Word of mouth marketing is a lot easier than you think

December 20th, 2008

Welcome to the Be the Voice blog and podcast. There are lots of great stories here. Please read, listen, and add your comments.

Remember to subscribe to my podcast on iTunes and this blog. You can also follow me on Twitter and read my other blog, The Spark Minute.

If you or someone you know is a great industry voice that I should interview, please let me know. Email me at david AT sparkmediasolutions DOT com. Thanks for visiting.

icon for podpress  Interview with Andy Sernovitz [33:40m]: Play Now

Andy Sernovitz is the author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” and founder of GasPedal, a word of mouth marketing firm.

Andy Sernovitz by Christopher CarfiSummary:

  • If you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is.
  • Launching word of mouth marketing requires marketers to stop thinking about what can I get for my budget.
  • Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle.
  • Word of mouth is a function of customer service.
  • For word of mouth to work you need talkers, topics, and tools.
  • It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case for word of mouth marketing.
  • Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. Compare word of mouth marketing costs to search engine marketing costs.
  • Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone?
  • Find the heroes within your company and the simple wins.

Full article:

Developing the “Andy” brand vs. the company brand

Andy Sernovitz is synonymous with word of mouth marketing. From his popular book to his firm, GasPedal, he’s a highly sought after thought leader for speaking engagements on the subject. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Originally, GasPedal was a dotcom incubator, and thus its brand was all about Internet start ups. Over time the company began focusing on email communications, and thus the brand changed to the email marketing people. Now that they’ve expanded that subset of word of mouth marketing, GasPedal’s formed the brand of being the word of mouth marketing people.

“The [company] brand has become a function of what I’m doing at any particular point in time, which is an interesting point in personal branding that if you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is,” Sernovitz said.

Because Sernovitz is a speaker, much of his work is associated with him personally. The problem is Andy doesn’t scale. Without the company, he’s the product. And only one of him can fly around and do keynote speeches and consult with companies. It’s a common problem for consultants. “What happens is you run out of you, and it’s exhausting. The reason there’s a GasPedal brand is the objective has got to be not buying Andy, but buying our education and our training and what we do so the de-Andification of Gas Pedal is a very explicit product. It’s a very explicit branding objective,” Sernovitz said.

The brand of GasPedal has very little of Andy Sernovitz in it. But separately, in a different brand space is his book and his blog with very little mention of his company.

Word of mouth marketing is not that difficult

Word of mouth marketing is so much easier than people think, said Sernovitz. He has companies that come to him and they say, “I’ve got $100,000 and I want to do  word of mouth marketing campaign.” It’s a common introduction because that’s how marketers work. They think about budget. Throw enough money at a problem and you’ll get results.

That’s not how marketers should be approaching word of mouth marketing. One must think, how do I build relationships with people and give them something they want to share?

“Word of mouth marketing is first and foremost about communications. And turning them on, and making them happy, and giving them things to talk about. So when you go into a word of mouth campaign with ‘We’re going to do a campaign that has a budget, and a start and a stop.’ That’s not how it works. Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle. It’s a campaign misconception,” said Sernovitz.

Word of mouth is a function of customer service

Sernovitz doesn’t believe that social media is synonymous with word of mouth. Social media is simply one of the many tools you can use to generate word of mouth.

In actuality, word of mouth is a function of customer service. You provide that service in a way that your audience should want to share it. He references the popularity of Zappos, the online shoe company. They’re not popular because they Tweet, but rather they’ve developed a customer service methodology that bleeds through traditional and non-traditional (e.g. Twitter) forms of communications. To only talk about their success on Twitter is only capturing a small part of Zappos’ entire customer service story.

For word of mouth to work, three things need to come together:

  • Who’s going to talk about you? The talkers.
  • What are they going to say? The topics.
  • How are we going to make it easier for them to say it? The tools (traditional and social media).

Word of mouth doesn’t have to have social media involved at all. Sernovitz tells the story of Lowe’s 10% off coupons that he sees available on a weekday at the store. He realizes that Lowe’s figures that anyone that comes to its store before 12pm on a weekday is probably going back to work. So why not give people something to bring back to work that they can place on the office refrigerator? It’s a simple sheet that just says “Office Deals.” Lowe’s invites you to take this sheet, put it on your company fridge, offering up ten 10% off coupons for ten of your coworkers.

The Lowe’s coupon sheet is a very economical and efficient means of word of mouth, and it’s not social media. In the Lowe’s example, the “talkers” are the shoppers. The “topic” is the offer, but really you can also say the topic is connecting with your coworkers. And you make it easier with a single sheet with ten offers that you can put on the fridge (“the tool”).

How do you join in the conversation, expand it, and accelerate it?

