Category : Word of mouth

Face-to-face word of mouth #1 influence on business buying decisions

Face-to-face word of mouth has the largest influence on business buying decisions, according to a study released yesterday by The Keller Fay Group.

Most executive word of mouth occurs offline, with more than 75% happening in person. (A very small portion happens online.) The 700 U.S. and U.K. executives interviewed for the study said that they value communications channels with two-way dialogue, Top influences on their business purchases:

  • Recommendation form a colleague or friend
  • Interaction with a salesperson
  • Participation at in-person marketing events, conferences and trade shows.

Based on my research for Beyond Buzz there are several implications to this research:

    • Most sales training focuses on style, but lacks ideas on how to jump start conversations with a point of view that is relevant to both the seller and buyer. In the Web 2.0 exuberance many, many companies are overlooking how to make face to face sales conversations more effective.
  • Word of mouth for business to business marketing and sales isn’t about buzz, it’s about providing advice and ideas and making meaning.
  • Face to face word of mouth requires that your people β€” executives, sales reps, folks at shows β€” have interesting ideas to talk about. Ideas that are fresh, engaging, memorable and are easy for people to take back and talk to others about. Give them more to talk about than more about your products and capabilities.

3 principles of communication

Walter Carl, associate professor of communications at Northeastern University and well-known word of mouth researcher, was recently interviewed by the Publicity Club of New England about word of mouth trends. You can read the full interview here.

Walter’s reminder to us of the three principles of human communication is especially noteworthy:

What are two ways that we could all communicate better?

How about three? Mindfulness, dual perspective, and balancing creativity and constraint. These are three principles of human communication.

Mindfulness is about being more aware and being centered in the present moment (very Zen). Accomplishing dual perspective is taking the other person’s perspective and then your own. And balancing creativity and constraint is a principle of both human and organizational communication. Individuals and groups are in continuous tension between balancing needs for control with creative expression. Understanding the need for both of these to co-exist and dance together at each moment is how individuals and organizations can become successful.

From angry customer to advocate

angry_woman_megaphone_400What to do when a customer starts badmouthing your business? Talk to her, of course. Studies show that listening to disgruntled customers and addressing their concerns can turn the angry into advocates. Here’s an example from Yelp that proves the point.

Katelin H. writes: Customer Service trumps all. My first – and what I’d planned on being my LAST – visit to Cowboys and Angels was a total nightmare. A bad cut and a stylist that wouldn’t listen. Why would I give them second chance? Well, normally I wouldn’t. Instead I spread the bad word across cyberspace here on Yelp.

What I didn’t anticipate was getting a phone call from the owner of the salon. I went back in (somewhat shamefaced) last night to give them another go β€”- this time it was on the house. Louise cut my hair. Not only is this one of the best cuts I’ve ever gotten in my life… she explained what she was doing as she went. She talked me through the cut – and gave me options. I have never been more pleased with a haircut. It looks AMAZING.

I can’t tell you what worlds apart my two experiences were at Cowboys and Angels. I understand that you’re not going to get a perfect cut every time you go into a salon. However, a business owner that understands the power of not good β€” but GREAT β€” customer service has got what it takes for staying power. Louise believes in the quality of her salon and her coworkers… and it translates beautifully into her work. Thank you for letting me give you a second chance. It was so very worth it.

Engaged or oblivious?

How engaged is your company with its customers? Walter Carl, assistant professor at Northeastern University’s Communications Studies Department, has created a six-step model to help companies determine how engaged they are with their customers, particularly as it relates to word-of-mouth. Check out Walter’s post. The six step model, which Walter co-created with his students:

  1. Oblivious: don’t realize that people are talking about them.
  2. Indifference or neglect: aware that people are talking about company, but don’t care.
  3. Monitoring: aware and paying attention to what people are saying; usually only paying attention to what’s being said online, which is short sighted.
  4. Listening: listening for insight and understanding.
  5. Responding: acting on feedback from customers; reaching out via blogs. Still somewhat reactive.
  6. Joining in: actively participating in conversations with customers; proactively creating ways to have thoughtful and helpful dialogues; seeks out feedback, even the negative; earns high Net Promoter scores.

