safer, the tactics are more familiar, you can create “things” like brochures and advertisements, and you can make sure the “key messages” from the research are included.

While those elements certainly play a role in a marketing strategy, think social first. Here’s why:

  • People trust other people like them more than marketers, CEOs, governments, analysts. (See Neilsen Buzz metrics trust research) Why not sponsor an online community where people can share experiences and get and give help from people they trust?  This is likely to speed trial, if not adoption. As importantly it will help you as a marketer better understand obstacles and objections — and see the arguments people use to overcome those obstacles.
  • After people like them, people next trust outside subject matter experts. Why not sponsor an editorially-independent blog/community and invite outside experts to share their views of the new product or service category?  They’ll be much more believable than your company blog. According to the new Edelman research, 59 percent of those surveyed said an academic or an independent expert on the industry or issue would be very credible.
  • Most marketing communications is based in logic, and that  doesn’t work when trying to change behavior.  The passionate, real, credible conversations are happening among people in new social forms.  The emotion infused in these conversations is what influences change and adoption.  Yet marketing and advertising agencies tend to filter and focus on key messages, and too often  advertising designed to trigger emotion comes across as phony.

Social media conversations are unfiltered, trusted and genuine.  And that’s what you need when taking on the formible challenge of creating a new category.

Most valuable and under-used social media strategy

“What’s the best social media investment? Where we can really see a good ROI?”

The answer is easy. Getting companies to implement it is not. The most valuable and under-used social media strategy is embedding customer reviews in your Web site.  Not blogs, Twitter, communities or tagging.

An eVoc Insights study found that 48% of consumers need to read reviews before making a purchase decision. Neilsen’s research has found that consumer recommendations are the most credible form of advertising among 78% of study participants.

What gives? Fear of having negative reviews on the company Web site.  According to Sam Decker, CMO of BazaarVoice, companies have three options if they’re selling a bad product and are afraid of negative reviews:

  1. Without reviews, you keep selling the product and risk costly returns and low customer satisfaction
  2. With reviews, you can use the leading indicator of negative reviews and quickly remove this product from inventory to reduce returns and improve satisfaction
  3. Or, just allow the negative reviews to steer customers to a more satisfying purchase within the category. Let the best products win, and you will win.

“In cases 2 and 3 you remain a trusted editor of the best products; customers are happy; you maintain their loyalty, and avoid a return,” says Sam. For more on overcoming this obstacle, check out this classic article “Positives about Negative Product Reviews.”

Example: Consumer reviews on

Brag books

Sometimes the small things can set your products and brand apart.

Yesterday I received a beautiful cloth-covered photo album from  Rag & Bone Bindery. But the company calls the album a “Brag Book.”  Wow, it’s so much more fun to have a brag book than a photo album — and I know what special photos will go into a brag book vs. any old album. (See how a unique name garners word of mouth recommendations like this?)

One of the company’s other appealing product lines is their “Twelve Way” books — Twelve Wishes for Baby, Twelve Ways You Made A Difference.

If someone you know is seriously ill, depressed about losing a job, coming up on a milestone birthday, a wonderful gift would be to create a Twelve Ways You Made A Difference book.   I received something similar on my 50th birthday and it was the most inspiring  gift of my life.  My mother, who is dying, has also been receiving notes about how she has made a difference in people’s lives and she says it’s the best gift of all.

Oops, there I go with the word of mouth again. See how approaching a commodity category in fresh new ways can get you out of the commodity business and into a good market niche?

PS — Jason Thompson of Rag & Bone has a very cool blog, too.

U.S. Air Force: guidelines on responding to blogs

Kudos to the U.S. Air Force for developing some smart, easy-to-understand criteria and guidelines for how to engage with bloggers.  While you’d think a branch of the military would be especially rigid and controlling, the Air Force appears to be much more progressive than many companies, recognizing that the way to build and maintain reputation is to help your employees be your best word of mouth advocates.

