Word of mouth solidifies its place atop list of brand allies

Over the last few years, word of mouth marketing has become an integral part of many brand initiatives.

Over the last few years, word of mouth marketing has become an integral part of many brand initiatives. While companies and agencies have different strategies, they seem to agree on one major aspect of the practice - it's becoming more and more popular.

"The trend of fragmentation of consumer attention and media choices has accelerated," says Chris Laird, CEO of Tremor, Procter & Gamble's in-house word-of-mouth marketing organization. "It is even more important to get brand loyalists and lovers to talk up your brand."

In addition to P&G brands, Tremor works with other outside clients on word-of-mouth marketing efforts.

Listening to consumers
According to a September 2010 study by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, consumers are 50 times more likely to buy a product after hearing a recommendation from a trusted source. Tremor directly taps into that concept with its Vocalpoint community, a network of more than 650,000 women between the ages of 24 and 65 who review P&G products, participate in focus groups and surveys, and share their opinions with family and friends.

A significant portion of the network is made up of bloggers "because they tend to be more digitally connected," Laird explains. Tremor has even directed campaigns specifically focused on targeting bloggers. A few months ago, it reached out to bloggers about new Downy Fabric Softener innovations, engaging the writers with materials and allowing them to share their views with followers. In addition, Tremor, for the first time, attended BlogHer in August to help cultivate that online community.

Erin Georgieff, MD at PainePR, which has been overseeing Tremor since July, says Vocalpoint, with its large group of diverse members, is a powerful tool for P&G.

"Brands can tap this huge pool of savvy consumers and influential women to help shape strategies," she adds. "It's about getting in front of these influencers, learning from them, and applying it to their marketing campaigns."

The newest way that Tremor has been interacting with Vocalpoint is through in-home parties, which kicked off this spring. The parties help P&G "figure out how to bring their brand idea to life in a close-knit social gathering in somebody's home," Laird says. Tremor recently sponsored an in-home party for Pampers, using brand products to create a baby shower-themed event for one of its Vocalpoint members.

Challenges of word-of-mouth

PainePR's Erin Georgieff says a big challenge of the practice is listening to the negative feedback from consumers as openly as the positive. "Smart word-of-mouth marketers will listen to their customers - whether it's good, bad, or indifferent - and apply that against their campaigns," she notes.

Another challenge, finds Unilever's Christine Cea, is identifying the metrics for the practice in the online space since "the discipline is still in its relative infancy."

Social media assistance
Unilever, another company that incorporates word-of-mouth marketing into its initiatives, focuses on events and social media strategies for the practice.

"The goal is to earn both loyalty and that recommendation so you grow your business as a result of advocacy," says Christine Cea, Unilever US' brand PR director and member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) board of directors.

No matter what event Unilever puts on, whether it's a flash mob in Times Square or a sampling opportunity, Cea explains that the company harnesses social media channels to propel word-of- mouth marketing and increase return on investment.

One Unilever brand successfully leveraging social media platforms is I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Cea attributes this to the fact it has an authentic voice, encourages consumer participation, and is "always on" and active in the digital world.

"No matter what the demographic," she adds, "by adhering to those pillars, you can truly achieve that success."

In the future, John Bell, MD of Ogilvy's 360 Digital Influence, the firm's global, social media, and word-of-mouth marketing practice, predicts even more companies will take the discipline seriously, changing the way brands measure performance. The former WOMMA president also believes the word-of- mouth marketing landscape will see big brand marketers activating employees as advocates within the next year.

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