Word of Mouth is the Wal-Mart of Marketing Concepts

Are you able to speak? Do you know how to have a conversation? Do you think of all of your daily speaking and your conversations with friends, associates, and loved ones as marketing? Maybe some of the time? Perhaps, not?

Why do you suppose, then, that word of mouth marketing has caught on like wildfire? Is it possible that it has become so popular because it’s something that everyone already knows how to do?

The marketing buzz today is all about testimonials, but then again, testimonials have always been among the most powerful of marketing tools. I’ve been using testimonials in advertisements for 20 years, and I’m certainly not the first. David Ogilvy was using testimonials with great effectiveness over 60 years ago. No one called it word of mouth then. So why is talking now called word of mouth?

Is it perhaps because talking is free? Talk is cheap, and people like cheap. Wal-Mart has proven it. Wal-Mart takes perfectly good, quality products that already exist, and they find a way to manufacture and sell them cheaper. Like them or not, they have made a killing doing this. People like buying cheap like they enjoy sex. Sex sells, and so does cheap. Talk is cheap, hence we have word of mouth. Business owners want a cheap marketing solution, so word of mouth is popular, but therein lies the rub. Word of mouth marketing costs exactly the same as other marketing because it is the same thing!

Talking is easy, but the act of talking itself is not marketable. How, then, does one make talking marketable? Call it something else. How about Buzz? Oh yeah, I like the sound of that. "Buzz" makes talking exciting. Read these two phrases aloud, and tell me which one excites the senses more:

1. Have you heard the talk on the street?
2. Have you heard the buzz on the street?

It’s hard to say ‘buzz’ without emphasizing it just that little extra bit.

Getting Over the Buzz
Oh yeah, the buzz. I’m all over that. No, really, I am over it. And you should be too. Talking about a product, a company, a service, or anything else that you like has always been an effective marketing tool. What is the tool called? Why, it’s called a testimonial. Cavemen used it. Later, after writing became all the rage, the tool was called a review.

You tell people about your favorite massage therapist, your new car, the fact that it runs on biodiesel, the movie you just saw. You tell people how your dentist is so gentle that you fell asleep during a root canal. You talk about a great Italian restaurant or some bagels that you love, the best espresso you’ve ever had or an organic face cream that makes your skin feel baby-soft. The pub with the best grub. Yelp has made a business out of collecting reviews.

Nothing New
Word of mouth marketing’s number one goal is to get people talking. Well, blow me over! There’s a concept! Talking. Can we really do that? I’m petrified with excitement, but not so frozen that my lips won’t move. Word of mouth is nothing more than a repackaging of time-proven marketing techniques. There is nothing new about it except the name.

It’s Easier to Say
Well, there’s our answer right there. Word of mouth has just three syllables, while testimonial has five. Could it be that word of mouth is simply easier to say? We do like easy.

How do you sell something that everyone already does? The better question may be, how do you market marketing?

Marketing Marketing
In our short attention span world, people are told that they crave new things. And we believe it. We need new kinds of food, new cosmetics, new cars, new ways, new damn near everything. We must need a new way of marketing then.

Word of mouth marketing proposes that people repackage a bunch of marketing concepts that for decades have been working just fine on their own. I’ve been practicing these procedures for my entire 22 year career. Create an identity, create a brand, define a target market, define their circle of influence, create a strategy, create a marketing plan, create an advertising media plan, create high-impact promotional materials, implement the plans, listen to your customers, and follow up with return-on-investment stats to see what is working and what is not. Rinse and repeat. All of this is focused on getting people talking to influence buying decisions. It has worked extremely well for a very long time, and it is not showing any signs of slowing down.

There are some newer tools such as websites, blogs, and email used to reach people, but the methods are still the same. And really, these tools can no longer be called new. We have been employing them for ten years.

Long Live Word of Mouth
Marketing is marketing is marketing. Call it what you like, the basic tenants that make marketing an effective business tool will always be the same. Our society needs marketing. If people think they need something new, there will always be people repackaging old concepts and slapping new names on them. Marketing will put those repackaged products in front of people in compelling ways.

What businesspeople need to keep in mind is that they must market their companies, products, and services if they want to succeed. ‘If you build it, they will come’ does not apply in the business world. How many products do you know by name that are completely unnecessary? Do Hot Pockets come to mind?

Businesspeople must also keep in mind that marketing is not free. Just because the goal is to get people talking — something that anyone can do for free — does not mean that you can forego budgeting for your marketing. You get what you pay for, and if you budget for Wal-Mart-like rates, you will likely be paying for it again in a much shorter time than you might expect. Seasoned creative services professionals can open peoples’ minds in ways that business owners often cannot. There is tremendous value in that.

The Simple Truth
Partake of the marketing tools, and you shall reap the benefits. Forsake the tools, and you shall face the reaper.

Applying the Word of Mouth Model
How about if I market something that mixes up food? Well, that’s called a blender, but what if we called it a "food mixer upper"? Food and upper in the same phrase. There could be a buzz about that. It might get people talking. Oh, but like word of mouth, it would be a repackaging of something that already exists and works quite well.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

Thank you! This is going to feel good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *