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Friends. Friends-of-friends. Facebook friends. Frienemies. Aside from the most-obvious common denominator, these varied groups share something more important in common: they’re online, and they’ve become the voice of marketers everywhere. While the world continues to buzz about The Social Network – both real and dramatized – Facebook and its peers have been getting major nods in the press for doing, well, exactly what they were created to do: connect people. As a result, the face of word of mouth marketing has evolved dramatically. Word of mouth has always been a powerful marketing tool; it’s reported to be the fastest growing sector in marketing and media services. Now thanks to social media, it’s hundreds of billions strong. Recently, we’ve seen smart companies such as American Eagle Outfitters, Hewlett-Packard, KFC and Red Bull use social media to activate WOM marketing campaigns. And, like the smart brands that did the same before them (Dodge, Ringling Bros. Circus and TOMS shoes come to mind), it’s working. It’s no wonder that WOMMA – the Word of Mouth Marketing Association — plugs itself as covering ethical word of mouth and social media marketing. Truly, they’ve become one in the same. McKinsey reports that 67 percent of consumer’s purchasing decisions are primarily influenced by WOM, and Keller Fay reports that 54 percent of business buyers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by WOM. In other words, we tell our friends, they tell theirs, and on and on and on. The message travels fast and furiously. Yesterday’s telephone is today’s news feed. Are you getting your say?
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud here, but it seems like old tricks can be – and have been – made new and better with the help of social media. Now that consumers can “like,” “share” and “tweet” about brands and products, word of mouth marketing is moving faster and extending further. Smart marketers should inspire consumers and ignite their conversation.
Word of mouth marketing is hardly new, but it’s certainly transformative. Today, consumers are subject to a variety of opinions and resources. Why would they not turn to their friends for familiar guidance? In our “Brave New World” of advertising,” consumers are turning away from traditional mediums – such as print and television – in favor of the Internet. Smart brands, like the ones mentioned above, are acknowledging social media as an effective tool to meet consumers on their terms, online and off. In the cases of HP and American Eagle Outfitters, they took to the college lawn. But first, social media was used to spread the word. Recently at Washington State University, HP brand ambassadors participated in an annual back-to-school music festival, where they demonstrated laptops and announced brand deals. Students who signed up for information – either in person or on Facebook – received free giveaways. On its freshman move-in day at West Virginia University, American Eagle had student reps on-hand to lend a hand, distribute free flip-flops and entice buyers into stores with a 15 percent off coupon. The event was organized by one of American Eagle’s brand ambassadors who helped spread word of the brand’s services via the university’s Facebook page: “Need help moving in? No worries. AE will be there,” she posted. While it’s reported there are roughly 10,000 student reps on campuses nationally (paid in cash, products or a combination of the two), brand ambassadors come in all ages. Companies such as BzzAgent and House Party take advantage of this by tapping regular people via the Internet to help promote sponsored brands. House Party, for example, connects brands to advocates who are given the goods to host parties sponsored by leading companies such as Gerber, Nestle, Sabra and Sony PlayStation. BzzAgent does something similar, providing consumers with products to sample and share with friends. They’re then given the chance to offer the sponsored brands feedback. Both sites can be connected to via Facebook, and are amazing concepts, for sure, as well as smart opportunities for brands to engage online.
While the majority of WOM marketing still takes place face-to-face – on college campuses, at clubs, in offices, at sporting events, etc. – there’s no denying that using social media reaches consumers quickly and effectively. The next word of mouth is word of mouse. By creating opportunities for online word of mouth marketing, brands send the message that they’re part of the virtual “in crowd” whose friends – whatever kind – are listening.
After all, that’s what friends are for.