Blog Header
The Insights Blog

Dedicated To Helping Readers
Be More Interesting
Since 2004.

As Featured In:

The 3 Philosophies of Word of Mouth Marketing

Late last week I had the chance to participate as a faculty member at WOMM-U, an engaging event put on by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (which my employer, Ogilvy PR, is a member of).  My role was somewhat unique among other speaking events that I have done – along with Jason Anello from Yahoo!, I was meant to lead six half hour sessions on the topic of "speed trials" of tools in the WOM and social media space.  It was a relatively open topic, discussed in round table formats, however the nice thing about it was that it really gave me a chance to spend some time individually with many of the attendees of the event in a way that I typically don’t get.  As a result, I came away extremely excited about the interest level in WOM among top marketers, as well as the common challenges that many of us face. 

As WOM emerges as a notable branch of marketing (and by most reports at WOMM-U, it has already done so with nearly a billion dollars expected to be spent on WOM this year alone), people start to take different approaches to defining it within their organization and to their peers. The most interesting thing for me from WOMM-U was that three core philosophies seemed to emerge for how people were defining word of mouth, and they each have some interesting lessons for you if you are planning to start a word of mouth effort or need to justify one to your boss:

  1. WOM is a channel. This is one of the most popular ways of looking at word of mouth marketing, promoted by groups such as BzzAgent and RepNation because of how easy it is to explain to traditional marketers.  When you treat WOM like a media channel, then you can buy and sell it just like you do for TV or Radio or Online Ads. This is a great way to describe it if your audience is people who understand traditional media planning and think in terms of impressions and CPCs. This also plays well to models like BzzAgent where you have a defined pool of people who are measurable because they represent a subset of an audience. It becomes tougher (but not impossible) when you focus on a wider pool of people.
  2. WOM is an outcome. A refrain heard from many people at WOMM-U, this was the broader view that WOM should be a core element of all your marketing.  Everything from your TV spots to your online community is driving people to share their experience with others.  Think of this not as "conversion-based marketing" but rather as "conversation-based marketing." When WOM is treated as an outcome of all your acitivities, you can start to think more broadly about what your marketing is doing.  Jeffrey Graham from the NY Times shared an interesting point that you need to think of your newspaper budget (for example) as a WOM budget. Once you do that, there is a whole difference lens you can use on your current marketing (without having to find new budget too!) aa
  3. WOM is viral/buzz. This is one of the most common perceptions about WOM, that it is all about having something go viral or building a buzz. At our round table, this question came up frequently. There are indeed some poeple who believe that WOM is all about viral marketing and it is a valid point of view. The way I usually describe the difference is through the importance of belief.  Viral or buzz marketing is all about having one person pass something along to someone else for any quality (not necessarily one that is around the brand). You may pass a viral video about Burger King onto someone else because it’s funny, not because you love Burger King. WOM on the other hand, typically involves some kind of belief.

Have you made word of mouth marketing a core element of your marketing strategy?  If so, which philosophy has worked for you to describe and position it within your organization?  And are there any others that are missing?

22 thoughts on “The 3 Philosophies of Word of Mouth Marketing”

  1. Great post. You always do a great job of explaining the new approaches in terms that traditional marketers will appreciate. Now I just need to decide which approach to take with my boss…

    Reply
  2. Great post. You always do a great job of explaining the new approaches in terms that traditional marketers will appreciate. Now I just need to decide which approach to take with my boss…

    Reply
  3. I bristle at the idea that WOM is a channel. I appreciate that BzzAgent has been successful at framing their business that way but, in general, this approach devalues WOM.

    WOMM is a discipline. It is a marketing expertise that crosses all other disciplines – marketing public relations, direct, etc… That’s what WOMMA is all about – cultivating a community of WOMM experts.

    Reply
  4. I bristle at the idea that WOM is a channel. I appreciate that BzzAgent has been successful at framing their business that way but, in general, this approach devalues WOM.

    WOMM is a discipline. It is a marketing expertise that crosses all other disciplines – marketing public relations, direct, etc… That’s what WOMMA is all about – cultivating a community of WOMM experts.

    Reply
  5. I’d very much be interested in an article that discusses what marketers are doing to measure for successful WOM in their marketing campaigns.

    Thanks very much for the article, helpful as always!

    Reply
  6. I’d very much be interested in an article that discusses what marketers are doing to measure for successful WOM in their marketing campaigns.

    Thanks very much for the article, helpful as always!

    Reply
  7. Dave – Glad you found it useful!
    John – Great point, thanks for commenting – that is certainly the philosophy that is sure to echo for WOMM professionals who understand and lead in this space.
    Jeff – You should definitely check out some of the materials on the WOMMA site at http://www.womma.org. They tend to publish some great case studies and measurement metrics, as well as thought leadership which is propelling the entire industry.

    Reply
  8. Dave – Glad you found it useful!
    John – Great point, thanks for commenting – that is certainly the philosophy that is sure to echo for WOMM professionals who understand and lead in this space.
    Jeff – You should definitely check out some of the materials on the WOMMA site at http://www.womma.org. They tend to publish some great case studies and measurement metrics, as well as thought leadership which is propelling the entire industry.

    Reply
  9. Thanks for a great article. When I read point 3, I immediately thought about products I’ve created to build buzz about my group. Are we creating the productsAre people passing on our newsletters, presentations, etc. because they are entertaining? or do they believe in service.