While there’s a lot of talk about “customer engagement,” most companies are still stuck in the first three passive steps. To really engage with people, companies need to be at the last two steps. You can’t develop genuine relationships or trust without talking with customers about what’s of interest to them.

Takeaways from the International Word of Mouth Conference

Last week two conferences about the future of marketing were held — the giant annual Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference in Phoenix, and the first International Word of Mouth Conference in Hamburg, Germany, which I attended and spoke at.

the ANA conference sounded the alarms for new ways to connect with
consumers amid an increasingly fragmented world, the WOM conference
showed how to do just this.Here are some highlights from the WOM conference.

WOM is a discipline with proven ways to research, plan, target, test and measure. Fergus Hampton of Millward Brown laid
out the most cogent strategic approach to moving brands from “talk at
me brands” to “talked about” brands. I especially liked Fergus’ example
of religion as word-of-mouth at its most effective.

WOM is about engaging the customer, and this can be done through
experiences, ideas, and beliefs. “What starts WOM are ideas,” said
Steven Erich from Crispin Porter.
“Ideas also need to be killed to make room for new ideas. “ Jaap Favier
of Forrester, noted that we remember 10% of what we read, 15% of what
we hear, and 80% of what we experience.

WOM must be authentic, truthful, provide value, and use a human voice.
One of my presentations talked about the need to make meaning, not
buzz, and that meaning making requires context, relevancy and honest
emotion. Meaning making, done right, builds trust.

Influencers drive WOM: Alex Macris of The Themis Group,
who presented with game producer Scott Foe of Nokia, explained the
secrets to marketing to influencers, who he calls “superconductors”:
respect their power, build relationships, accelerate their experience,
and offer them status. Inus Hwang of Azooma Marketing Lab in South
Korea showed how effectively engaging a community 200 women has
accelerated the national adoption of new products at a fraction of the
cost of TV advertising. (1/13th the cost in one of her cases.)

Internal WOM:
Euan Semple of the BBC talked about the value of using blogs internally
to more openly share ideas, problems and opinions. “When you get people
talking internally you’re less likely to make mistakes and more likely
to create better things,” he said. Added Hugh MacLeod,
“How you talk internally affects how people talk externally.” Hugh
thinks that you need to create an environment where internal people can
have more open, frank real conversations before you can have genuine
external conversations. He pointed to the example of how Robert Skoble of Microsoft has changed the internal conversations within the company and affected the company’s culture.

New Research: Several academics presented new research on WOM.

Today, just 3.4% of WOM conversations are stimulated by a company’s marketing efforts; and a whopping 77% is through face-to- face conversations. Walter Carl, Assistant Professor of Communications Studies, Northeastern University.

with its ethnographic roots, can provide valuable insights in how to
communicate with and influence consumers, and glean message themes,
according to Kristine De Valck of HEC University in Paris.

Visualization of data can pinpoint influencers
in WOM communities, according to Suresh Sood, University of Technology
in Sydney. He presented a project where he was able to identify 25
influencers among 65,000 people through visualization of mobile phone
calling patterns.

The value of positive and negative online consumer reviews differ
based on the product type, said Shahana Sen of Farleigh Dickinson
University. Her research shows that 61% people rate negative reviews as
useful for utilitarian products. But for hedonic products (books. CD’s,
etc.) just 28% rated negative reviews as useful

How do you establish consumer advocacy?
A University of Queensland study presented by Sam Friend of
showed that customer identification is the most important antecedent to
consumer advocacy, more than consumer satisfaction or trust.

My favorite takeaway from the conference were two remarks by Hugh MacLeod:

“The market for something to believe in is infinite.”

“To control the conversation, improve the conversation."

Now there’s something for marketers to talk about as they plan next year's strategy.