New online community study: what's working, what's in the way, advice from trenches

Today my firm, Beeline Labs, Deloitte, and the Society for New Communications Research released highlights of an online communities study among 140 organizations which create and maintain communities. Some of the highlights, more of which can be found here:

Greatest value of communities:

  • increasing word of mouth (35%)
  • increasing brand awareness (28%)
  • bringing new ideas into the organization faster (24%)
  • increasing customer loyalty (24%)

Greatest obstacles

  • getting people involved in the community (51%)
  • finding enough time to manage the community (45%)
  • attracting people to the community (34%)

What contributes most to effectiveness:

• ability for community members to connect with other like-minded people: 54%
• ability for members to help others: 43%
• focusing community  around a hot topic or issue: 41%
• quality of the community manager/community management team: 33%

Advice for others

When asked what their most important piece of advice is for others creating communities, survey participants’ advice focused around these eight areas:

1.    Start with the end in mind: “Start with a business strategy, defining carefully what you want to accomplish through the community.”

2.    Focus on the value to the members:  “Make sure you deliver real, special, unique, obvious value to the core group you’re hoping to attract.”

3.    Don’t start with the technology: “Too often people get drunk with Web 2.0 tool excitement and then try to push their business and customer goals into the wrong tool.”

4.    Keep it simple and intuitive:  “Focus on the least common denominator first. Keep it easy to navigate with simple tools to use.”

5.    Keep it fresh and active:  “Keep activity levels up, constantly add new content.”

6.    Have dynamic community leaders: “Make sure you devote enough time to managing the community; letting it fester is worse than not having it in the first place.”

7.    Think through who to involve – or not. “Get Legal and PR to buy-in and help on design, but keep them out of active management.”

8.    Get a passionate core of participants active before launching:  “Make sure you have a committed core of passionate users before you launch.”
Many thanks to everyone who took the time to take the survey and talk to us as part of the qualitative surveys. The complete results are on their way to you this morning.

Events! Word of Mouth, Innovation, Web 2.0

I don’t know about you but I feel overwhelmed by the number of events and conferences out there. So here’s some editing: here are three where you’ll learn a lot, meet some interesting people, and feel that it was well worth your time and money.

  • Word of Mouth Crash Course: My friend and WOM expert Andy Sernovitz is hosting a small-group word of mouth marketing seminar on July 30 and Sept. 4 in Chicago. Usually he only does private training for companies at a very large price, so this is a rare chance for 50 people to get a good overview of WOM. (If you use this code when you register you’ll get a $250 discount: “welovebeelinelabs.” For more:
  • BIF-4 Collaborative Innovation Summit: Oct. 15-16 in Providence, RI. This is an amazing two-day conference that I think is better than TED. Hosted this year by Bruce Nussbaum, editor of Business Week and author Bill Taylor, speakers are fascinating innovators from business, science, education, the arts, non-profits. It will open your head up in a big way.
  • Web 2.0 Expo is coming to New York for the first time, Sept. 16-19. We at Beeline Labs are running a three-hour experiential workshop on the morning Sept. 16 on how to create and run thriving online communities. Based on private community-building workshops we’ve recently done you’ll come away with a blueprint for creating a community for your organization. Hope you can join us! Drop me a line,, if you want to know more.

Learn From My Life on Friday

On Friday, June 27 at 1 p.m. EST, I’m going to be sharing what I’ve learned so far about marketing, social media and word of mouth marketing over at Learn From My Life. (And answering calls and email questions.)

There are some great interviews over at Learn From My Life from people like free-agent author Daniel Pink, former CNN reporter Daryn Kagan, legendary basketball coach Dale Brown, and Dan Ariely, author of the must-read new book, Predictably Irrational.

Hope you can make it!

10 Marketing 2.0 lessons from the Ryan Montbleau Band


The Ryan Montbleau Band is an amazing up-and-coming group that knows how to use Marketing 2.0 to build a fan base and sell tickets and music, with almost no money for marketing. Here are 10 Marketing 2.0 lessons from the band for all marketers:

  1. Love what you do: passion is the center of marketing and propels all tactical components. The greater the passion, the more powerful the marketing.

