Although word-of-mouth marketing -- also known as evangelism marketing -- is being hyped as the hottest "new" tactic, many companies are dragging their feet when it comes to tests.
According to DuPont's eBusiness Manager Gary Spangler, part of the problem for larger organizations comes down to office politics. In business-to-business marketing departments especially, many marketers are overworked to begin with and adding yet another tool to their arsenal doesn't seem helpful.
However, if you stop to think (or just ask your sales reps) the very best new business leads nearly always come from word-of-mouth. These leads tend to be actively shopping (they asked their colleagues about you) and more likely to close (their trusted friends recommended you).
How can you convince your company to invest more (or at all) in word-of-mouth (WOM)? Here's Spangler's own hard-learned lessons.Step I. Define your WOM target(s)
If you don't define your targets, you can't reach them properly let alone measure your success. And when it comes to in-house politics, winning is all about campaign measurement.
Unlike viral campaigns where your target is anyone who will pass the exciting ad creative word to anyone else (i.e. anyone with an email forward button), WOM campaigns generally target a highly specific pool of business influencers.
Influencers may be anyone from clients to bloggers, consultants, sales reps for complementary companies, trade show speakers, prospect-side evangelists, journalists, analysts, and overall marketplace enthusiasts. In order for them to be worthy of targeting, these influencers must be:
-> Interested enough in your brand or niche market to pay attention to information about you
-> Considered a trustworthy authority by friends who are *themselves* in your target
-> Likely to spread the word about you via an already established network or line of communication with their friends. This pre-existing evangelism network might be anything from a blog to active membership on an online message board or even just a powerful internal company email cc: list.
For WOM campaigns to consumers, you may target a single type of consumers -- for example "cool" teens.
But when it's a high-value, considered purchase, you'll need to reach multiple decision makers within a family or company. Also, if you have a long buy-cycle, your WOM campaign must have legs and you have to have patience. Unfortunately, campaigns with longer-term measurable payoff are the hardest to sell internally. Here are some tips.Step II. Develop a black ops "quick start" campaign
Spangler advises, unless you have a uniquely open company culture, don't try to evangelize WOM from the start. Instead, try what many marketers call a "black ops" campaign -- something small, something that's low or no budget beyond a bit of your time, but something that can be measured in some way.
That way, instead of promoting the idea of WOM, you are starting by proving there's a need for it and even possibly that it works.
o Tip 1. Mine online conversations
Begin with blogs and start mining online conversations for insight and program directions. Discover where people are talking about your products, company, brand and competition, and what they are saying about those things.
Important: Don't attempt to become part of those conversations (for now). Just begin to document activity so you can build your case that there needs to be a response. Several services, mainly offered by PR technology companies and dot-coms, exist to help. The cheapest is simply using free do-it-yourself services such as Feedster and PubSub.com.
o Tip 2. Create web content addressing those conversations
Once you've found the issues that are being discussed surrounding your product, company, brand or competition, create content that responds to those issues (both positive and negative). Embed the content throughout the site in ways that are relevant to your readers.
Think about both vertical and horizontal markets (for example, the end users that may sell the products that have DuPont ingredients in them as well as the engineers who need to understand the added value that DuPont products bring).
o Tip 3. Look for terms to use in search marketing
Look at the conversations surrounding your brand and use those conversations to inform some of your ongoing keyword buys. In that way, those who are talking about your brand will find you during their searches, and your search ads work as "invitations" to continue the conversation on your site.
Keyword specific landing pages can be useful for those keywords that are most relevant to the online conversations you have tracked.
o Tip 4. Offer opt-in opportunities
Invite visitors to join a community, subscribe to an email newsletter, download a white paper or other ways to opt in to draw the influencers into conversations with you.
Key: remember these influencers may not themselves ever be customers. So applying a "did-they-buy?" conversion metric to prove the success of this opt-in is worthless. Instead, you need to consider, "Are they influential and will they use their influence on my behalf?"Step III. Sell WOM internally
Now that you've begun gathering data on and a list of influencers in a small, controlled way, you can begin to promote WOM internally.
o Tip 1. Declare yourself the WOM expert
Nobody will challenge you because it's fairly certain that nobody else will know anything about WOM yet. It's your job to declare that WOM is an actual business practice and that you are the expert on it.
o Tip 2. Pilot ideas online first
"Companies like DuPont won't give you a budget until people can see it work in a small, targeted way," says Spangler.
You've already begun your WOM campaign by listening online and creating targeted content. Now choose an outreach plan and begin targeting both advocates and critics via avenues such as blogs, advisory panels, white paper downloads, or third party websites. Continue to monitor conversations to see if your voice is being heard.
Begin to think about using advertising as a way to reinforce existing WOM, rather than trying to force WOM via your advertising.
o Tip 3: Create steering committee
Before trying to sell your concept to a committee as a whole, sell it to individuals first so they can voice their concerns to you privately. That way, you can adjust your approach as needed, and each person's concern doesn't poison the whole group.
Then, create an internal steering committee. Identify managers who make sense to be on a steering team and go ahead and create one. Schedule regular meetings, have them monitor and review the progress of the work. Act as though the committee exists and begin treating the members as such. "They're not going to say no," says Spangler.Step IV. Enlist experts (but don't lose control)
Once WOM campaigns are an accepted part of your job, you may be able to get the budget to bring in outside practitioners. But Spangler warns beware of taking an expert's experience and assuming it all applies to your company.
The champion within the company (you) needs to adjust what the practitioner proposes to make business sense for the company.
Plus, if you give up the sense of expertise to the practitioner, you run the risk of being eliminated as the expert within the company. And the practitioner loses the internal word-of-mouth champion that promotes his services.
Spangler adds a note of caution:
"The FTC is looking at the ethics around word-of-mouth marketing," he says. In order to keep from happening to WOM what happened to email with spam, companies need to maintain integrity. With that in mind, says Spangler, "If you're writing a check, make sure they uphold ethical practices."
Ethics in WOM mean anything from being transparent (not hiring "shills" to promote your company without revealing that they work for you), to respecting consumers, to managing relationships with minors responsibly. DuPont has committed to accepting and upholding a code of ethics for word-of-mouth, and requires that any company with which it does business upholds it, too.Useful links related to this article:
Word of Mouth Marketing Association's Code of Ethics: http://womma.org/ethicscode.htm