What's new in this edition? First, lots of new examples and research. While I was desperately searching for case studies in writing the first edition (back in 1998), I had the opposite problem in writing this one--too much to chose from. Second, the new examples and academic studies helped me focus on concepts that I ignored (or almost ignored) in the first edition such as the need to measure buzz, storytelling, the power of participation, ethical issues, second-hand buzz, and visual buzz. You'll find less about why word of mouth is important and more about how word of mouth marketing is being used in the field.
Chapters marked with asterisks * are
completely new, chapters 9-10 have been largely untouched, and the rest
of the chapters fall somewhere in the middle. This is not a summary of the book, but it will give you an idea of what to expect.
Delight your customers and they will talk about you. This is the foundation of word-of-mouth marketing, but even delighted customers tend to forget, and eventually they will run out of opportunities to talk about you. Companies should therefore be proactive about stimulating conversations. Here’s how a bus, a Bob Dylan song and a virtual ice cream cone triggered some buzz.
Robert East from Kingston University in London found that 30% of negative word of mouth was by people who never owned the product. Counterbalancing this trickle of negative buzz is another reason why companies should stimulate honest, positive word of mouth. We should all encourage experience-based buzz. With too much secondhand buzz, we'll end up with what can be best described as a buzz bubble as illustrated by a review posted on Amazon: "I haven't read this book, but judging from the online reviews below, I don't think it's a very good book."
have been two major trends over the past decade in the way buzz
spreads. First, text-based buzz has reached a massive scale. Second, "word of mouth" is no longer just about words. The power of old online buzz--mostly text based--is now multiplied by visual buzz. New technologies give people more opportunities to observe and imitate each other. What's the value of such implicit recommendation? I discuss one study that measured the value Adidas derived from implicit recommendations on MySpace. Two organizations--Toyota and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)--share their experience with new buzz. I also discuss (with the help of Tim and Nina Zagat) what I called in the first edition "aggregated buzz tools". Today we have dozens, if not hundreds, of similar aggregation mechanisms. They are far from being ubiquitous even among young people (as shown by Eszter Hargittai) but I still believe that they are likely to grow and improve the quality of the products and services we use.
obvious answer is that the Internet has caused the volume of buzz to
explode. But things are a bit more complicated than that. Research
shows that most word of mouth is still communicated face-to-face. So
how exactly has the Internet contributed to the rise of buzz? It has made buzz visible to marketers. More importantly, online buzz can serve as an accelerator of offline buzz. It is the combination of online and offline discussions that makes buzz so powerful.
I was writing the first edition of this book, people doubted that it
was possible to measure something that is as intangible
as buzz or word of mouth. Today, several companies are involved in
measuring both online and offline buzz. I visited a couple of these companies--The Keller Fay Group and Nielsen Online. I also discuss efforts to measure a buzz campaign by researchers such as David Godes, Dina Mayzlin and Walter Carl.
Understanding what customers want to talk about is a key factor in stimulating word of mouth. Your best bet to finding a way to stimulate buzz is by first listening to what people are already saying about your product. Then, look for ways to amplify these discussions. I describe a campaign by Tremor (a business unit of Procter & Gamble) that created buzz for Clairol Herbal Essences. I also discuss how listening to internal buzz regarding your customers can help you avoid a culture where the customer is viewed as the enemy.
Birds do it, bees do it…we all share information, but why? And what can we learn from simpler forms of life, like ravens, about why we buzz. What intensified the buzz among Bedouins in Sinai? Readers of the previous edition may want to skip some of this, but take a look at the section that talks about self enhancement which is based on a study by Andrea Wojnicki and David Godes. If you view yourself as an expert on, say, restaurants, will you share more information about a positive or about a negative experience you had?
Some people talk more than others. I call these people “hubs”. I make a distinction between social hubs—people who talk more because they know more people—and expert hubs—people who talk more because they know more about something. How do you identify these folks? And once you do, what do you do with them? The academic debate about the topic has been going on for decades and was recently reignited by Duncan Watts at Columbia. Watts's work should remind us not to overstate the importance of hubs, but I want to make sure that marketers don't dismiss a valuable method because of a few catchy headlines in trade publications.