    All the best

    Reply
  10. Thanks for a great article. When I read point 3, I immediately thought about products I’ve created to build buzz about my group. Are we creating the productsAre people passing on our newsletters, presentations, etc. because they are entertaining? or do they believe in service.

    All the best

    Reply
  11. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of the sessions lead by Rohit and came away with some great ideas and tools to check out back at the office. Thanks Rohit!

    This article summarizes perfectly what I heard at WOMM-U and because so many of us are introducing WOMM into an organization that may not understand WOMM but wants to learn, I feel the three categories are a great starter to introduce the concept and get buy-in from those that sign off on budgets.

    Reply
  12. I was lucky enough to sit in on one of the sessions lead by Rohit and came away with some great ideas and tools to check out back at the office. Thanks Rohit!

    This article summarizes perfectly what I heard at WOMM-U and because so many of us are introducing WOMM into an organization that may not understand WOMM but wants to learn, I feel the three categories are a great starter to introduce the concept and get buy-in from those that sign off on budgets.

    Reply
  13. Love distinguishing between viral and womm using the ‘on-brand’ filter. It’s like squares and parallelograms – all squares are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms are squares. i.e., all womm is viral, but not all viral is womm.

    Reply
  14. Love distinguishing between viral and womm using the ‘on-brand’ filter. It’s like squares and parallelograms – all squares are parallelograms, but not all parallelograms are squares. i.e., all womm is viral, but not all viral is womm.

    Reply
  15. great! wom is something underlying and the brands can’t ignore the voice of internet users, the tradition media, by now, are not enough and the press release is not efficient at all.

    Reply
  16. great! wom is something underlying and the brands can’t ignore the voice of internet users, the tradition media, by now, are not enough and the press release is not efficient at all.

    Reply
  17. @Art Sindlinger: Love the parallelograms vs squares simile. I’m definitely going to use that next time someone decides to sell me on viral.

    @Rohit: Good point about WOM as a channel being easy to explain. It’s a gateway concept for a lot of people, so I believe there is still value in framing WOM in these terms, even when you know there’s more to it.

    Reply
  18. @Art Sindlinger: Love the parallelograms vs squares simile. I’m definitely going to use that next time someone decides to sell me on viral.

    @Rohit: Good point about WOM as a channel being easy to explain. It’s a gateway concept for a lot of people, so I believe there is still value in framing WOM in these terms, even when you know there’s more to it.

    Reply
  19. My perception about WOMM is more inline with your second definition (or idea). I think WOMM is more of an “Outcome” or a “by-product” of customer satisfaction (satisfaction in the sense “happiness”. Not merely “just satisfying the core need”).

    If I am happy with my experience with your brand, I may go and spread the good word about you. If I felt like I was cheated by you, I will definitely spread the bad WOM. If I am indifferent, I may keep my mouth shut. So the key for the marketer is “make me extremely happy!”. Do something unbelievable to amuze me!

    In short, all that marketers should do is, just makeing sure their customers are “happy”. Happy customers will do the necessary WOMM for you. Just focus on what marketing “principles” ask you to do, and WOMM will follow you. You don’t need an agency to handle your WOMM efforts.

    All the rest hype about WOMM are artificially created WOM by those WOMM agencies, to attract more dollars from client companies.

    Reply
  20. My perception about WOMM is more inline with your second definition (or idea). I think WOMM is more of an “Outcome” or a “by-product” of customer satisfaction (satisfaction in the sense “happiness”. Not merely “just satisfying the core need”).

    If I am happy with my experience with your brand, I may go and spread the good word about you. If I felt like I was cheated by you, I will definitely spread the bad WOM. If I am indifferent, I may keep my mouth shut. So the key for the marketer is “make me extremely happy!”. Do something unbelievable to amuze me!

    In short, all that marketers should do is, just makeing sure their customers are “happy”. Happy customers will do the necessary WOMM for you. Just focus on what marketing “principles” ask you to do, and WOMM will follow you. You don’t need an agency to handle your WOMM efforts.

    All the rest hype about WOMM are artificially created WOM by those WOMM agencies, to attract more dollars from client companies.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Vector Smart Object

About Rohit

A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

Rohit has been invited to keynote events in 32 countries … and over the past year, given more than 100 virtual talks from his home studio. He previously spent 15 years as a marketing strategist at Ogilvy and Leo Burnett and also teaches marketing and storytelling as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

He loves the Olympics, actively hates cauliflower and is a proud dad of boys.

Rohit Bhargava About (1)

Speaking

Do you need a speaker that can help your audience be more innovative and anticipate the future?

For more than a decade, Rohit Bhargava has been inspiring audiences at NASA, Disney, Schwab, Microsoft, SXSW, Coca-Cola and hundreds of other clients with his signature non-obvious keynote presentations. He is a master at weaving recent stories into his talks in a way that helps audiences better understand the world today, while also preparing to lead the future.

Non Obvious Insights
Layer 97
Non Obvious Insights Newsletter
Layer 118

Skip the obvious and anticipate the future with our weekly newsletter. Join over 25,000 subscribers and start receiving the stories (and insights) you’ve been missing.

Books

#1 WSJ & USAToday Bestselling Author

Rohit is the author of 8 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

Vector Smart Object

Contact

Have a Question or Inquiry?

Just fill out this form, and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours!

About You

What Are You Contacting Us About*:

Your Message