It's about conversations...and everyone's talking

McKinsey calls word of mouth the most "disruptive force in marketing," and CMO surveys suggest that investment in social marketing will rise.

McKinsey calls word of mouth the most “disruptive force in marketing.” CMO surveys suggest that investment in social marketing will rise. Many marketing and communications practitioners think this means they need to build Facebook fans, or followers on Twitter, or a video that will be a viral sensation. But as Facebook's Paul Adams has said, “You need to reorient your business around people, not technology.”

Research shows that real-world word-of-mouth, not social media, accounts for 90% of the conversations of influence. A social strategy that starts with people, not technology, needs to embrace this reality. To start, consider the stories that will resonate with people and those that they will share with others. Word-of-mouth success requires talk-worthy content to make a client's product, brand, or service become the fodder for social voice that leads to engagement, brand interest, or sales. A recent TalkTrack study by my firm shows that the average American talks each day about ten brands. More than two-thirds of these conversations involve a recommendation to buy, consider, or avoid the brand. Isn't this something central to the success of a PR campaign?

A high-value PR outcome isn't just about media visibility – traditional and online. It's about driving positive “talk worthy” conversations that lead to mass influence and sales. The best publicists use a variety of messaging techniques that cause target audiences to share and recommend. While not all of these techniques require big budgets, consistent success will only come if you have talk-making content.

Many assume that it takes breaking news or innovative products to get reporters and constituents buzzing. This isn't the whole story. In fact, many brands and companies while continually searching for the “wow factor,” seek to be frequent topics of conversation. Any client, product or service can become “talk worthy” by following these practices:

The steak is the sizzle
The old marketing adage is to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” In word of mouth, however, the steak is the sizzle. Word-of-mouth conversations are mostly sparked by people seeking solutions to their everyday needs: seeking advice about the best products to buy in a category where they need, where to buy them, and which product or service features are really valuable to have. The emphasis needs to be on uncovering a strong product story – a solution that people will want to pass along to their peers, friends, and relatives, find easy to talk about and feel good about sharing.

Be topical
Weave your client's message into what is relevant in the larger landscape by riding the coattails of topical or trend stories. Follow the latest news and find ways to connect creatively and strategically -- putting yourself into the existing maelstrom of conversation.

Evoke emotion
Emotions are contagious. Help craft stories that provide:

1)      Practical utility: stories about how to save money or live healthier.

2)      Excitement or surprise: ones that inspire awe.

Break the “schema” – be disruptive
Schema helps the brain sort out what is important to pay attention to. We live in an age when “cognitive dissonance” may really be helpful. Have a message that runs counter to a mental model that is “common expectation” or “rule of thumb.”

Foster honesty, transparency, compassion, and concern
Transparency and honesty are traits that often are not expected from marketing and PR campaigns. Sometimes it's best to embrace the fire instead of put it out. Openly acknowledging a crisis while providing a solution at the same time has actually been proven to create positive and significant traction.

Finally, here's some advice if you would like to be the most interesting PR person in the world: stay talk-worthy!

Ed Keller is principal of the Keller Fay Group, a market research and consulting firm specializing in word of mouth and social influence.

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