Is there a reliable way to measure Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

Marketing NPV has an excellent article - Is There a Reliable Way to Measure Word-of-Mouth Marketing? - about the measurement of Word-of-Mouth marketing. 
I'm convinced that WOM is here to stay, and that it requires a re-orientation of marketing philosophy in order to make it work.  But that for another time.

Here's the take away for me.

Word-of-Mouth is not a stand alone marketing approach.  It enhances a more comprehensive method.

What this probably means is that over time more WOM-centric campaigns will emerge that incorporate traditional marketing methods but retooled to fit into a WOM world.

We are at the birth of a new approach. I don't believe it will die from the imprecision of measurement techniques.  Rather, I think it will grow because it fits with the way people are functioning in society.

The real key to its success beyond measure will be how it can be developed as an ethical marketing approach.  That is a greater question for me.

HT: BCom

Why don't people participate?

First Posted May 26. 2006, updated for today.

Have you ever been involved in an event where no one showed up?

This happened to me recently and it was embarassing to the hosts.  While I would have loved to have had a full room, the one guy who showed up more than made up for the lack of participation.

The question of why people don't participate in events is an important one.  It is also hardly ever discussed.  As a result, it is hardly ever understood.  Therefore there is little that a group can do to address the problem.

I've asked a few people their thoughts about this, and generally they think people don't participate because they don't understand the benefits.  That may explain some people, but certainly not 20 or 30 people, who were expected to attend. Some may have forgotten, and some may have had better things to do, after all it was a beautiful Saturday morning.

Here's my conclusion.

The reason for non-participation is not based on a personal cost-benefit analysis.  Rather, it has to do with the social context of the event. It isn't rational, but emotional.

Let me describe this one situation, generalizing it somewhat, to illustrate my point.

A group holds an event with a speaker or trainer.  If that person is not a "big-name",  then the reasons for showing up change.  Something other than the fascination with the "big name" has to emerge as a compelling reason to attend.

If the group is also not well known, then there exists some ambiguity about who these people are.  So, for a person to attend an event like this requires them to cross an undefined social boundary.  They have to venture into an unknown environment. 

I've encountered this before. Here are two examples.

Years ago, working at a small college, part of my job was to establish a student leaders program.  The idea was to attract the top leaders on campus and provide them a development program.  For three years, I tried, and it didn't work.  What I ultimately came to understand was the power of social connection.  Our response was to create two new service opportunities.  I went to campus organizations, residence halls and sports teams to ask them to participate as a group.  They jumped at the chance.  What I learned is that people are willing to try something new when friends join them in doing it.

A second event was a multi-community event focused on a specific community issue related to children.  We had a nationally recognized speaker who was well-known within a very select circle of people.  We formed a commitee of four who each represented a very distinct community of people, interests, occupations and location.  We made it very personal. Meaning we worked at making every event over the two days a gathering filled with people who were personally invited to attend.  This worked for most of the smaller events we hosted. The two community wide events filled the seats because the topic was compelling.  But it wasn't advertising that made it happen.  It was the word-of-mouth of people sharing with their friends that made it happen.

The lesson?  Pay attention to the social context. Seek to understand how the social bond between people can be used to create an event that is personal for everyone who attends. Remember comfort in new or strange settings is an emotional issue, not a technical one.

So, how does this translate to the issue of participation?

If there is no natural social connection between those whom the event planners want to attend, then they have to create it.


1. Identify groups of people where there is a social bond and invite the leader to bring his or her group.  Within the planning group, each person needs to identify people that they know well enough go to them and ask them to bring a group.

2.  Make the event personal for each person.  This means that members of the host organization have to recruit on a personal level. Invite them, pay for their registration fee or their meal.  They have to decide in their mind that this is an event they will share together.

3. Make it easy to cross social boundries to meet people. One way to do this is to highlight the "networking" value of the event. Come meet people, share with them your work or passion.

4. Create an environment of contribution. Give potential participants a way to contribute to the success of the event. Do this in your advertising. This means that the event needs to be about more than a presentation, it is about create a social environment that may last beyond the event itself.

5. Use social media technology to connect people before the event. The idea is that the event starts the moment that announcement of the event has been made. It you wait to create a social environment at the schedule evented, then you've lost the oppotunity to foster a environment of conversation that helps people feel comfortable in participating.

Monetized Integrity?

I haven't blogged on anything from Seth Godin in a long time.  Here's something that is worth noting and pondering.  Read the whole thing.

One reason blogs are such a boon to most of our business and professional life is that they provide a way to extend our reach to people who would never have the opportunity to find out about us.

At the heart of this personalized communication medium is integrity.  Integrity doesn't mean you can't sell something through your blog.  It means that you can't simultaneously be a "Dear Diary, this is what I did today" and sell time shares in Bermuda. 

