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Word of mouth……know the power of talk

: Monday, June 19 - 2006 @ 15:41

It is in this context that Word Of Mouth is now finding a place in the agenda of every Marketing Director. In fact, “Word Of Mouth” is in many ways gaining very effective word of mouth, very fast!

So what does Word Of Mouth marketing entail?

In their recently published book, ‘Grapevine’, Dave Balter and John Butman describe Word of Mouth as ‘product storytelling’.

‘It is not about people passing along marketing messages. People tell stories about products. These stories are made up of their own experiences and those of others,’ say the authors.

They argue that Word Of Mouth is most powerful when delivered by ordinary people. ‘The person who sits next to you at work probably has a bigger influence on what movies you see, than the film critic of your daily newspaper.’

And it is this uniqueness of Word Of Mouth marketing that sets it apart from other forms of communication. Here your consumers are your brand communicators ( sometimes referred to as “WOM agents”). What more powerful source of conviction and credibility could there be ?

Unlike PR, Word Of Mouth need not be positive to be good. Products are seldom perfect – and people can accept that. In fact, it is argued, a small dose of negativity makes the offer a lot more real life and hence many times more credible.

The Middle East as a society has grown up on informal Word Of Mouth since time immemorial. Being part of a collectivist society it is only natural for the Arab consumer to fall back on suggestions and recommendations of family, neighbours and friends before taking decisions on products and brands. This has been confirmed in numerous research studies.

So Word of Mouth in its new avatar should have a natural fit in the marketing environment of the Middle East. So what is the new avatar? Simply put, it is the act of transforming the natural tendency of people to talk about products, brands and experiences into an organized marketing programme – termed in business parlance as “facilitated Word Of Mouth”.

The big question facing marketers then is: how does Word Of Mouth spread and more importantly, is there an objective way of measuring the impact of Word of Mouth communication? In other words, the questions that need to be answered are:

• What characteristics make an effective WOM agent?
• How many people can this WOM agent reach out to?
• What is the probability that those reached out to will have a positive disposition to my brand or offer?
• And finally, what is the total impact of my WOM programme?

TNS Disseminator – a model for evaluating the effectiveness of WOM Communication – is a recent initiative to provide these answers. It models the spread of Word Of Mouth communication and provides inputs into improving the effectiveness of such programmes by offering actionable diagnostics on sender or agent profiles.

In January this year, TNS MEA had the opportunity to test this model for a WOM programme designed for the pilot launch of a brand in the fmcg category. The launch was ‘soft’ (without any ATL spend) and depended totally on WOM agents spreading the brand message.

The research design involved administering a simple questionnaire to the ‘receivers’ of the brand communication and these responses were used as input to estimate the level of brand trial this programme was likely to generate. This estimate was later validated through a tracking exercise – and both numbers fell well within the range of statistical confidence.

The model also provided a very objective assessment of the choice criteria for WOM Agents – helping select brand advocates on the basis of their ability to reach out to end consumers.

Word Of Mouth marketing will in the very near future become a powerful force behind building strong brands. The trick will be to gain first mover advantage – and to do that you need to understand the mechanics of measuring, managing and monitoring effective WOM programmes NOW.

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Monday, June 19- 2006 @ 15:41 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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