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7 Word-of-Mouth Myths that need to be Debunked

by Shruti Puri
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“Marketing takes a day to learn. Unfortunately, it takes a lifetime to master” – Philip Kotler

Marketing is a vast field that cannot be explained in a single sentence. From moving a product or service right from a concept to the end customer and thereafter providing the after sales service, marketing embodies everything. According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is, “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

To elaborate it further, the ingredients of marketing are the famous 7 Ps-

  • Product
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place
  • Packaging
  • Positioning
  • People

The 7 Ps help one in evaluating and analyzing one’s business. It’s a known fact that the soul of a business lies in its successful branding & marketing. Targeting the right audience at the right time and through the right channel has a positive impact on the business, which is aptly delineated by the third and sixth ‘P’ of marketing.

Social media, paid ads, door-to-door advertising, public relations, direct marketing, events et al are some of the widely used advertising tools for promoting and positioning a product/ service. Be that as it may, nothing can still beat and outshine the word-of-mouth marketing.

It was once famously quoted by Scott Cook, Director of eBay and P&G, “[a] brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is”

It has been estimated that the word-of-mouth (“WoM”) influences around 20-50 per cent of the purchase decisions as consumers prefer direct opinions from one another as compared to other forms of advertising pitched by the businesses. WoM is not an alternate to traditional advertising, though it is considered to be one of the effective forms of marketing.

Word-of-Mouth for B2B & B2C – Difference in Being SAME

Generally, we take marketing in a broader sense and consider no difference between a consumer and a business, for in both the clienteles, it’s the people only we have to dealt with. Though the marketing programs used for B2B and B2C are the same, including word-of-mouth marketing, the difference lies in their execution, outcome and content. Let’s check out how word-of-mouth marketing differs from B2B to B2C.

Target Audience – B2B marketing caters to individuals acting on behalf of businesses whereas, in B2C, individual consumers are the king.

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Something BIG is Coming – Take the example of Apple Inc. that creates a buzz in the market much before the launch of its products. It engages people in talks by revealing some ideas in vague terms and of course, a notion that something BIG is about to happen. This is the B2C approach.

In B2B, the same thinking is applied but on a very small scale as the target audience is limited to businesses of the same nest. Also the risk of failure is high, should the product launched fall short on expectations.

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Referral Programs – Lucrative referral programs are one of the successful techniques adapted by B2C to attract customers. But sometimes they are dubious considering the reward a customer gets for a referral. In B2B, the scenario has a twist. A bit more professionalism is expected in B2B referral programs as the target customers are harder to contact and impress.
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WoM Campaigns that Hit the Bull’s Eye

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising” – Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook

A survey by AdAge published 10 years ago threw light on the factors responsible for influencing the purchasing decision of young adults then, and it was found out that 7 out of 10 had drawn their inspiration from WoM. This was the case when only 2 per cent of youth was active on social media websites.

With changing times, social networks have drastically changed the WoM distribution model. Though face-to-face WoM is more effective than social media WoM, one cannot neglect the contribution social networking websites have made in highlighting the importance of WoM marketing. Here are a few popular campaigns that leveraged WoM communication to bolster the business objectives:

Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS Association

The neurology professor, John Landers’ proposal for funding for the worldwide awareness of Lou Gehrig disease was rejected as the ALS Association, a nonprofit organization supporting research, was running short of money. This gave rise to the Ice Bucket Challenge that was taken by nearly 3 million people globally. The viral campaign involved daring friends to either dump a bucket full of ice on themselves or to donate some money to the ALS research. Some people did both.

This WoM campaign raised $115 million for the ALS Association. Watch the video.

Improved Reach of Dettol to its Target Audience

The liquid antiseptic is not a thing in the dark. It has been serving the world since the 1950s but its reach was minimal in the less populated cities of China. To increase its approach, Reckitt Benckiser, the parent of Dettol, planned a WoM campaign targeting the moms. The company distributed 48,000 Dettol samples to around 4,000 mothers and encourages them to use one and pass 10 samples to others.

The company also gave the color of gamification to the campaign resulting in continued WoM discussion, thereby increasing the target audience up to 46 per cent. As a result, the overall brand awareness got increased by 5x with purchases almost doubled. The final sales reached an astounding 86 percent.

Here’s the video:

Success Story of Starbucks

Starbucks started its journey way back in 1971 but the Goliath it is today was not the case earlier. And if you think the traditional advertising techniques were the reason behind its massive growth, then you are highly mistaken for Starbucks kept aside the traditional methods in favor of WoM marketing.

The company utilized a good amount of time and resources to gather genuine opinions and feedbacks by customers which it spread smartly across its social media channels.

Make-A-Wish & Batkid Gain Awareness

We all know how trending #batkid was in 2013. The Make-A-Wish foundation, working towards fulfilling the wishes of children facing life-threatening diseases, started a WoM campaign with a 5-year old boy, Miles Scott, suffering from leukemia, who wished to be a batkid for a day. The campaign went viral resulting in the participation of 12,000 volunteers to cheer the kid.

Apart from this, the non-profit organization received a good amount of donations, which also resulted in crashing of its website due to a sudden spike in traffic. The kid was also trending with hashtags on social media platforms, which rose to a significant number of 555,697.

The video went viral too!