Trying to combine evangelism of products we love with paid product evangelism confuses people.  It raises trust questions.  It isn't that one or the other shouldn't be done.  They just don't belong in the same place on the same blog.  And I don't think it sufficient to disclose one as unpaid, and the other paid.  They are different.  You can't monetize your integrity.  You can monetize your voice and your opinions. Just make sure that you don't squander your integrity in the process.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Continue reading "Monetized Integrity?" »

Brand Autopsy's take on Whole Foods Market

Read John Moore's 10 point description of Whole Food Markets. He is reacting to an article in Business Week.
Here's the list:
1 | Maximum Freedom. Minimum Governance.
2 | Small Pieces Loosely Joined
3 | Getting Bigger by Acting Smaller
4 | Food as Theater
5 | Shoppers as “Brand” Ambassadors
6 | Education Leads to Appreciation
7 | Everything Matters
8 | Price to Value
9 | Profit is a Good Competitive Game
10 | Team Members Make the Difference

What impresses me about this company is their commitment to decentralized leadership.  In essence, it means that the closer the decision is made to the customer, the better.  My question is whether this is a trend or an anomaly?  If it is a trend then we will continue to see large, complex, top-down bureaucratic structures changed to what WFM has developed.  If it doesn't work, then we'll see a chronic internal confict between the past and future in organizations.

Micro-blogging, WOM and Organizational Development

Today the Fill The Seats project at UNC-Asheville reaches it conclusion.  This project was cooked up by me to promote a presentation that I will give on servant leadership this afternoon at the university.

The project though has a two-fold purpose. 
1.  Help student leaders understand the power of their influence through the use of Word-of-Mouth marketing techniques.

2.  To demonstrate how a weblog can be used as an organizational development tool.

The University of Word of Mouth weblog was described by Seth Godin as a Micro-blog.  This is apt description as it suggests a more focus, time-limited purpose.

As I approach the culmination of this project, my gut suggests that what we will have shown is that there is a use, and that use needs constant attention in order to affect a change in the communication behavior patterns of people.  While a number of people from the university have visited the site, and a couple have emailed me, none have commented. 

Fostering a conversation is essential if a micro-blog is to move an organization forward.
Unlike an instant messenger format, blogging is a better platform for presenting content, with a follow up discussion. 

Every organization that I have served, in whatever capacity, needs to improve its communication.  In most there is a  Word-of-Mouth function happening, but it is haphazard, perjorative and not progressive.  There is not way to retain the knowledge and insight that comes from conversations in the parking lot, unless you record the conversation.  Most people are not interested in that much complexity in their casual interactions.

However, a Micro-blog provides a simple platform for short, concise postings and comments that can progress a decision-making process along.  Verbal communication is essential, but often it is not efficient.  The weblog format provides a nice happy medium that can accomodate so many needs and expectations.

Organizations are human institutions, and they function when the communication system works.  Utilizing Micro-blogs focused on specific projects is the way to go. 

University of Word of Mouth - New Blog

University of Word of Mouth debuted today.  Sounds like it was long time in the making.  Actually it was a brainchild that came at 4:45 pm EST this morning.

I'm using it as a platform for interaction with student leaders at the University of North Carolian at Asheville.  Why?  I'm doing a presentation next week, and decide to invite myself in to create a larger crowd to hear me.  Read the postings at the blog - here, here and here - to learn more.

My inspiration for this came from Seth Godin.  He started a blog to promote his upcoming book, All Marketers Are Liars.  I was thinking about this presentation next week, and the presentation today to students about Word of Mouth, and how to use it create a larger crowd than the 6-10 that was expected.  I was thinking, "What can I do to faciliate more interaction with them than this one presentation today?"  And bingo, Seth's new blog came to mind, and I thought, I'll do that too. 

So up I got at 5:15, and by 11:00 I had a blog with three entries and a new presentation to give.

The presentation went well.  They are great students, laboring under the same challenges that student leaders everywhere do.  Carrying the whole load of their organizations. 

The genius of this application of WOM marketing is that it serves to expand the initiative and acceptance of responsibility throughout the organization. This means expanding the leadership base too.  It is no longer just the president's responsibility to generate a crowd for meetings.  It is everyone's. 

I wrote Seth to thank him for his inspiration, and he was nice enough to feature U-WOM on his blog.  The title is an important one - What Happens Next?

He described this exercise this way. "The first is the idea of the micro-blog. Ed Brenegar got asked to help a small group understand word of mouth and turned it into a blog ... Now, as he gets new groups to work with, he can repurpose the blog."  That is right.

I can tell you what happens next.

Blogs become a tool for communication between small circles of people. I'm already using one for managing the information flow with our Boy Scout troop.  And I will start more blogs as projects that demand both better communication and the archiving of that interaction get started. 

Right now I have five blogs.  Too many if you treat it as a marketing/journalistic enterprise.  But not if they are a better way for groups of people to intelligently converse about things that matter to them.  Email doesn't do this.  It is too cumbersome.  Blogs do.

Thank you Seth for modeling excellence in blogging, and for the recognition.

Please visit University of Word of Mouth.  Ask questions, make comments, offer insight, celebrate the conversation that leads to greater things.