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Word of Mouth Tactics: Honest Marketing

Word of Mouth Tactics: Honest Marketing Andy Sernovitz

Marketing is easy

Step 1. Earn the respect and recommendation of consumers.

Step 2. They will do the rest.

Word of mouth is on the rise because marketers have finally begun to understand that a happy customer is the greatest advertisement. When consumers trust marketers they will recommend their products.

Traditional advertising is hurting because consumers don't trust it: they see through the slick production values and they tune it out. 

We're learning to listen to consumers. This is a good thing for the future of marketing.

Word of mouth marketing is not stealth marketing

Word of mouth is listening to the consumer and giving them a voice. Stealth marketing is tricking people. 

Honest marketers oppose all forms of stealth and deception. Stealth marketers are scumbags who should be hunted down. 

Word of mouth cannot be faked. 

Deception, infiltration, dishonesty, shilling and other attempts to manipulate consumers or the conversation are bad. Honest marketers do not do this, will not do this, and will get caught if they try. Sleazy behavior will be exposed by the public and backfire horribly on anyone who attempts it.

Disclosure is good. Demand disclosure. 

We want consumers to talk -- openly and honestly. That's the point of word of mouth marketing.  Insist that any relationship between consumers and marketers be clearly disclosed from the beginning. Smart marketers understand that disclosure makes messages more powerful because it makes them more trustworthy.

Simple rules for staying honest

Happy, interested people will say good things about you. It's doesn't take much more than that. Understand this concept, devote yourself to it, and you will be a successful word of mouth marketer.

1. Stick to the Honesty ROI. WOMMA's Ethics Code focuses on a simple principle: The Honesty ROI. 

Honest marketers never do marketing that violates these rules and never ask consumers to violate them.

  • Honesty of Relationship: You say who you're representing

  • Honesty of Opinion: You only say what you really believe

  • Honesty of Identity: You never lie about who you are

2. Set up internal guidelines to stop stealth campaigns.  Make sure there is a review process and that someone is asking the tough questions. Many great brands have been deeply embarrassed when an uninformed junior brand manager hires an iffy agency to do a sleazy stealth campaign. Make your values clear.

3. Expose stealth marketing. Step up and say something when you see a stealth campaign. Blog it, call a reporter -- whatever it takes. Stealth thrives on secrecy, so take it away. 

Word of mouth makes all marketing more honest

Word of mouth is the feedback loop that forces marketers to pay attention to the consumer. It brings advertisers out of isolation and forces them to confront the reality of the impact that their products and marketing have on real people. It puts the consumers at the head of the boardroom table.

Word of mouth protects consumers by giving them a voice. The kind of marketing we do gives a powerful platform to consumers -- and forces marketers to respect them. We empower consumers by engaging with them in blogs, message boards, communities and in the real world. We give people the power to voice their dissatisfaction and expose dishonesty.

We're the marketers who have learned to listen. Word of mouth marketers don't have a choice. We can't do what we do unless consumers are happily willing to relay our message. So we're getting good at making them happy. When all marketers learn to respect consumers' word of mouth, all marketing will be more honest.

All marketers should be held to this higher standard.

You need to fight against deception and stealth

This is your fight. You don't have the option to sit back while people confuse pro-consumer word of mouth with sleazy stealth. Your reputation depends on it.

If you sit back, we're going to repeat the unhappy history of email marketing. Reporters and consumers started referring to all commercial email as "spam," lumping responsible messages from respected brands in with the worst kinds of sleaze. 

What happened? Everyone stopped talking about honest ways to use email. Legal departments told honest brands to sit on the sidelines. Few companies fought for anti-spam laws. And the spammers ran free, unopposed.

You have to take action to make it clear that honest marketers don't use stealth marketing and oppose stealth marketing. We need to work together in the fight for higher standards, pointing out the bad actors while supporting the early efforts of honest marketers.

You have to step up now to make sure that your reputation and honest marketing tactics don't get tarred with the actions of a sleazy few.

Andy Sernovitz is CEO of WOMMA, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and blogs at GasPedal. WOMMA is a non-profit association that is building a word of mouth marketing industry based on ethics, measurable ROI and best practices. More than 175 companies have joined the organization this year. Learn more about how you can master word of mouth at womma.org.

The Champion: Your ultimate "liker." This poster believes in everything about your brand and supports all your brand initiatives. Be sure to "like" this poster as much as this poster likes you.

The Orator: This is your loudest brand advocate. A worthy poster, but feed them wisely. While their enthusiasm is appreciated, being the loudest online is a magnet for starting "flame wars." Providing Orators with good information can go a long way toward keeping their posts positive and entertaining.

The Torchbearer: This poster will carry your brand messages and initiatives across the internet. Rich connections with this poster can lead to great opportunities, such as sending a brand message viral.

The Connoisseur: This is a brand "collector" of sorts. This poster appreciates your initiatives and always kept tabs on you well before social media. As a loyal brand enthusiast, the Connoisseur has been buying your products for years, so be gracious and appreciative in your interactions.

The Orbiter: Orbiters are posters who like you and your brand -- from a distance. They are always hovering around your brand, keeping tabs on what your brand is up to, but they never closely engage. Interactions with this poster are usually initiated by the posters themselves, as they value their distance.

