Word of Mouth – A Strong Force

Good Afternoon. I’m glad to be back and share with you some interesting marketing strategies I’ve come across this week. I’ve been researching an age-old communication technique that’s been undergoing some serious changes in the last decade.

Studies show that Word of Mouth Marketing is one of, if not the most successful tool in marketing strategies. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising. It’s one of the strongest motivators in the consumer decision process.

A couple months ago I studied influence and persuasion communication. This is a type of communication that involves an individual changing or reevaluating his or her stance on a particular issue or product because of the presence of an argument or claim. Robert Cialdini, an authority on influence in communication, spends a good portion of his book, Influence, presenting the power of social proof. In his research social proof caused people to behave in unusual and even cruel ways, because the actions seemed to be condoned by others. Individuals of the human race are very much concerned with each other. We look to each other for justification of our actions, how to act, what to wear, what to say and even what to buy.

Marketers have taken notice to this powerful form of communication and attempted to use it to their advantage. They have tried to initiate the conversation. This takes place on many platforms and in many ways. It’s even a little challenging to define. One method marketers have chosen to get people talking is to seed their innovation with opinion leaders in hopes of drawing more attention to their product.

It would then stand to reason that a company could simply get the innovators, those who are most anxious to try new things, to “buy into” its product. The innovators would then serve as opinion leaders and the excitement over the product would quickly spread.

Seeding products with opinion leaders in hopes of generating this WOMM is not as simple as it may seem – and doesn’t always guarantee positive results.

In a recent study, 64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. However, only 6% say they have mastered it. (WOMMA)

In a study by Buzzablog, new MobiTech camera-equipped cell phones were seeded with influencial bloggers. Each of the 90 bloggers were given a free phone, asked to use it and were encouraged, but not required, to blog about its features. Although MobiTech reported that most of the commentary on the product was positive and they saw in increase in sales due to these influencers, some of the findings were enlightening.

Some of the blogs didn’t seem to be the best fit for this type of influencing. The seeding worked well on blogs that were technology based and those that were straightforward about using the blog to make a little extra money. In others, where the intent was more about connecting with people on an emotional level, the bloggers received negative responses from their readers regarding the promotion. In these cases, the bloggers found common ground with their readers by relating to them in their everyday lives. The readers came to be comforted, encouraged and get a good laugh. They did not come to be persuaded or marketed to. Many of them strongly disagreed with the bloggers choice to promote the product – saying they had been bought.

What seems to be the underlying issue is trust. “Seventy seven percent of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family.” (Nielsen) People trust other people far more than an advertisement. They want to know that others have used the product and like it before they try it.

Social Media has risen as a popular platform for sharing almost anything. 81% of people said they’re influenced by what their friends share on social media. (Market Force) Social media networks have changed the world of interpersonal communication. Marketing strategies are the same, but their channels to carry these out have to adapt to our every changing technology.

So how does an idea get from the drawing board of a conference room to the facebook pages of friends and friends of their friends? How does it get shared and likes? How does a product become the topic of conversation at the dinner table?

So how does an organization get their product out there for the Word of Mouth Marketing to take off?

Initial influencers and opinion leaders. The most successful companies have discovered the trick to this. They have found people who are passionate, obsessed even, about their organization. They have found people who love their products so much, they can’t help but talk about them. They have found people to be walking, tweeting advertisements.

Starbucks stumbled upon this on accident. Starbucks is no stranger to the social media world. Who they are promotes social interaction so taking that into the facebook and twitter worlds was a smooth transition, but having a fervent tweeter didn’t hurt either. Brad Nelson, a former barista who rose through the company’s IT department, suggested Starbucks needed its own twitter handle. With approval from the VP-brand, content and online, he took on the endeavor. In a natural way, he translates, the Starbucks experience to the online community. The handle now has just under 100,000 followers.

This week has been enlightening to me. I guess I just assumed once a product was seeding with an opinion leader and was promoted through an interpersonal platform, such as a blog, it would spread. People seem to be more concerned about the source the recommendation is coming from, even more than the product itself. Granted, the product is important, but the social proof is a strong one and trust plays a key role in how well the product is advanced. Also, the promoter must believe in the product. Robots and puppets are not effective tools of influence. Knowing your product, your target audience, your opinion leaders is all vital to the WOM marketing process.

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Hi there!

