Who exactly feels “betrayed” at a marketer who utilizes word of mouth to promote their products? If this person did learn that the marketer paid their best friend to promote detergent and movies without revealing it to them, would they even care? As word of mouth becomes more important to your bag of marketing tricks, don’t lose sight of the realities of how consumers interact with this channel.
Word of mouth as a marketing tool, as I’m sure you’re already aware, isn’t some new phenomenon. And I’m sure you’re also aware that just because you just caught on to how to utilize it to promote your goods, that it hasn’t already been doing that without you. And no, word of mouth wasn’t invented by Al Gore, Proctor & Gamble, nor the Pentagon, although all three are masters of the form.
Keeping in mind that any marketing effort plays a fractional role in your consumer’s decision-marking process, it’s highly suspect that the average Joe would be particularly offended by how you go about marketing to him. Besides, being offended means your morals or principles have been aggrieved. Taking action means you’d have to change your behavior and it takes a not too insubstantial amount of will power to change behavior to accommodate principles; if a consumer needs a product, it’s highly unlikely they’ll forgo the optimal option because they’re offended at your marketing of that product. A mid-Westerner earning less than $25,000 per year won’t shop Wholefoods over Wal-Mart, no matter what they’ve heard about Wal-Mart.
Based on our recent analysis of a word of mouth marketing effort tracked online for a cable television network client, where in one sample group paid endorsers did not reveal they were paid endorsers, and in another sample group paid endorsers did reveal they were paid endorsers, we learned that when not disclosing identity, our client achieved their marketing objectives without any impact to their brand; he group that knew they were being marketed to by paid endorsers completely cut off the paid endorsers.
OK, but what if they found out on their own that they were being marketed to by a paid endorser? When a target sub-group of theatergoers did take it upon themselves to address their own suspicions that a paid endorser was paid to promote to them, just less than 10% of those fans reacted vehemently against the paid endorser, while the rest of the interacting target group continued to have positive interactions with our paid endorsers.
In prior analyses, we’ve found similar results and lower. On average, less than 2% of any target group will react negatively to being promoted to via word of mouth. Even when most people learn they’re being marketed to, and after the novelty wears off, the interaction continues positively, frankly apathetic to the fact that they’re interacting with someone paid to interact with them. In many instances, our paid endorsers were even thanked for offering the information they offered about our client’s programming; not unlike the way one feels about having access to someone “on the inside.”
What stronger evidence exists that points to how much word of mouth is appreciated by the average Joe than the mere fact that social networking, a natural form of human interaction, has evolved into a business model on the internet from which companies can profit from?