Truth and Marketing

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Jack Trout's piece on WOMM (word-of-mouth-marketing) earlier this week definitely proved that WOMMA and the rest of us who understand what WOMM is - and should be - have our work cut out for us. Apparently, a whole lot of folks out there equate WOMM with spam and shill marketing... which... it isn't.

WOMM is about transparency and truth. Shill marketing is about exploitation and manipulation.

To help us shed some light on the difference, I offer you none other than Jack Trout himself:

"Now we have a new dictionary to learn. Word-of-mouth is now buzz marketing, viral marketing, community marketing, grassroots marketing, evangelist marketing, product seeding, influencer marketing, cause marketing, conversation creation, brand blogging and referral programs. That's the good stuff.

What isn't so good is stealth marketing, shilling, infiltration, comment spam, defacement and falsifications."

Okay... so, the dictionary isn't new, and if you haven't learned it yet, the good news is that you'll have it down inside of a week or two. You can even skip a few useless piece of corporate-speak like "conversation creation" and "influencer marketing." While you're at it, throw back "cause marketing" and "referral programs" back in the traditional marketing pile, where they belong.

But at least, there you have it: the bright side and the dark side. The real deal, and the cheap junk that frauds and hacks would try to pass off as WOMM. Bleh.

If you haven't figured this out already, understand that when I speak about WOMM, or when John Moore or Johnnie Moore or anyone at Corante speaks about WOMM, what we are talking about is a marketing model based on transparency and open-source dialogue. Not the other slimy business. You can find out more about how to keep WOMM and Brand-building clean in the Chico's Favorite Posts section (top right of this page) if you're interested.

But back to Jack's comments:

"How many people really want to chatter about products? Do you really want to talk about your toothpaste or your toilet paper? Even people with prestige products tend not to chatter about them. All you really want is to be seen driving up in one. Now, if it's a Harley Davidson motorcycle, sure. That's because you're part of a club, and that's all they talk about. But they don't need buzz."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. When a product is extraordinary - or "cool" or delicious or fun or really well designed - people do talk about it. They talk about it to their friends, their loved ones, their coworkers and peers, and if they have a blog, they write about it there. My wife recently switched to a new conditioner, and she recommended it to all of her friends at work (fifteen or so women). Even if only three try it and love it, how many of their church friends will they spread the good word to? How many of their neighbors and friends and book club pals and children and neighbors? See where this is going?

I had a great experience at the Los Angeles Standard Hotel back in September, and I wrote a piece praising them for all the things they did right. When I find a restaurant or tea bar I really like, I tell my friends. When I find a type of gum I really like, or a new band, or a new movie, I share it with my friends. If I ever find really, really great toilet paper, I will also be sure to tell my friends about it.

Jack, people like to talk about stuff they really enjoy and stuff they really hate. No... they love to talk about them. As a matter of fact, they spend a huge part of their day doing just that. The difference between the world today and the world twenty years ago is that where in the past, most people had a limited scope of influence, the social tools of today (blogs, personal sites, and Squidoo mainly) have given every-day citizens the power to reach millions all over the planet.

Think of it this way: There are about 30,000,000+ blogs out there right now. Even if 20% of them are spam blogs (oh the humanity), that still leaves 24,000,000+ genuine blogs created by people who felt that they had something to talk about. Sure, maybe lots of them just want to talk about their cat or complain about their jobs, but at some point in time, they will share their experiences with a product or brand that made an impression (good or bad). People will read. People will listen. Information will spread and grow and be aggregated by search engines and other handy new media social tools.

(By the way, for a great little piece on spam blogs, click here.)

WOM happens whether you like it or not. It's wired into us. We're deeply social animals. We'll talk to each other about great toothpaste and horrible toilet paper all day long if given the chance. (Clubs only focus the scope of these conversations.)

If you aren't tapped into what your customers are saying about you, if you aren't encouraging feedback from them and a healthy dialogue, if you aren't empowering them to help you improve your company for them, a) you're missing the boat, and b) they will find someone who will. WOMM shouldn't be another control strategy. WOMM is about facilitating dialogue, not controling it.

Jack, the world that inspired the books you wrote is fading fast. Command & Control marketing is dying. Consumers today are too sophisticated for the old model. They own your growth. They own your success. If you can't find a way to turn them on (and keep turning them on), they will simply turn you off. A well-crafted message won't get you very far if you can't back it up with a whole lot of substance.

Another Jack Trout comment that's worthy of note:

"Buzz can kill you if you don't have the right product. You've got to have a product or service people want to talk about in a positive way, and there aren't many of these around."

Bingo. Jack's 100% right, and that's just the beauty of WOMM: It forces companies to actually produce great products for their customers. (Wow! What a novel idea!)

My question to jack would be this: Where are the ethics in crafting marketing/advertising/PR campaigns that take average or cheaply made products and try to make them look better than they are?

It's exactly this kind of slide-of-hand model that has all but deflated the advertising world's superpowers to begin with. The thought forty years ago was: Hey, if they say so on TV, it must be true. Today, the thought is: Don't believe anything you see in a commerial or print ad.

The truth is that photoshop sells makeup and cars. Orthodontists sell toothpaste. Cosmetic surgeons sell diet plans. Fitness models sell gym memberships and home fitness equipment.

And you wonder why we're so jaded. Why so many people are turning to trusted peer networks for information on products. Why word-of-mouth is making a huge comeback. You want to talk about truth and ethics? I'll buy the first beer, Jack.

Here's more:

"This all brings me to my word-of-mouth on word-of-mouth marketing. It's not the next big thing. It's just another tool in your arsenal. If you have a way to get your strategy or point of difference talked about by your customers and prospects, that's terrific. It will help, but you're going to have to surround it with a lot of other effort, including, if you'll pardon the expression, advertising. You just can't buy mouths the way you can buy media. And mouths can stop talking about you in a heartbeat once something else comes along to talk about."

Again, you're absolutely right. Word-of-mouth alone isn't enough... But you have to start there and align your campaign with the discussion surrounding your product or brand.

And for the record, you should never buy mouths. Ever. (Unless they're actors pretending to be doctors or housewives or hamburger eaters in your commercials. It's okay to pretend on TV, after all.)

Tip to Jack's clients: Keep giving mouths great stuff to talk about, and they will keep talking about you. It's that simple. Make better products. Make better packaging. Give your customers better support and service. That's your jobs - Not Jack's.

"I certainly would never tell a CEO: B.J., I just put a big chunk of our budget into word-of-mouth."

Jeez, Jack, I certainly hope not. Keep reading about WOMM from those of us who are working to keep it clean, and you'll hopefully realize that when done right it's... um... free. (Or at least very cheap.)

"Now for the really bad news. There's no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way. They aren't getting paid based on how many widgets get sold. If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can't depend on much else. Not too many mouths will do a stand-up commercial about your product vs. its competitor. Nor will they check with you in advance on what to say."

Oh Jack... This is the part that got you into hot water. And that's the part that's been addressed by folks a whole lot smarter than I am. Go check out what they had to say here, here, and here (don't bother with the piece itself, but check out the great links).

Transparency heads-up: I am the editor of the Corante Marketing Hub, but I have absolutely no affiliation whatsoever with WOMMA.

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