Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The essence of word of mouth

Through the process of researching word of mouth I have came to a few conclusions.

1. Word of mouth has always been around, it is nothing new. Businesses are just now embracing it and realizing its potential.

2. Sadly, word of mouth is beyond the control of many marketers. The essence lies in the product, service, or customer service. We marketers can do some things to encourage word of mouth but we do not have control over the message-- that is up to the consumer to decide.

3. If you don't have a product worth talkin' about, it ain't going to be talked about. And no matter how gung-ho you are about your new word of mouth campaign, it just won't work if your product sucks or doesn't appeal to anyone.

These three points lead into this businessweek article I found. The article itself doesn't mention word of mouth, but the business plan and product of topic is a perfect example of how a little company can succeed alongside the big boys of Coke, Budweiser, and Frito-Lay. It is an example of how word of mouth emerges through the birth of what I call a 'perfect fit product'.

Trader Joes is a California based grocery market chain which has 280 stores in 23 states. They started in 1967, struggling to compete in the intensifying market. Looking at them today its quite a different situation. Last year they generated 6.5 billion dollars in sales. Back in 1967, out of desperation, Joseph Coulombe, store founder, read that more educated people tend to spend lots of money on alcohol. Soon after he started to offer more than 17 exotic varieties of California wine in his stores. What Coulombe inadvertently had done was stumble upon a large but segmented demographic known as yuppies. Coulombe eventually caught on and started offering niche foods like Brie, wild rice, and Dijon mustard. Today, they carry ten different brands of hummus, and the biggest selection of organic and gluten free foods in the states- all without selling Coca-Cola or Pampers. This formula worked simply because Coulombe started selling a product for a person, not finding people for his product. Akin to Seth Godins marketing speech, marketers shouldn't force feed their product down people's throats, they should pull people in by giving them what they want. I think its pretty self explanatory that word of mouth played a big role in Trader Joes' success, considering they do not use coupons, sales, or loyalty cards. And the only ads they run are in-store PA ads. Point in case- I have heard of Trader Joes not because I've shopped there or seen an ad on TV, but because my friends told me about how cool it is when I was in LA for the summer. This is how to start a business my friends, let your customers do the marketing for you.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Baby talk

Baby Einstein, a company that makes DVDs, books, music CDs and toys specifically designed for babies and toddlers , published a press release today announcing its new word of mouth campaign. The brand promises that their products will help babies during their developmental stage and therefore can guide babies on the path of learning. Before I get into the new campaign I have to say that the business idea as a whole is genius. Every mother wants their child to grow up to be smart. Moms frequently undertake unproven prenatal brain development methods such as playing mozart or eating "brain foods" while the baby is in utero, in hopes of making the child smarter. Baby Einstein saw this opportunity and is now becoming a very successful company.
The campaign that started today took a newly designed website, launched on February 15th, and created a section that spotlights real moms and invites them to tell stories about Baby Einstein products. Moms can go to the website and submit "Baby news" and the story may even be featured on the homepage. The goal is getting mothers to gather on the site to share stories and experiences with each other- all built around the Baby Einstein products. According to Lucid Marketing, word of mouth ranks highest among moms (as high as 98%) more than non-moms (up to 88%) when referring to positive experiences they have with products. The campaign idea came naturally after Baby Einstein received thousands of letters and emails from moms gushing about how much they feel connected to the brand. The website also includes a hot topic section where moms can ask child experts any baby questions they want. The site is very interactive and dynamic. Moms can interact with the brand before they buy it. They can watch clips of DVDs and read product reviews of toys written by real moms. Susan McLain, Vice President and General Manager of The Baby Einstein Company has created a real top-notch marketing plan that will surely generate word of mouth among mothers, caregivers, and mothers to be.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The world's top brand uses word of mouth

Umair Haque, a writer for the online Harvard Business Review, recently wrote an article, the shrinking advantage of brands, that may surprise you. When you think of the most powerful brands in the world, Coca-Cola, GE, IBM, and Microsoft all come to mind. And they should- they have all spent decades of hard work building their brands while investing in billions of dollars in advertising. But what may surprise you is that Google is the worlds number one brand right now according to the gold standard of brand valuation, Millward Brown’s Brandz report. Google spends next to nothing in advertising , something that the big boys over at Coke have a massive budget for. Haque attributes the success of Google to a shift in cheap interaction marketing rather than orthodox marketing techniques. Traditionally, brands were virtually impossible to interact with- being it too expensive. Marketers had to get their messages across using slogans and 30 second spots to promise an experience. Now, certain brands like Google, can utilize word of mouth and permission marketing so inexpensively and efficiently that it has pretty much replaced any form of traditional advertising. Instead of marketers pushing their product down consumer's throats, many companies are generating word of mouth- getting consumers to talk to eachother about the product, therefore leading to organic growth. Google has become the worlds number one brand in less than a decade and its all due to word of mouth.

