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Dispelling Myths about WOM

Tom Hespos' column, "," in iMedia reflects a common misunderstanding of word-of-mouth marketing and the values that The Word of Mouth Marketing Association stands for.

People often think that word of mouth is all about street teams or what Hespos calls "using compensated agents." It's just not what we do.

Saying that word-of-mouth marketing is just those things is like saying that internet advertising is only pop-up ads-- way too narrow, pejorative and just plain wrong. 

Word-of-mouth marketing is more than 40 different ways to start open, honest conversations with consumers. None of them involve paying people to speak for you.

When you take a look at the WOMMA member list, you'll realize that we do something very different. We're all about transparent conversations and earning the respect of customers. When you look at our conference agendas, you'll see 70 speakers talking about ethics and engagement-- and none about street teams.

Word-of-mouth marketing is an incredibly diverse field. The techniques are evolving and changing every day. WOMMA has 300 member companies that have each pioneered unique ways of helping natural conversations spread and listening to consumers.

WOMMA has started a case study collection to highlight the depth and breadth of what you can do in this field. We've identified 40 distinct word-of-mouth marketing techniques, and the list grows every day. Here are a few: Blogging, customer evangelists, tell-a-friend forms, online communities, open-sourcing products, caring for your influencers, embracing user-generated content, participating in social networks, and more. (See the full list here.)

Critics of the word-of-mouth marketing business often miss this point. They think that we're all about a few narrow techniques, or they confuse stealth marketing (very nasty) with word-of-mouth marketing (the most consumer-friendly kind of marketing). 

(Of course, we reject all stealth marketing techniques-- they are unethical and we oppose them at every turn.) 

It comes down to honesty
Here's the word-of-mouth marketing philosophy:

  • Earn the respect and recommendation of your customers, and they will do the rest.

  • Provide fantastic service. Make phenomenal products. Get consumers excited. People will tell their friends.

Word-of-mouth marketing is about making people happy. People talk about you because they like what you do, they like how you treat them, and they want to share that pleasure with their friends.

Actually, word-of-mouth marketing is two things: Giving people a reason to talk about your stuff, and making it easy for that conversation to take place.

The first part, the reason to talk, is the "be remarkable" part. You have to start with something great.

The second part is about helping the message spread. It's dozens of very specific techniques you can use to get more people involved in a conversation. For example, a new product on your website is interesting. Put it on a blog, and it's linkable. Put it in an email, and it's extremely fast-moving.

Word of mouth is the only consumer-protecting marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing is self-regulating and self-correcting.

No other form of marketing puts the marketer and the consumer on the same side. Word-of-mouth marketing is entirely dependent on real people to spread the message for you. You can't buy it, you can't rent it-- you have to earn it. Word-of-mouth marketing only works for good companies with good products and good service.

Word of mouth, by its very nature, has built-in limits that force it to be honest. When you empower consumers to advertise you, you empower them to criticize you, too. Bad traditional advertising runs as long as you pay for it. Bad or unethical word-of-mouth marketing is stopped by the same people you are asking to talk about you. 

Word of mouth forces companies to behave better. Many companies start doing word-of-mouth marketing because it's good marketing. They soon realize, however, that the very act of embracing word of mouth forces them to be more responsive and more respectful. It makes them realize the value of their customers, and treat those customers like real people.

Companies that treat people well, that earn good word of mouth, make more money. For the first time, we have a phenomenon that puts marketing and social good on the same side of the table.

If you want to learn how all this works, come to WOMMA's Word of Mouth Marketing Summit in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 12. I guarantee an eye-opening experience.

Andy Sernovitz is CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

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