Red Bull Events for WoM Publicity

Red Bull smartly exploits the WoM marketing to improve its brand awareness among target customers. The marque took many initiatives that worked as catalysts for Red Bull’s WoM, some of them are listed below:

  • Red Bull Wings Team – The company’s workforce distributed the samples by driving the towns in Red Bull’s branded vehicles.
  • Student Brand Manager Campaign – The company sponsored students to discuss Red Bull in their school/college’s events.
  • Red Bull Bedroom Jam – A talent show targeting prospective students.
  • Red Bull Reporter Program – The company organized a program where it sponsored film and journalism students to create news pieces talking about the brand.

Debunking the Myths Around Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Businesses love to have word-of-mouth marketing not because it is authentic and trustworthy but it’s inexpensive too (not always, though). The Internet of things has given wings and new energy to the potential WoM holds. Though WoM has been one of the oldest forms of advertising, a few myths still exist around it that are needed to be busted. Here are the 7 common WoM myths:

#Myth 1 – Word-of-Mouth is CHEAP

The WoM concept, in general, emerges out of nowhere but requires a lot of effort and careful planning along with considerable investment. Some viral WoM campaigns require proper concept and composition, brand ambassadors to maintain the momentum of the concept and above all promotion and right advertising.

Do you remember the Epic Split Feat of Volvo Trucks presenting JCVD, Jean-Claude Van Damme? It was one of the most successful B2B viral videos. The fact behind the scene was that it was the sixth video of the series involving dramatic stunts by the bigwigs. For others, the WoM simply didn’t work.

Here’s the popular video:

#Myth 2 – WoM is about an Event or Campaign

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Most of the successful WoM stories are usually based on a single idea created or generated at a particular point in time, but most of the successful campaigns last for a longer duration even extending up to decades. The best example is of Costco, a discount wholesale club that enjoys a market capital of $64 million. The fact is that the brand did not adopt any marketing strategy to increase its brand awareness in the market. It’s rather a success resulted out of word-of-mouth.

The role of a product/service’s uniqueness cannot be denied in the success story of a brand. Another such example is that of Apple Inc. the success of which is entirely a gift by its legion of adoring fans.

#Myth 3 – WoM is Intentional

It’s not 100 percent myth but some of the WoM success stories are the result of sheer coincidence or luck, whatever you may like to call it! The Meat packer Hormel wasn’t aware of the fact that Spam actually meant junk emails but it quickly grabbed the opportunity to roast the unintentional fame with a touch of humor to revive the brand.

Another such event that became a success due to an unintentional WoM campaign was the Ice Bucket Challenge. This came out as a complete surprise for the ALS Association.

#Myth 4 – WoM is Viral

What a business would want better than a viral WoM marketing? But this dream doesn’t come out to be true every time. The recent WoM marketing trends hint towards a thoroughly planned and well-advertised word-of-mouth marketing that are further accelerated by street-level promotions and social media campaigns. In fact, the viral WoM campaigns too need a regular boost to keep the momentum going. True viral WoM marketing is very rare.

#Myth 5 – WoM is Powerful

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True that personal influence has much more impact than traditional marketing, but calling it the most powerful form does not hold water. WoM can be called as the most influential or more noticeable forms of marketing. Let’s understand it with the help of an example:

The Assistant professor of Marketing at Stanford University, Pedro Gardete, did a survey on in-flight purchasing behavior in around 2000 US airlines’ flights in 2012. According to his analysis, the chances of a passenger purchasing something in flight increases by 30 per cent if the passenger sitting next to him/her buys something. This propensity doubles if the person sitting next to him/her makes a purchase and is a known.

#Myth 6 – Holds Less Importance in B2B than B2C

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People generally perceive that WoM marketing holds less importance in B2B when compared to B2C businesses. But the fact is that WoM is beneficial for B2B as well, for people in the organization are as active on the same social networks as rest of the population is. Of course, one cannot always alienate oneself from the opinions of acquaintances outside the business. It works both ways!

A survey says that around 91% of B2B customers are influenced WoM marketing for making their purchasing decision, especially in developing markets. Amazing!

#Myth 7 – Negative WoM is Influential

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It’s a common assumption that negative word-of-mouth works better and faster than the positive one but it’s nothing but a myth. The reality is that more than 2/3rd of the WoM campaigns are positive in nature whereas negative WoM holds only 10 per cent of the share. A huge difference by 8x. Also, the influence positive WoM has on the end consumers is way more powerful and effective than the negative WoM.

Conclusion

Businesses serving businesses or consumers rely on WoM marketing as one of the best tools available for brand awareness that ultimately leads to increased sales. Of course, one cannot deny the prerequisite of the quality of a product or service. As rightly said,

“One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $ 10,000 worth of advertising” – Jim Rohn, American Entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker.

Referral marketing seems to be the next evolution of WoM marketing as it comes with a better and more accurate metrics and has the capability to generate more revenue than other sources of marketing.

The purchasing decision of a consumer is affected by many factors among which recommendations from trusted sources, product experience and awareness-building marketing are the top three ones.

The purchasing process is divided into three stages of a consumer’s decision-making journey and it is found that word-of-mouth consistently holds the first preference when it comes to consumers in a developing nation. Have a look:

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The future of branding is marketing with people not at them.” John Morgan, Founder of Morgan & Morgan

The art of how to hone and deploy an effective word-of-mouth strategy helps a business to grow in the market. It gives a detailed understanding of which messages are likely to be passed on to the consumers and what will be the impact of those messages on the brand awareness program. The companies that want to harness the potential of WoM need to realize the science behind word-of-mouth marketing, only then they will be able to get a higher return on their marketing investment.

This reminds us of the words by Philip Kotler, the father of marketing:

“Good companies will meet the needs,
great companies will create markets”


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