Saturday, August 15, 2009

Word of Mouse

Pritesh Jain, Ammar Tambawala, IIM A

When Hotmail inserted “Get your private, free email at” at the bottom of every message sent out, little did it know that it was pioneering the concept of a new age marketing technique called word-of-mouse that would create a buzz just a few years away.

Hotmail then sat back and let its users promote its product – a “free email account”, a revolutionary concept at that time, to their network of friends and associates. Hotmail’s instant success enticed marketer’s world over to follow the suit, to explore the potential of employing word-of-mouth marketing techniques in the virtual world.

Word-of-Mouth (WOM, also used for word-of-mouse) marketing strategy encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, preferably in their circle of influence. Word-of-mouse is basically an extension of this concept, with the communication being through electronic means, which increase the rapidity with which the message spreads and the number of people communicated to. There is an exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence, especially since as a society we have started moving from vertical trust to horizontal trust, i.e. from trusting authorities to trusting our peers. Due to its similarity to rapid multiplication growth observed in the spread of various viruses, this technique is also termed as viral marketing by some experts.

Various social networks have relied heavily on WOM to get more users hooked onto them. In today’s world, blogs and podcasts have proved to be powerful tools that have assisted marketers in implementing their WOM marketing strategies well. Vodafone’s use of YouTube to promote its Zoozoo campaign showed the rise of a new and effective tool. With so much support of the viral medium at their disposal, a marketer just has to concentrate on some basic elements to make a successful WOM marketing strategy. Here are some guidelines to design a WOM campaign:

Give away products or services

‘Free’ is the golden word. It gets people to try your product. You might not reap profits in short terms, but then you know that WOM marketing’s strength relies in its network expansion effect. Even a marginal charge can be a big deterrent.

Provide for effortless transfer of message to others

Not everyone is a good salesman. Make sure that your message is simple to transfer and has potential to be self-explanatory. The more the effort required for the user, the lesser are chances of the spread of the ‘virus’.

Scale easily from small to very large

Be prepared for a sudden surge in demand. If you are not well equipped to serve the rising customer base, you better not get into WOM. It can work against you if there are unsatisfied customers or the one whom you are unable to serve – as a negative message can spread as quickly, if not more so.

Exploit common motivations and behaviours

Nobody wants to miss on a rising trend. There is an innate need to be ‘cool’, to be a part of those ‘in the know’. Identify these motivators and make sure that you are exploiting them.

Utilize existing communication networks

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. However irritating those “your friend abc has invited you to join xyz” mails, they have been effective in expanding the user-base for many a social networking site. It is only now that their effectiveness, due to the saturation of these messages has come down. Facebook updates, chat status messages, tweets are all examples of communication networks that carry updates, and links to interesting videos.

Take advantage of others' resources

Blogs, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter – all these tools are put in place by someone else and are at your disposal. Engage your customers in every possible way.out of cash and closing stores all over the try. Although they have no hopes of opening these outlets just as yet, they do plan on reworking their format through expansion by way of franchisee units. Many foreign ventures with domestic firms are falling out while previously established foreign retailers are looking for alternate strategies.

Some examples of WOM campaigns used by Indian companies recently are:

1. Makkadman ( Produced to promote a new social networking website, this video rose on popularity chart at a rapid pace riding on the email-forward and recommendations through various blogs. Companies like webchutney have a large portfolio of campaigns similar to this and were used to promote various organizations in a creative way.

2. ( An initiative supported by Tata Tea and Janagrah, was aimed to raise awareness of voting rights. It encouraged its users to invite their friends to join the movement and be a responsible citizen.

3. Animated videos have been used by companies to promote their product in funny, offbeat ways. The video usually starts off in a completely different context, with no indication of it being an ad or promotion, but just another spoof. The brand or product is brought in right at the end, along with a humorous twist. Some examples of this are the Rajnikant-Castrol video where he is shown outrunning a bullet on his bike, the McDonalds-Sholay video with the sons of the original stars, and the tagline of ‘Aap ke zamaane mein baap ke zamaane ke daam’ brought in at the end and the ‘Thakur ka Inteqaam’ video made by Orbit, indicating the advantages of strong teeth.

4. Vodafone used the YouTube channel to not only popularise Zoozoos, but also to show the making of the ads, which got users even more hooked on when they found out it wasn’t animated, but in fact actors in special suits.

5. Seven wonders of the world 2007: Though this campaign was not started in India, it raised huge curiosity. Lacs of Indian users voted to keep Taj in the list of wonders. The mail chains urging users to vote for Taj made multiple rounds for almost a year.

On the other hand, the power of word-of-mouse can also be used by unscrupulous agents to spread erroneous information about the company or its product. The infamous Mentos in Coke emails and videos is the first thing that comes to our mind. In such cases, it is important to react promptly and push a clear rebuttal; otherwise it can get almost impossible to stop the rumour mails.

However, word-of-mouse is not without its sceptics. Paul Martino, the man behind Tribe, an early social network, believes that interpersonal connections on these networks are often of low quality, since few people disconnect former friends, or reject unwanted friend requests from mere casual acquaintances. While this may eventually lead to a lot of clutter and unwanted updates, time would also eventually bring tools to remedy this phenomenon, like ‘mute updates from this person’. While muting updates may limit the spread of many campaigns, it could also make them more powerful, as one would give more importance to the fewer updates he/she did get.

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