Word Of Mouth in Action

Until recently my ‘grasp’ of WOM was fairly elementary and in all honesty, it remains so; my knowledge is largely limited to reading case studies and taking people on face value that WOM, is incredibly powerful.  To me WOM was another marketing technique that contrasted against the hundreds of other models that have come before it. It seemed fresh, it seemed organic, but I hadn’t really grasped how it happened or worked.

In a recent blog post @100heads, a recent Mckinsey article on the merits of WOM is discussed. The article boasted, among other statistics, that WOM is behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions, and that WOM generates more than twice the sales that paid advertising does. The (clever)  folks over at 1000heads call for a prudential perspective in the face of what could be sensationalist representations of ROI. They recognise that there are many factors influencing these outcomes and are working on a platform that will give investors a tangible monetary figure for the buzz that their campaigns create. Every conversation will have a monetary value.

As a concept that is freaking cool.

Now I don’t want to digress into a discussion on ROI where word of mouth is concerned, that perhaps is something for next time, but since I’ve only recently worked it out I want to tell you about MY revelation. It may not be spectacular, but it was an awakening all the same.

I’ve always been a **bit of a geek** as my lovely girlfriend would like to put it, I love technology, I love learning about products, learning how to get the most out of a piece of software. I especially love gadgets. The ‘smartphone revolution’, however, was something that I initially resisted. You see, I like to think about myself as a bit of a trend-setter, but I missed the boat and subsequently spent a significant amount of time berating the people with smart phones and exclaiming things like ‘my w880i lasts on standby for a WHOLE week, and your iPhone is out of battery already and its not even 5pm’. I was clearly, as the Chinese would say, wearing a green hat. I was jealous.

The battery life of the iPhone, admittedly, is / was a bone of contention for me (and why I eventually went for an android handset), but I loved what it was doing, and what you could do with it.

The iPhone more or less marketed its self.

Fast forward to recently. My w880i was feeling the strain, having lost a few buttons and sporting a thick layer of dust between the protector and the LCD. Its time was coming to an end. The battery life, also, had begun to wave to 4 days standby time. I was in the market for a phone, and Android had taken my fancy.

It wasn’t until an acquaintance of mine, James, came over during a surprise party that we were throwing for my sister, that I finally came face to face with an HTC Hero, and while I didn’t play with it, the brief, and essentially positive conversation that we shared was enough. I was sold – I would buy an Android.

The initial excitement from getting my HTC Desire has not yet subsided a whole month on. I have had several conversations about it to friends of mine, TWO of which have gone and purchased the same handset off the back of my endorsement. This was weird for me, to see WOM happening right in front of my eyes, and I didn’t even know I was doing it.

I guess as revelations go its fairly weak, but it still caught me off guard. WOM as a concept is an abstraction from what happens in real life. It’s a buzz expression, a glorified hook for WOM companies to get the attention of their clients. Rightly so, while the phenomenon is effective, there is no reason that everyone would know this. Marketing strategy has for so long concentrated on figures, promotions, advertising etc that it failed to even consider the basic background noise of social life. Ironically WOM agencies need to market the idea of WOM.

My problem was that my head was wrapped up in the abstraction, despite knowing what it was about. Not until I saw it happening infront of me did I see how incredibly salient and powerful WOM is. While I can’t say that this is the case for everyone, people who I have explained it to have often seemed confused or not quite on the same page. The old ‘yeh yeh’ but the vacant expression behind the eyes. Another blog post @1000heads has lamented that while they see the power of WOM, the pockets of the clients are not yet fully open. From my experience, perhaps they would be more flexible with their cash if they could be shown WOM happening in action; examples and such are all well and good, but not until they truly understand the core of WOM, (something they already do and have done for as long as they have been talking), will they see it for its true power and potential.

Perhaps then, there would be more significant investment into the industry.

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