The Reposter: These posters fill their posts with others' posts, again and again. If you post it, so will they. If someone else posts it, so will they. While this can be good for re-populating messaging and spreading awareness, it is a double-edged sword, as this poster is indifferent to reposting positives or negatives about your brand.

The Researcher: This sharp-minded poster is knowledgeable about your brand and products, including the most obscure information. Not only do you need to dot your "I"s and cross your "T"s with this poster, but you also need to make sure every fact you post is 100 percent correct. If you don't, this poster will put you on the defensive.

The Opportunist: You'll get to know this poster very well if you're running any kind of contest or promotion. The Opportunist smells out opportunity from all over, and definitely likes you -- if you have something to give. Be aware: The Opportunist does not like to feel jaded, and if your offers are vague or insufficient, the Opportunist will go on the attack.

The Runner: Be prepared to have your posts examined, cross-examined, and possibly taken well out of context by this poster. Runners will run with what you post and take your words farther than you ever intended them to travel. They attach new meaning to words that you might never have meant and are experts at grabbing, manipulating, and repurposing sound bites to fit their needs.

This category is otherwise known as "the reason the delete feature was invented."

The Oppressor: The Oppressor does not like your messaging. The Oppressor does not like others liking your messaging. The Oppressor does not want to hear opinions contrary to his or her own. The Oppressor will not sit idly by and let others post that which is offensive.

The Antagonist: Your brand's foil exists in the form of the Antagonists. The yin to your brand's yang. If you announce something new with a red background, they'll instantly prefer that background to be blue. If you announce 10 winners for a contest, they'll counter that there are 10 losers. The Antagonist lives to attack your brand.

The Propagandist: It might be your brand's page, but to the Propagandist, it is simply an opportunity to spread his or her own messages. These posters will actively use your platform as their own. Their symbiotic behavior includes posting link after link, posting promotion after promotion, and "hijacking" threads in order to drive traffic to another site or brand message. You can often find these remoras of the social media sea in comment threads.

The Color Commentator: It was once famously said there are seven words you can't say on TV. This poster has trouble posting seven words without using one of those, or a host of others in the poster's "colorful" repertoire of foul phrases. Specializing in the kind of responses that would make an old sailor proud, the Color Commentator can turn any positive thread or initiative into a PR nightmare.

The Instigator: These posters present the ultimate in lose-lose scenarios with their posting style. Nothing you ever say or do will be right, and any responses to try to rectify a situation with them will only further bury your brand and your message. With a love for tinkering with your brand's supporters, these posters will needle positive posts with sharp barbs. The best you can do to combat them is to drown them out with quality information without addressing them directly.

Evangelists. Moderates. Distracters. While this is not a definitive list, and in fact is quite subjective, this list does give insight into some of the more "interesting" types of posters. Knowing this, your efforts to manage them can become more focused. How you communicate with the posters, however, is often dependent upon the state of your brand, as certain companies tend to attract certain types of posters. Let's check out a few real-life examples.

A brand in good standing
Kaplan University (KU) is a well-regarded online university. Being a positive brand, its followers are primarily Evangelists who "like" the brand because they have expectations of receiving valuable information from KU. So KU can implement a strategy to "elevate and build" upon these Evangelists. KU is in the position where it can dispense information and simply answer questions, and be "liked" for this, which produces positive threads filled with feedback from Evangelists. This action alone can end up populating much of its page.

Kaplan University's challenge is to provide the proper response to queries within the allotted social media time (quickly), otherwise Evangelists can quickly lose faith. To avoid this, KU must maintain correspondences or risk creating Moderates and Distracters through real or perceived negligence.
A brand that's seen good and bad
Microsoft Office has had its share of criticism and success in the social space. Its page reflects that, with a mix of Evangelists, Moderates, and Distracters. Microsoft Office's reaction to these posters can easily tip the scale of public opinion, so it's important for the brand to positively engage all posters.

Microsoft Office needs to strategically "evolve" its page to help win over posters by continuing to populate the page with rich content. This includes posting relevant news, updates, links to upgrades, contests, facts, and initiatives to engage consumers with threads calling for feedback. It also means constantly monitoring the page so that it can efficiently respond to questions, issues, and concerns. By engaging in these actions, Microsoft Office will be able to dictate content, as well as "bump" off Distracters without necessarily having to delete them.
A lightning rod of a brand
General Motors (GM) has seen better days as a result of the bailout, the sale of Hummer, and some poorly perceived product lines. And its Facebook page mirrors this, as it's a magnet for Distracters, despite a loyal group of Evangelists. Thus, GM is in need of "shifting" its audience through intelligent communication strategies.

When last checked, the default view of the wall only shows GM posts. Brands that have adversity tend to resort to this view. It needs to positively engage Distracters, welcome different viewpoints, and support its Evangelists. GM should also consider highlighting third parties on the page, such as sponsored charities, causes, events, etc. This will help build positive sentiment and drown out the Distracters. Deleting inflammatory comments is necessary; however, removing negative comments would be further weakened virally, and would provide fresh ammunition for Distracters.
Whatever position your brand might be in on Facebook, in the end posters are still people. And people, after all, ultimately make your brand strong and drive your business. So "like" them in some form or another -- because even the worst Distracter could be a potential customer.

David Clarke is founder and managing partner of BGT Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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