The only problem I see with this shifting advantage to interaction and word of mouth is that not all brands can attempt it. Not all brands are so profoundly amazing that they generate intense word of mouth. Take shower curtains for example, or toilet paper. Not all brands can easily interact with the consumer before they purchase it. Does this mean an end to "poor" brands? Probably not, but it could. Check out the video all marketers are liars, by Seth Godin, to further investigate the word of mouth phenom. Its long but its worth it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Subway to create buzz with 12 city tour

Subway is celebrating the ten year weight loss anniversary of its spokesperson- Jared Fogal. Jared is going on a 12 city tour in order to promote Subway's childhood obesity prevention plan. The "Tour de Pants", which will last six months, will make stops at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, NASCAR events, and American Heart Association walks. New York Giants player Micheal Strahan will be partnering with Fogal to promote the plan. Subway aims to make 2 million dollars through donations and fund-raising. Fogal will be taking pictures with people wearing his old "fat pants", while also giving out trading cards and healthy eating tips. The tour was kicked off this Tuesday in Times Square where a lucky person got his picture with Jared appear on the giant NASDAQ video wall. The campaign also includes a sweepstakes for a chance to appear in a Subway commercial with Fogal. To enter, visit Another measure the website is taking is inviting visitors to upload videos and photos that congratulate Fogal on his ten year milestone. They even have a game that lets players keep Fogal's pants slim by catching healthy foods. The buzz tour will be accompanied by print and online ads, as well as in-store marketing.
Maybe its just me, but aren't people getting tired of the same old Jared Fogal promotions? In a way he has been solidified into modern pop-culture but its the same old message over and over again. I think the tour will create some buzz if done properly, but its time for Subway to come up with a new marketing plan instead of using a retread spokesperson for another ten years. I think i'll go to Quiznos.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Marketers creating buzz with lickable ads

A recent Wall Street Journal article has marketers salivating over lickable ads.
Welch's grape juice is taking out full-page print ads in People magazine this month that give readers a chance to sample its grape juice by licking the ad. Consumers are supposed to peel off the entire sticker on the Welch's ad before licking, says First Flavor, the company that developed the technology used in the ad. Therefore, if someone doesn't rip off the whole sticker the flap can't reseal, giving people an easy way to know whether the ad has already been licked, therefore removing the "ick" factor.
Its not a direct form of buzz marketing, but I guarantee you that Jay B. Minkoff, chief executive of First Flavor, and Chris Heye, Welch's marketing chief are expecting to generate a lot of word of mouth about the grape juice its advertising. Lickable ads are a new, experimental concept that may either boom or bust. But if there is one thing for sure, there will be lots of buzz following the release of the ad. Still not sold on it? The lickable ad is, in essence, like a free sample, and we all know that free samples are one of the driving forces behind word of mouth and buzz marketing.
You can check out the ad in the Feb. 18 issue of People magazine, which has a circulation of about 3.6 million.

**Correction- The ads contain a peel-off strip that you place on your tongue and it dissolves, producing a grape juice flavor-- akin to a listerine breath strip. Seems as though the guys over at WSJ really messed up the article! Thanks to Jay B. Minkoff for setting it straight.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

College WOM and new media

Businesses are not the only ones using buzz marketing techniques to drive sales; in fact some colleges are doing it as well. Ithaca college, which happens to be my alma mater, has initiated a word of mouth marketing plan to gain awareness about a new dining hall service. The service, called myDtxt, invites students and faculty add their cell phone numbers to get discounts, coupons, and other promotional deals via a text message. To gain awareness and sign ups, the marketing department is handing out sign up cards and talking about the new program at every dining hall event plus have sent out notifications in the college email newsletter Intercom. They also plan to text a free coupon for a pizza to the first forty sing ups to get students to get pumped up and generate buzz around campus. This approach follows suit of many of the common word of mouth marketing techniques. Give out free stuff and let people spread the word. As far as text messaging goes, the cost is about two cents and the message has a 92% retention rate, meaning 92% of those who received the text remember the message. I will post back an update on how the program is going in a month or so.

Word of mouth gaining ground

Word of mouth marketing in the contemporary business world is rapidly becoming a significant part of marketing. Check this out, a recent Brandweek article entitled outlook 2008 projects that word of mouth marketing will hit 1.3 billion this year, 33% up from 2006. In fact, the spending is estimated to triple that figure by 2011. The growth of the internet plays a big role in this spending. Many marketers are using word of mouth (WOM) to generate buzz about websites and are considering WOM to be a separate entity from advertising and public relations. Pete Blackshaw, evp-Nielsen Online Strategic Services, puts it into words perfectly. “The Internet has put word-of-mouth on steroids, with archived commentary and product reviews that make a big impact, the fastest growing sources of indexable content in Google’s search engine are first-person testimonials.” Getting consumers to essentially do the marketing for you is cheap and effective, that is if you are on their good side. Some marketers worry that WOM can backfire and is only a quick fix instead of a long term strategy. But the numbers don't lie, WOM is a fast growing tactic that has been proven to work wonders for business.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Buzzing about the Superbowl

Since the Superbowl is upon us I thought I would look into a few things companies are doing as an alternative to the 2.8 million dollar 30 second ad spot.

KFC is asking customers to upload their own chicken dances to
The winner gets a Superbowl party package that includes: a flat screen tv, limo service for guests, and a cleaning crew for after. More and more companies are trying to get consumers to interact with the brand and KFC's most recent stunt is a great example of that. Furthermore, KFC is sending letters to NFL players to notify them that if they do a chicken dance in the endzone during the Superbowl, they will receive 250,000 dollars to give to charity. Talk about a cheaper and more powerful way to get the brand out there to the masses.

Trading card company UpperDeck is pulling a similar idea. UpperDeck is inviting people to send them video of their endzone dances. The wackiest, most original dance wins 2 tickets this years Superbowl in Arizona. The UpperDeck website has increased web traffic by 17%!

Frito-Lay company Doritos is inviting musicians to submit original songs at (They didn't have to be about chips.) The song that wins online voting will air as a 60-second music video in the Super Bowl. I believe that to mean that it will air on the megatrons within the stadium. Still, a good way to increase traffic and brand awareness.

See you next week!
and go Giants!