2. Listen to your customers (fans): Ryan Montbleau hung out after a recent performance, talking, signing t-shirts, and genuinely connecting with fans in the lobby. I had a great conversation with him about some of his lyrics and how he’s so come to be so wise at such a young age. (Which goes back to listening and passion again; he’s in the world.)

3. Make it easy for people to help you: The band makes it easy for people to act as word of mouth advocates, inviting anyone interested to join the Bleau Crew, their street team community.

“What is the Bleau Crew, you ask? We’re a community of fans that do our best to help the band on the road, giving them time to do what they do best: make music! Projects include postering for local shows, handing out handbills, posting banners on our Myspace pages, adding new songs to our profiles, and more! Benefits include free tickets, music, and being part of something truly special. We also get personal teleporters. Awesome, I know.”

4. Go where your fans are online: (Which also makes it easy to help you again.) The band doesn’t just rely on its site or a social network. They’re all the places their fans — and potential fans are — MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, even a simple message board community aptly named Bleauboards that is thriving.

5. Reveal your points of view and personal stories so people can connect with people in band, not just band. You get a sense of the artist and person Ryan is through his blog, and you get to know all the band members through their quirky profiles. (I especially love band member Ted Wilson’s profile — and that the other members welcomed someone like him.)

6. Keep “old” marketing tactics that work: Want to stay in touch through email? Montbleau also offers a newsletter.

7. Say thank you: When a recent tee-shirt order arrived there was a a handwritten note on the order form, thanking me for supporting the band. Small touches grow fans.

8. Be distinctive, even if people can’t categorize you. Old marketing was that you had to fit into an established category or create a new category. Yet too often trying to fit in to a category blands down the product or service. In today’s super-competitive world, distinctiveness can be a powerful differentiator. So what kind of music is Montbleau? He describes himself as “something of a Martin Sexton by way of Van Morrsion and Stevie Wonder.”

9. Give away free “products”: Giving away free stuff helps people experience the “product,” have something to share as they pass along word of mouth, and  builds fan-dom. You can download for free one of the band’s most popular songs, “How Many Times,” as well as tour posters and handbills. The band is also  contributing 50 cents from each ticket to Rock The Earth, and  contributing 50 cents from each ticket to HeadCount’s “Cents for Sense” campaign until the 2008 presidential election.

10. Make it easy to buy: The band makes it easy to buy music whether it’s on their site or on MySpace, and you can buy concert tickets right on their site.

One of my favorite lyrics from Ryan’s music is:

“It’s time to ease from concentration to focus.”

This is true for so many things in life, and  relevant to marketing. It’s time we stop concentrating on the tactics and tools, and flip our focus on earning customers with all the new 2.0 tools.

PS —  Montbleau won second prize in the 2007 International Songwriter’s Competition, competing with 15,000 songs written by amateur and professional songwriters from over 100 countries.

wowOwow and enough is enough

Here are a few of items from my guest blogging duties today over at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association blog.

wowOwow on crisis communications and much more

How to respond when your reputation is under attack? Writing in the fabulous new online community wowOwow, Leslie Stahl offers this advice: “The best way to respond when your reputation has been sullied is to get real LOUD. Go on offense with a noisy, unrelenting, niggling, persistent, bellicose warrior’s attack. If you’re swinging and kicking, that’s what people will see (and the press will cover). And the besmirching of you will fade like an old scar.”

Check out more from wowOwow, now in beta, and featuring conversations among cool women celebrity professionals like Candice Bergen, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Juliet Buck, Peggy Noon, Joni Evans and Lesley Stahl.

Measuring online community success

Generating word of mouth is the reason many organizations start online communities, but they find much more additional value once the community has been up and running, like lots of new ideas from the community members. That’s an early finding of a new industry study on measuring online community effectiveness. To share your experiences — and get a free copy of the results in April, check out

Rude is rude, enough is enough

Some of the biggest buzz this week was around the audience heckling during Mark Zuckerman’s keynote at SXSW in Austin. A big round of applause to Michael Rudin for his post about the event over at Marketing Profs, “Enough is enough. It’s time that we as a community — especially the A-listers who get quoted everywhere as so-called “experts” — stand up and call it like it actually was: rude and unacceptable.” Go Michael.

