Category : Word of mouth

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!