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Opinion: Making buzz marketing work for your brand

Agencies and brands torture themselves trying to define word of mouth marketing, but fundamentally it will always be about engaging with people by talking about the things they like, writes Simon Quance

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Recent changes in law on unfair advertising practices have torn up the thoughtless spammers' charter that eroded trust and confidence in conversation in a social media setting.

It has been replaced with the only viable long-term communication of targeted, respectful, considered and relevant engagement and conversation. 

Transparency is the key. Connecting with communities under their terms of use and their own tolerances is critical. Each community sets these levels differently and they should be approached with caution and respect.

There are some great examples of how word of mouth can change the way that brands are perceived, but marketers also need to be aware of potential pitfalls.

The biggest benefits are in terms of increasing engagement and dialogue with the target audience. Look at Dell's 'Idea Storm' campaign for word of mouth's potential to revolutionise brand perception. Perceptions of Dell were successfully shifted from disengaged, remote and in danger of becoming irrelevant (before the campaign) to visionary, engaged, open and forward looking (after).

Loss of control of message and variable measurement are two pitfalls for brands, but the biggest danger is not understanding that word of mouth is the end benefit of a 360 degree CRM strategy.

Working around the well-worn MEME that "CRM is the new marketing", brands risk a huge amount by not recognising that "social media CRM" should be a critical component of any future marketing effort.

Customers will create word of mouth about you or your product  -- good, bad and indifferent -- irrespective of your participation in that conversation. All brands should seek to have an appropriate voice in those conversations wherever possible.  

Here are my top ten tips for successful buzz marketing campaigns:

  • Always begin by stating your involvement in the campaign in an appropriate way.
  • Ascertain the currency of an individual's influence amongst their peers -- this is the imperative for word of mouth so, don't undervalue an individual's power.
  • You're talking to human beings one-to-one -- be honest and transparent, succinct and accurate and personalise all your messages accordingly.
  • Avoid "tell & sell" marketing -- it doesn't create and foster engagement.
  • Never engage in "flaming" (arguing) in the social media word of mouth context.
  • Value advocates and respect their individuality and integrity, irrespective of whether they are paid for their engagement or not.
  • Expect the unexpected -- results are sometimes much better or sometimes much worse than you might plan for or expect and that might include seemingly nothing happening at all. If the message has been correctly and thoughtfully constructed there will be an effect with the recipient even if they don't get back to you.
  • Value all engagement,even if it doesn't create an obvious and immediate benefit. The "long tail" really does exist and can be engaged measurably through social media conversation.
  • Listen first, talk later. A key component of effective word of mouth is to see it as the end product of a dialogue and engagement that starts with listening and understanding.
  • Create a cohesive and coherent narrative through WOM engagement.

Simon Quance is head of digital PR and engagement at Hyperlaunch.


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