The Web has certainly created new opportunities for word of mouth (WOM) marketing initiatives. Memorable examples of online WOM programs include Burger King’s viral “Subservient Chicken”, LonelyGirl15, and New Line Cinema’s Snakes on a Plane. All three generated buzz and awareness for their creators through viral marketing, and word of mouth.
However, as the quantity of WOM campaigns on the traditional web moves towards saturation, marketers will need to look towards emerging platforms such as blogs and feeds to capture their audience’s attention.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, the official not-for-profit trade association for word-of-mouth marketers, defines word of mouth as “the act of consumers providing information to other consumers,” and word of mouth marketing as “giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, making it easier for that conversation to take place.”
WOM marketers usually begin by identifying the people that are most likely to talk about a product or service — the influencers — and making them aware of new features, benefits, or selling points. If successful, this “seeding” effort initiates a viral marketing phase, in which the influencers share their opinions and experiences with others.
Interactive marketing has created new tools for WOM marketers to engage the influencers, in two distinct ways. First, online media has allowed marketers to create multimedia content designed specifically for digital distribution such as blogs, video clips, audio podcasts, and desktop widgets. Second, digital distribution allows influencers to inform others without physical contact.
Rather than relying on a physical setting, such as an event sponsorship or a trade show, the digital environment increases both the pace at which WOM spreads, and the number of potential influences by a single individual. If a person finds the Spiderman desktop widget to be interesting and fun, it can be forwarded to that individual’s friends and colleagues in seconds. Or if an individual finds a YouTube video to be particularly interesting, it can be easily embedded on a profile page and viewed by friends and visitors.
But as more marketers take advantage of lower content production costs and cheap digital distribution, they run into another trend — one that marketers have been dealing with for ages. It’s called attention deficit, and as the interactive landscape gets more crowded with WOM initiatives, it will force marketers to think about new ways to engage the influencers in the discovery process, and to retain their interest over time.
If every video component is added to YouTube and other video services, and every audio clip gets added to the iTunes podcast directory and others like it, these services stand to become very crowded. While that’s good for the content aggregators in their quest to attract eyeballs and monetize a large content base, it makes it harder for a WOM marketer to seed a campaign. New initiatives, including support in emerging media, will be required.
Further, if the WOM campaign is episodic in nature, with an advertiser releasing new content over time, then it becomes very desirable to provide tools that help retain the influencers, and their circle of friends, beyond a single interaction. It’s a relatively simple hypothesis — give a brand advertiser multiple opportunities to engage a potential customer, and they’ll favor that every time over a single contact.