How Marketers Can Start Speaking With – Not to – Customers


contagious1.jpgWord-of-mouth marketing is a high impact, low cost tactic everyone wants to leverage. In theory, it’s a marketers’ dream — communications that pass from person-to-person, requiring no effort or additional money? And the messages travel through extended social networks of brand advocates? Sign us up!

But in practice, word-of-mouth campaigns can be difficult to execute and sometimes they backfire. Content can be lost with each telephone-game style hop from consumer to consumer, and the most loyal brand advocates can cry foul when a campaign intended to go viral blatantly banks on the assumption that any message that’s remotely clever will be shared with friends and family.

Going Viral, But Not Becoming a Virus

Brands can avoid some of the pitfalls of campaigns that can mutate like a virus by providing consumers with tools to move content in ways that preserve branding and are fully trackable:

  • Desktop widgets
  • Social networking apps (MySpace, Facebook)
  • Home pages and personal portals (iGoogle, pageflakes, Netvibes)
  • RSS readers
  • Add to calendar and meeting invites
  • Mobile applications

The same tools that are used to catalyze and track word-of-mouth campaigns also provide marketers with opportunities to quantify “buzz” trends and measure individual interest levels in a brand or product. This data enable brands to reevaluate pricing models, product offerings, and incentive packages to influence purchasing intent. It opens up the possibility for marketing that is simultaneously scalable and also one-to-one (or, one-to-few).

Scalable, One-to-One Marketing

The realization of scalable, one-to-one marketing requires the ability to automate adjustment of product offerings based on quantifiable consumer interest and needs.

The line between sales and marketing becomes so blurred, the consumer’s quantified interest level dictates the value propositions marketed to the consumer. In other words, marketers present purchase options based on what they know each consumer is willing to pay at price points that fit their needs.

The best existing example of a scalable, one-to-one pricing model is an airline. The one thing you know upon entering a plane (aside from the fact that peanuts and cocktails await you) is that everyone paid different amounts for that flight based upon their needs.

Last-minute flights capitalize on immediate urgency to travel, discounts for stays over weekends provide incentives to fill slow travel dates and a certain number of discount flights are available to those on a budget, etc. Ideally, airlines would have access to certain details in consumers’ lives so they could best monetize every seat on the plane.

Interactive marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to utilize real-time data to offer and price goods based on consumers’ interests and willingness to pay. Frequency of visits to a Web site, a demonstrated interest level in particular brands, average cost per purchase, which calls to action they are most receptive to (email, SMS, sales or product launches), open and click through rates, etc. – all help create detailed profiles so brands can understand their consumers.

Marketers can use behavioral data to not only serve higher targeted ads, they also use it to can drive sales.

Consider, for example, how concert promoters could better monetize their events. Tickets are typically sold at varying levels based on proximity to stage. Imagine being able to know how much a fan would be willing to spend on limited edition merchandise, autographs, gourmet drinks and food, the ability to send personalized messages on an LCD display during an event, or to meet a band backstage. Profit margins could increase exponentially as consumers are presented with more relevant choices that add to the value of their experience.

From Monologue to Dialogue

What emerges here is a feedback loop that enables brands to engage consumers in dialogue by delivering increasingly relevant communications that help refine pricing and product offerings based on needs. Every interaction with an online tool provides new opportunities to understand what consumers want and to drive up revenue.

Brands can also reinforce trust in their products because consumers will know they can count on them to deliver the best choices that meet their needs. Feedback on interest levels and increasingly relevant product offerings can act like an open dialogue between consumers and brands, a conversation every marketer would love to have.


  1. From Monologue to Dialogue – absolutely – I couldn’t agree more. Very important to grasp before embarking into this territory is the need to understand the nature of online WOM about your brands, products, serives or organization: what people are saying, who they are, where they talk and the impact these conversations / comments have. You have to perceive before you can protect, participate and project in social media. See the following paper in the Journal of online Research ( and please send me you questions / feedback:

    Jon Moody


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