PS: Beyond Buzz + Made To Stick honored

One other highlight of the week: Beyond Buzz was selected one of the best business books of 2007 by Library Journal. Beyond Buzz and Made To Stick by Dan and Chip Heath were the editors’ top picks for marketing and branding books. Nothing like a little award news to jump-start the weekend. Enjoy all.

Beyond Buzz wins gold prize


I’m so honored and thrilled that my book Beyond Buzz has been awarded a gold prize in the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards in the Advertising/Marketing/Public Relations category. I’m especially honored to share the gold with Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing. Here’s a list of all the winners.The awards are sponsored by Independent Publisher, Inc, Jenkins Group, and Padilla Spear Beardsley.

Viral Video Lesson from Coke, Eeepy Bird: Low production value

Most viral videos that hit it big have low production values, said Stephen Voltz of Eeepy Bird, the 2-person video/live performance company that has produced the wildly successful Diet Coke- Mentos viral videos. Today at the Society of New Communications Research conference Stephen also said that low production quality makes the video feel real to the viewer, making a “more genuine connection between the persson(s) on the video and the person watching.”

More than 40 million people have viewed the Diet Coke-Mento videos. Another low production quality viral hit? AskANinja.

How you talk about your brand not so important

In a meeting today with VML, Mike Lundgren, VML’s creative technology director, had an interesting comment about one of the big mind shift changes happening in marketing today:

“It’s not about how good you look talking about your own brand. It’s about how you make other people look good talking about your brand.”

In other words because people pay attention to people like them through Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and word of mouth, an important marketing goal should be helping people talk about your brand in ways they find easy, interesting and natural. That is more important than how YOU the company talk about your brand because people pay more attention to people like them than your company’s marketing programs.

It’s no longer messaging as usual. :)

Wall St. Journal: Reviving a Beer Brand One Bar Stool at a Time

Today’s Wall St. Journal has a great article about how Narragansett Beer is successfully reviving its brand using listening tours to tap into the brand’s genuine differentiation (“the townie’s beer”), and word of mouth marketing to develop passionate customer relationships.

Writer Simona Covel interviewed me as part of her research for the piece and we had some great conversations about the value of tapping into what consumers believe a brand stands for and then engaging directly with those passionate brand believers and turning them into advocates. There’s no better example of how a company is doing this than Narragansett Beer, the official beer of the Boston Red Sox for decades, but an almost dead brand by the 1980s. Mark Hellendrung bought the rights to the brand from Pabst Brewing in 2005, and revenue is expected to reach $5 million this year.

No traditional advertising in this success story. Just savvy targeting, reviving what people love about the brand, and a disciplined word of mouth strategy, led by the CEO.

Openers to set you apart in RFPs, sales conversations, presentations

One way to quickly grab attention and set your organization apart is to use openers that challenge assumptions or offer contrarian points of view. Openers that smack people in the face and make them think, “gee this company is kind of interesting; let’s pay attention to this one.”

Here are some examples we’ve been helping clients use to distinguish their RFP executive summaries, open sales meetings and make executive presentations more interesting.

  • “We don’t believe in quality control.” (If you create the right operational process you build in quality, drive out costs.)
  • “All the products in this category are commodities.” (The value comes from new types of service around the products.)
  • “Customer service should be eliminated or cut way back.” (Companies should invest more in creating a great customer experience, eliminating problems that jam customer service organizations.)
  • “Customers don’t want a relationship with companies. “ (They just want your product or service to consistently deliver as promised.)
  • “Successfully building this new airport isn’t about engineering. It’s about relationships.” (Changing the context of an RFP so the decision making committee looked at an underdog engineering firm in a new way. The firm won the bid.)
  • “The most creative marketers are scientists.” (The right data helps you target, trigger and activate.)