Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth
Word of Mouth

No ad or salesperson can convince you about the virtues of a product as persuasively as can a friend, acquaintance, past customer, or independent expert. Suppose you are planning to buy a PDA (personal digital assistant) and you have seen all the ads for Palm, HP, and Sony.

You even go to examine them at Circuit City and listen to the salesperson. You’re still undecided and don’t buy. Then a friend tells you how Palm has changed her life. That does it. Or you read a column by an expert who tested and describes each one and recommends Palm.

Companies would love to trigger word-of-mouth campaigns surrounding their new product launches. High-tech firms send their new products to well-respected experts and opinion leaders praying for strong editorial endorsements. Hollywood hopes for a good Roger Ebert review.

Marketers advertise their new product’s benefits hoping that they would be believed and carried by word of mouth. But few know how to use experts and their customers to bring in new customers.

According to word-of-mouth expert Michael Cafferky: “Word of mouth ... marches proudly but quietly onward as its Madison Avenue cousins try in vain to replicate its dramatic results ... Word of mouth is the brain’s low-tech method of sorting through all the high-tech hype that comes to it from the market place.”

Companies have been turning increasingly to word-of-mouth marketing. They seek to identify individuals who are early adopters, vocal and curious, and with a large network of acquaintances. When a company brings its new product to the attention of such influentials, the influentials carry on the rest of the work as “unpaid salespeople.”

Some companies hire people to parade their new products in public areas. Someone might park a new Ferrari at a busy intersection. A stranger might ask you to take her picture; she hands you a new phone with a built-in camera, leading to an immediate conversation.

Someone in a bar answers his new videophone, and everyone wants to know more about it. In March 1999, the Blair Witch film makers hired 100 college students to distribute missing person flayers in youth culture hubs to promote the film.

Today we see the rise of “aggregated buzz” in such forms as Zagat, which collects New York restaurant reviews from diners (not restaurant critics) or epinions, where people voice their opinions of products. Soon consumers will be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys and no longer have to rely on advertising.

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