Hi! Welcome to the blog. I’m Lauren Cochran and I’m glad you’ve joined me. Check back weekly as I’ll be posting my findings here as I take a journey to gain a better understanding of strategic communication and emerging media.

You can find your way back here by bookmarking the link to this page: https://lcochranstrategiccomm.wordpress.com/

My educational background is in journalism. I’ve always been fascinated by how people communicate. Recently I’ve embarked on a new voyage – graduate school, and I have to admit, I really love learning. I strongly feel that when we study communication, we figure out a little bit about ourselves as people.

This week I’ve been doing a more in depth study of Everett Rogers’ text Diffusion of Innovations. This work has become a classic and has been an authority on the topic for years. It’s even had its own re-inventing to include the introduction of the internet in 1990.

Diffusion of Innovations describes every aspect of how an innovation, a perceived newness of an idea, is diffused or communicated through certain channels over time among members of a social system. In short, how new ideas spread and catch fire.

Have you ever noticed an item that no one seemed to be able to resist? Everyone just had to have one. Maybe it was Ugg boots or Patagonia gear or Nike shorts. I have heard my father say a dozen times, “I wish I had thought of that idea.” Obviously in reference to the financial rewards the innovator was reeling in due to the widespread success of their product. What makes those items so irresistible? Why did those particular things become popular and others not make it?

Rogers suggest five attributes of innovation that determine their rate of adoption.

Relative Advantage is Rogers’ first characteristic to affect the speed of the spread. The innovation must be perceived as better than those preceding it. For instance, the initial introduction of the iphone was most likely much more successful than the upgrades to the existing product. When it was introduced, it was original, and in comparison to what was in existence, it had a major relative advantage. The upgrades along the way have added new features, but the advantage has not been as drastic. People can easily talk themselves into believing the current phone they have is fine, since it can do almost everything the new upgrade can.

This characteristic has many elements, one of those being the two types of relative advantages: preventive and incremental. Because preventive innovations take time for the advantage to be proven, the adoption rate is significantly lower. Life insurance is not adopted as quickly as health insurance because of the lack of current benefit. It will benefit the consumer in long term ways and many consumers are just concerned with current issues.

Compatibility is another aspect Rogers’ considers an important aspect in determining the rate of innovation of adoption. Compatibility is the degree to which the innovation is consistent with the ideas and values a person holds. Even past experiences play a role in individuals decisions to accept new ideas. Compatibility is one attribute that can fluctuate greatly within social systems. In some instances, individuals have strong beliefs and ideas that support their decisions and are not open to anything contrary to the commitments they have made. This concept changes dramatically even in geographical locations not so far from each other. We lived in a suburb in Atlanta for a couple years. People could not wait for the next new thing. They thrived on new ideas, change and innovation. Rural small towns in Alabama in contrast, are not as open to change and newness. Traditions are highly regarded and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a commonly spoken mantra.

Complexity might be the one rate of adoption attribute that actually makes me laugh a little. If the innovation is too complex to understand or not “user friendly” it will be slowly adopted if at all. An image comes to mind of me and my sister-in-law in a bathroom in Tennessee trying to figure out how to use a hair tool. My mother-in-law was offering it to us at no cost if we wanted it. After experimenting for several minutes, we decided even a free innovation was not worth it if we couldn’t figure it out. The complexity characteristic is no joke.

Rogers continues the list with Trialability, the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis. This is a great way to sell a product! Once people touch it and use it with no commitment, it’s easier for them to make a well informed decision. It decreases the uncertainty they may have about the innovation. I can’t help but think of the grocery store food sample stations. They let you taste it before you commit to buying. They also have plenty on hand for you to throw a box into your shopping cart.

The last characteristic affecting the rate of an innovation’s adoption is observability. Rogers describes this as the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. Observability is a major factor in the spreading of innovations because social proof is such a powerful principle in persuasion. Our nature as humans in this country is to “keep up with the Jones'” and chase the American dream. We constantly look to others for affirmation, approval and ideas. This is also where opinion leaders come into play. Those we view with much respect, we want to imitate. This is why celebrities are used in advertisements.

The strength of each of these five characteristics help an individual decrease the uncertainty about the innovation, therefore contribute to a faster adoption rate. These five attributes lay the groundwork for the rate of adoption of innovations. If you’ve got an idea you want to spread, stack it up next to these concepts. They prove to provide adequate expectation of where it will land and how quickly it will catch on.

Once again thanks for joining me on this journey. I’ll check back in next week with new observations and perspectives related to my studies.