We have all had it happen. A friend tells you about a great new restaurant, promising unbelievable food, atmosphere and service. The place is so hot you can’t get in for four weeks. You finally show up breathless with anticipation and it falls so short of expectations; you vow never to return and not to trust that friend again (on restaurants at least). Later that week, you happen to try a new place on your own; the receptionist is charming, the waiter entertaining, the food delicious and the bathroom fixtures are worth stealing.
You, of course, tell all your friends about this discovery including special instructions on what to order and encourage them to browse the WC. They report back a more than satisfactory experience. A month later you read a review and this reminds you it is time to go back. You enjoy another high quality performance and tell a couple more friends. If you examine this everyday word of mouth (WOM) scenario, you will find the 3D tenets of smart WOM: Discover, Deliver, Diversify.
How you find out about something new is often as important as the new thing itself. This is part of what makes word of mouth so powerful in the first place. A friend’s recommendation is like a little gift especially when compared to ads that are often like little jabs to the chin. We trust our friends, or at least we trust our trustworthy friends, a lot more than we do a billboard or TV commercial. I like learning about new restaurants from my connoisseur friends more than from New York Magazine or Crain’s. It’s the personal connection, being part of the chain of those “in the know”.
For marketers, thinking about the moment of discovery can be a helpful addition to the planning process particularly with new products or product news. Consider the impact of learning about a new song for the first time at Wal-Mart. This environment will undoubtedly shape perceptions of style, value and innovation for just about any product but especially for something as ephemeral as popular music. Compare that to the experience of learning about that same song at Disneyland. Suddenly the tune takes on notes of fun, wholesomeness and teenybopper. Now imagine you’re online at home, receiving a new song your friend the DJ just wrangled from his friend in the music business. Suddenly, you’ve literally got the inside track to something cooler than cool. You open your ears wanting desperately to discover a great new artist, someone you can then tell your friends about.
An important subset of discovery is disclosure. If your friend the DJ ends up being a secret shill for a record company, then your confidence in his recommendations will fade faster than a one hit wonder. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has rightfully made a big deal about WOM ethics and strongly recommends full disclosure. If your friend the DJ honestly identifies his connection with the label, then you are sufficiently informed to assess his recommendation accordingly. The discovery will only be tainted if the music ends up being mediocre, providing a perfect segue to the next D.
Word of mouth is a wonderful thing, but it can’t help a product that doesn’t deliver on its promise. Your product or service must live up to the hype you want to surround it with. If it doesn’t, bad things will happen. Consider the under-delivering restaurant in my first example. With expectations fueled by friendly raves, I expected the best and was stunned by the reality. There is an old expression in the ad business that there is nothing like a great ad to kill a bad product. The same is true in WOM—over-hype your product/service and you are sure to not only disappoint but also create detractors faster than Donald Trump can say “you’re fired!”