I’m about to post information about an eMarketer eblast. Before I do so, I wanted to give a quick overview of what Word of Mouth Marketing is. Wikipedia also has excellent information on this topic.
In the past month or so, I’ve heard TV and radio news programs report on this new trend. Both talked negatively about WOMM. But I think they were looking at the abusers of WOMM instead of those who are using it respectfully and accurately. The basic gist of WOMM is to encourage individuals to give an honest recommendation about your product to others. The realization is that people put more weight on the words from a friend or a person who has already experienced the product.
Abusers of this approach basically hire freelance sales reps to “sell” the product to people they know. Payment is usually received as free product or coupons. The companies strongly suggest what the customer needs to say about the product and the sales goal they need to achieve before a “gift” will be sent. When a company determines what a customer will say, it certainly is not word of mouth. When there are achievement goals to attain a "reward", it is not word of mouth. I don’t have a problem with the approach. But I do have a problem with calling it word of mouth marketing.
To properly entice a person to talk about your product, it’s okay to offer things to increase excitement or to let them know you are thankful they chose to spend their money with you. Usually notification of those gifts happen at the purchase or receipt of your product. What makes WOMM different from incentive programs, such as frequent flyer clubs, are the type of gifts you give. The goal is to enable the person to spread the word about your product with the gift. I suggest checking with the customer to see if they are interested in spreading the word. That can be done simply by providing a means to do so or asking if they want the item you offer to further the discussion. Things given as a “thank you” of course do not need to be opted into. Your return rate on those would obvious be proportionately smaller, but overall activity should be larger.
Other ways of encouraging WOM is to simply provide a vehicle to discuss your product. This can be via an “email a friend” link (although I’m personally not a fan), emailable sample chapters if you’re a book publisher, customer comments on your site, product giveaways for the buyer to give away, or even bumper stickers.
The most important part to remember in all of this is that you need a product that’s worth talking about. Creative marketing can only go so far. If you have a bad product, it’ll come out in WOMM. That was one of my concerns with my websites or products. What if people don’t like them. I’m then empowering people to talk negatively about my product. But even if you don’t attempt to further discussion of your product, people will talk about it anyway. In fact, they already are. The advantage of being more engaged in the discussion is that you’ll find out sooner if the product won’t perform. You'll then be in a better place to allocate your resources in directions you know will succeed.
For more information, I’d recommend a book by Greg Steilstra titled Pyro Marketing. I haven’t read the entire book, but I’ve met with Greg to get its gist and discuss some of my concerns with the WOM approach. He explains things well in the book. His fire metaphor makes understanding the WOMM concept clearer.
There is also an organization, named the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), that is committed to furthering and educating people about WOMM. They also conduct training sessions, webinars, and provide an email newsletter if you want to become a stronger advocate for WOMM.