Word of mouth: an effective marketing tool | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 01, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 01, 2016

Word of mouth: an effective marketing tool

Malcolm Gladwell in his famous book "Tipping Point" described Paul Revere's historical ride on the night of April 18, 1775 from Boston to Lexington to spread the news "The British are coming" as one of the most successful word-of-mouth campaigns. Within just two hours he covered thirteen miles. While passing through each of the towns he knocked the doors of the local colonial leaders and informed them the British army was on their way and requested them to pass on the words to others. It worked like a miracle -- the news promulgated in an unprecedented pace. The churches started ringing their bells, local people were beating drums to draw the attentions of their fellow neighbours. Eventually all these efforts resulted in a well-organised and fierce resistance when the British began their march.

Word of mouth (WoM) technique is being used by mankind since ages to propagate any news. Business world had also adopted this effective means of human communication long back. Even today when the means of communications are plenty and easy to use, emerge of the internet, electronic and social media, multibillion dollar advertisements made communication lot easier, WoM is still regarded as the most effective ways of reaching out to the consumers and thereby enhance business.

According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family more than any other forms of advertising. In a recent study, 64 percent of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. However, only 6 percent say they have mastered it.

History suggests, in early 1970s, the WoM concept got popular by the initiative taken by a psychologist named George Silverman. He created a group comprising physicians who used to get engaged in dialogues about new pharmaceutical products. Silverman experienced an interesting trend during focus group discussions. He noticed, one or two physicians who had ample experience about a drug could easily change the mindset of an entire group who were skeptical. Even the physicians who had negative experiences would change their views on that product.

Many reputed companies used this technique quite successfully. Gmail is regarded as one of the most successful word-of-mouth marketing campaigns in corporate history. Initially Gmail was used by Google employees only for their official work. In April 2004, the company decided to open it for public in a very limited way by inviting friends and family members of its employees to use the closed beta test of Gmail. Later on, some of these friends and family would also get the chance to invite others. Today more than 425 million people use this web-based email service.

There are many such examples. Reckitt Benckiser's brand Dettol was struggling to grow in the smaller cities in China. Its TV commercials were not able to draw the attention of the target consumers although those were extremely expensive. Reckitt Benckiser then decided to launch a WoM campaign involving influencer moms. The company distributed 44,000 samples to 4,000 such moms. Each one of them received one kit for herself and 10 more to distribute to her friends. The campaign was a massive success, reaching 46 percent of the brand's target audience. In five months, brand awareness increased five times, purchase doubled from 21 percent to 42 percent, and sales increased 86 percent in only two months.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple and Adidas have been very successful in applying WoM campaign. Not only the business world has been applying this method, non-profit organisations like Make-A-Wish Foundation off late launched one of the extraordinary WoM campaigns involving personality like US President Barack Obama. As a result of its campaign, Make-A-Wish received 1.89 million social impressions; more than half a million Batkid hashtags within no time. The event was able to draw significant press coverage including a BuzzFeed article that generated 2.5 million hits within three days. More than 20,000 Instagram and Twitter photos were posted by the end of the day, and, of course, donations increased.

It is always easier said than done. A million dollar question from the marketing executives around the world would probably be -- how to master WoM campaign. Different studies conducted so far revealed few fundamentals:

1. Selecting true influencers: Very critical in delivering results. Target consumers not necessarily listen to everyone. Jay Baer, one of the reputed marketing and customer service inspirational speakers, commented, "True influence drives action, not just awareness."

2. Connecting appropriately to emotion: Success of a campaign largely depends on how effectively the message touches the hearts of consumers. The campaign created for Miles Scott, a 5-year-old cancer survivor in remission, who wished he could be the superhero, Batkid, for one day, by Make-A-Wish Foundation touched people's emotion so contagiously that in a short period of time it reaches millions of them.

3. Engaging with the target consumer group continuously: Promotion is never a one-off event. To ensure repeat purchase and establish the brand in top of consumers' mind, continuous engagement with consumers works as reinforcement.

4. Ensuring caring and best-in-class customer service: Caring customer service converts existing customers into fans who eventually become ambassadors for the brands they are loyal to. It is extremely critical how company treats their customers who keep the business growing.

Kimberly A Whitler in one of the articles published in the business magazine Forbes said, "Marketers used to focus on the four Ps: product, price, place, promotion. You probably had them drilled into your head as you pursued your marketing degree. Well, now marketers need to focus on the three Es: engage, equip, empower." Traditional ways of marketing to some extent lost its effectiveness. Consumers probably are lost in the midst of endless advertisements and eventually do not truly rely on those commercials for making their purchase decisions.

Marketers are putting emphasis on how to:

Engage with the target consumers. They are suggesting brand's presence in different forums like social media.

Equip the customers with something so that they find reasons to talk about the brand. It could be unique products, excellent services or interesting facts.

Empowering customers also makes them loyal. Asking customers for their feedback makes them feel important. Helping them to share their positive impression about a product within their circles and get that going works quite effectively.

At the end of the day success would hugely depend on finding out what people want to talk about and identify the influencers who can spread the message around. Andy Sernovitz, in his book, Word of Mouth Marketing, writes: "You will get more word of mouth from making people happy than anything else you could possibly do."


The writer is managing director of Syngenta Bangladesh.

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