New examples for the use of hubs can be found throughout the book: Microsoft's MVP program, American Express's Partnership in Preservation, Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life and Prostate Net campaign with barbers. The MVP discussion focuses on the tricky relationships with hubs. If you expect them to always support you, or pressure them to do so, you may turn off potential advocates--or you may end up with avid fans that nobody listens to.
are ten principles at work in social networks that affect buzz and this
chapter examines them, one by one. What are the implications of these
principles? Have the fundamentals of social networks changed in the era
of MySpace and Facebook? Except for this issue, this chapter is almost
identical to the one in the first edition.
This chapter too has been largely untouched. It describes how word spread about the novel Cold Mountain,
and how word-of-mouth helped the product become a surprise blockbuster
bestseller. New stuff: What are the forces that block buzz from
spreading? What caused certain Stanford students to stop wearing the LiveStrong yellow wristbands?
The first Kodak camera, Hanky Panky thongs or Magnetic Poetry
are three examples for products that spread because they were
“contagious” in some way. The best buzz comes not from clever PR or
advertising but rather from attributes inherent in the product or
service itself. What does this have to do with marketing? A lot. People who focus on the promotional aspect of marketing get nervous at this point, but good marketing starts with the first "P"--Product. I also discuss here the role of visual buzz and network effects.
Eventually, people will spread the word about a great product. But how do you ensure they talk about it now? In this chapter I discuss how one woman, the late Linda Pezzano, helped accelerate the adoption of two products: Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary. I was fortunate to interview Linda back in 1998, a year before she died. For this edition, I talked to Chris Byrne who worked with Pezzano on building buzz for Pictionary.
I was more than a bit naive when I wrote the first edition. While I discussed issues like trust and honesty, when the thought of including a short section on ethical issues crossed my mind, I dismissed it. I simply didn't think it was a significant enough issue. I was wrong. So this chapter discusses some
ethical questions associated with word of mouth marketing. When you're trying to build buzz, it's important to push the envelope and think outside of the box. And when you look for original ideas and new ways to reach people, you can't police your thoughts--you need to brainstorm and let your mind explore all possibilities. But after the brainstorming, you have to change your attitude dramatically. This is best done the morning after, over some strong coffee, in the bright light of day. Think again about your wild new idea. Ask other people what they think. Ask your customers. Ask people in the community: Are we crossing the line?
The 2001 movie On the Line
got lots of initial buzz. So how come the movie bombed? Researchers
point out the difference between volume and dispersion. While the volume of
buzz matters, it is also important for it to be widespread. I describe here a couple of interesting studies: one study is by Godes and Mayzlin. The other study is by Duncan Watts and colleagues.
love to tell each other stories. What’s the story of your business and
how do you find one? Is it something you simply create out of thin air?
A good business story—a story that people will repeat and that will
help your sales—should be anchored in fact. The story of Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes is a good example. If for some reason the company suddenly stops putting shoes on kids' feet, the story will collapse, but for now, it's doing it. In 2007, Mycoskie and sixty volunteers delivered 50,000 shoes to children in South Africa. (I participated in one of their shoe drops in 2008 and I still talk about it.)
People are hungry for something to talk about. And some people know how to supply the goods. One such person is Mechai Viravaidya, who’s known as Thailand’s
condom king. His buzzworthy activities include condom blowing contests on street corners, a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms, and a program called Cops and Rubbers, in which policemen in Thailand handed out condoms on the street. When I referred to his practices as shocking, he insisted that his objective is never to shock people but to surprise them. Shocking may lead to resistance. Has he made a difference? The organization he founded was awarded the 2007 Gates Award for Global Health by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. I also discuss the concept of a conversation hook and argue that the best hooks are those that start a conversation that relates to the product or its benefits. Some of the examples used here: Brita, Intuit, Dyson.
