Five keys for brand boosting through word of mouth
Brand giants such as Staples and Jim Beam are allocating more and more advertising budget to word-of-mouth (WoM) marketing techniques, according to Sandra Sellani, author of the book 'What's Your Brand Quotient?'. But the vital question, Sellani suggests, is how a brand can control and protect itself when it is at the mercy of bloggers, buzz, and consumer reviews.
Word-of-mouth marketing has become a powerful tool because many consumers have lost their basic trust in traditional advertising and marketing channels. Indeed, when consumers find themselves inundated with banner ads, billboards, and web pop-ups, they are more inclined to listen to their friends, family, and colleagues.
The internet's role Consumers are also relying on the power of the internet to get detailed information about products, and word-of-mouth from social networks is a large part of that, helping them to determine if a company's products truly deliver what the brand promises.
"But it's a double edged sword," warned Sellani. "Word-of-mouth can put a company completely over the top, or it can plunge sales and revenues into a downward spiral." Sellani's recently published book gives a number of examples of brands that have failed to keep their promises, and that have been disastrously hit by bad word-of-mouth - often with a massive loss of both goodwill and hard-earned customer loyalty.
Five keys to good WoM Whether a company spends billions of dollars on a formal word-of-mouth campaign, or whether it's left to customers to simply spread the word, all businesses must now pay attention to how bloggers, social networks, and the 'buzz on the street' portray their brand.
Sellani offers five tips for protecting brand integrity while still making the most of word-of-mouth marketing techniques:
- Be ready to deliver on the brand's promise Before you launch a word-of-mouth campaign, make sure you are ready to deliver on your promises. Anticipate any potential downsides, and don't provide any fodder for negative reactions. Inform everyone in the company about the campaign, the message, and the anticipated consumer response. Help to prepare staff for all possible scenarios because, if your own people aren't prepared, the best product launch can turn into a disaster over night. Finally, make sure the product is ready and is really free of errors, flaws and problems.
- Monitor all the media channels Continuously monitor what people are saying in various media, including web sites, blogs, and online customer reviews. You can do this internally or by hiring an external organisation to keep track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of target media outlets. The brand exists in the mind of the consumer, and you will never know how your intended message is being received and perceived unless you monitor consumer and media responses.
- Act quickly if it starts to go wrong If you start to see a trend of negative comments, nip it in the bud immediately. If it appears in a blog, address it at the blog level. Acknowledge it, try to fix it, or change it. Do whatever it takes to change the negatives into positives.
- Let the community of users discuss your brand Create a community that gives people an opportunity to talk. Use events to generate positive word-of-mouth. Brand presence soars when people talk about it, and this is a technique that can demonstrate loyal customers' enthusiasm, often winning converts from competitors.
- Find ways to observe brand interactions Create opportunities to observe people using your product and how it fits into their daily personal or business life. For example, eBay has recently begun a 'hidden in plain sight' type of campaign (based on a book of that name by Erich Joachimsthaler). The book outlines how to become an unbiased observer of people's consumption and usage behaviours, and offers a new approach to identifying and executing a company's growth strategy. eBay, for example, simply visits users' homes and observes how they interact with products.
Conclusion "With so many celebrity and athlete scandals, product recalls and increased media scrutiny, a company's brand isn't something that can be taken for granted, especially when word-of-mouth has become so incredibly powerful," warned Sellani. "But add in the fact that 80% of new brands will fail upon introduction and another 10% will fail within five years, it is now more important than ever to know how your brand is perceived."