Since we always like to share what we create, inviting people to create something of their own is another way to stimulate talk. It can be as simple as involving a customer in creating a viral video or a much more involving process,
where a customer participates in designing the product itself. Participation can have many flavors. Sometimes it makes sense to put absolutely no limits on creativity. Other times you'll get more talk if you do set some boundaries. In the first case, when you give people full freedom, very few will participate, but their involvement (and therefore the buzz they create) will be high. When you set boundaries, you make it easier to participate and are likely to draw more people who won't necessarily be as deeply involved.
giving exclusive information to a select group of people before an
official launch, you are likely to get some extra mileage out of the
news. When you hold information close to your chest, people want it.
But as research shows, you can only take this idea so far. Uneven distribution can also be created through secrets as in the In-N-Out Burger secret menu (which is not a big secret anymore). The same concept has a long history in the software and entertainment industries, where it is known as an Easter egg (or when it comes to music, a hidden track). The important point to remember is that people talk about stuff that they suspect others don't know. Marketers tend to shout at the top of their lungs. But sometimes a well-planned whisper will reach more ears.
In 2007, Red Bull introduced a game called Roshambull on Facebook (it's rock, paper, scissors with a Red Bull flavor). A few years earlier, Fiskars created a community called Fiskateers where scrapbooking fans share layouts and project ideas. The publishers of Lonely Planet created a forum called Thorn Tree where people share advice about travel. Buzz in these cases is generated not only from product experience but from human interaction. We constantly report to others about our social interactions. Any time you can plug into this habit of ours, you’ll stimulate talk.
Counter to the view that buzz is the exclusive result of grassroots and
guerrilla marketing, significant buzz can be created by
mass media. And as one story in this chapter illustrates, sometimes buzz is your best press release--it can give journalists this warm and fuzzy feeling that your story is for real. That there is true excitement for your product. In further discussion of the relationships between mass media and word of mouth, I describe a South African based organization called Soul City, which uses mass media to stimulate discussion and to promote social change. Their research clearly indicates that people who watch their TV show, talk more about the issues featured on the show. I follow Soul City's campaign against domestic violence.
A headline in a 2007 Advertising Age article presented an intriguing question: "Want Online Buzz for Your New Product?" The subtitle provided the answer: "Better Have an Ad Campaign, Nielsen Finds." So does it mean you can buy buzz with advertising? a deeper look into the Nielsen study shows that things are not that simple. "The formula for generating meaningful buzz is not as simple as spending money," the Nielsen researchers wrote. Still, advertising clearly can increase the pool of people who are aware of your product and therefore can buzz about it. With all the talk about buzz, you could easily begin to believe that advertising no longer matters. The truth is that very few products can live on buzz alone. There are also ways that advertising can stimulate and simulate word of mouth.
usually don’t trust people who sell us stuff, right? Actually, there’s
a certain breed of retailers that enjoy a lot of credibility with the
public. Think about the owner of a local boutique who has a following among fashion aficionados. Think about certain independent booksellers. Why are they trusted? Perhaps we can say that they are simply good editors--editors of merchandise, who sift through all the products available out there and prove to us, time after time, that they find the ones we want. I also discuss how retailers increasingly weave buzz into the
This is a collection of case studies on word-of-mouth marketing. The first edition had 3 cases. This one has 7 new ones. A hotel with a pillow menu: The Benjamin Hotel. The evolution of seeding: Matchstick Canada seeding of CK in2u. Are barbers influential?: Prostate Net. Tasting yogurt with your friends: The Word Of Mouth Company. Will people talk about chewing gum?: Wrigley's Extra Professional (Germany). Putting word-of-mouth-marketing on the agenda: Intuit. The secret of finding a plumber: Angie's List.
As in the first edition, this chapter leads you through a series of questions to keep in mind as you think about whatever product or service you're trying to market. I updated this chapter to reflect the new concepts covered in the new edition. It's not a summary of the book, but it should get the ideas flowing.