The essential step of word of mouth marketing that so many companies have a hard time with is just “do it.” Not to do it big with a huge $100,000 budget, but just begin communicating and do it. It’s hard to fail with this stuff, said Sernovitz. It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case.

Sernovitz told the story of the Chicago Tribune journalist who became the social media evangelist for the paper with his character he dubbed “Col. Tribune.” All he did was send out light goofy Tweets on Twitter that garnered him a lot of success.

Sernovitz said that any individual can gather the same learnings as a business analyst by constantly trying stuff. All the word of mouth success stories begin exactly the same way – someone just started doing it.

Not all customers come from marketing efforts

Where do you get your business? Does it all come from marketing? Probably not. Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. No marketing effort brought them there. They heard about you through word of mouth. That’s your number one ROI. You want to get more of those free customers.

It’s easy to calculate the value of customers garnered through word of mouth. Let’s say you pay $5 for a lead through search marketing. A referral through search marketing is not nearly as a strong as a recommendation from a friend. If you add an “email a friend” link on your product page, that referral is worth at least $5 if not more. If you can get 5,000 people to click on that link, the value of that button is at least $25,000. It’s worth it to you now to spend some money on that page, the offer, and conversion. The cost to change that is far less than your SEM efforts.

Shift customer service efforts to enhance word of mouth marketing for the same cost

Word of mouth makes a lot of good things obvious. For example, in the case of a great customer service call (the customer calls, gets their problem fixed, and everyone’s happy) that moment is lost once the phone hangs up. Nobody knows that the call happened. But if that same customer had the same problem and they wrote it up on their blog, the cost to your business is the same. When someone goes to search that same problem, they find it, and can have that same experience. You help a lot more people, but you spend the same amount of money.

I told Sernovitz my story about the woman who couldn’t get satisfaction calling DirecTV’s customer support, but did when she sent out a Tweet. While I thought it was ironic that the two departments weren’t talking to each other on how to handle customers, Sernovitz said it made perfect sense. Twitter allows a company to have a fresh new start with customer service, said Sernovitz. The phone system is loaded with baggage. They can start customer service over again with a presence on Twitter.

When I asked Sernovitz what’s the biggest mistake he’s made in social media, he admitted that he often makes things too complicated. For example, he will set up huge communities with all these varying technologies and functionality, but in the end realizes that the most functional tools are often phone calls and an email list. He finds that the less he does, the more successful he becomes.

Andy Sernovitz’s advice for companies getting started in word of mouth marketing

Offering up the same advice Chris Brogan gave in his “Be the Voice” interview, Sernovitz suggested companies should start by listening. That doesn’t mean hiring an analytics company. Just set up Google Alerts, said Sernovitz. (NOTE: I suggest doing a lot more than Google Alerts. Google Alerts only catch a small portion of conversation about you.)

Second step is to find someone who really wants to do this. Find the person who loves social media and who’s wearing the company shirt on weekends, Sernovitz said. Ross Mayfield suggested the same thing in his “Be the Voice” interview as well. Although it was really hip at one point, don’t have your CEO blog. The CEO should be running the company.

And finally, find the simple wins. Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone? Take them off the phone and find out. Or instead of spending $5,000 on an SEM campaign, why not soup up a tell a friend form?

Simply put, find the heroes within your company and the simple wins. It’s really hard to screw this up, said Sernovitz.

Filed under: Blogging, Collaboration, Editorial, Podcast, Web 2.0, branding | 10 Comments »

Attach yourself to a problem that matters

December 16th, 2008

icon for podpress  Interview with Thornton May [26:46m]: Play Now

Thornton May is a futurist, anthropologist, cognitive scientist, and an incredibly entertaining guy. The combination of all three has made him a thought leader in the area of business IT.


  • Futurists can track three different kinds of futures: linear futures, “aha” futures (market disruptors), and futures that we create.
  • May focuses on futures that we create. He attaches himself to questions that matter. Questions that matter are the questions that haven’t been answered yet.
  • May is not a thought leader, but rather a caterer for information.
  • Active listening is what it takes to be a conversational chef.
  • The future belongs to people who are working on charismatic problems.
  • Everybody’s connected to some chunk of knowledge that they want to share and our job is to help them out. 

Full article:

Thornton May from PeacePlusOne

I met Thornton May at the CIO Boot Camp at Interop in NYC this year. I was so enamored with the way May handled the event, that I invited him to be a guest on the “Be the Voice” podcast. When you listen to the podcast, I’ll warn you that May’s mind runs a mile a minute, and sometimes his mouth doesn’t keep up with his thoughts. You’ll hear him starting multiple sentences with a single answer.

What does a futurist track?

May explained that there are three different types of futures that a futurist can track. The first are linear, which are known and observable trends. You read those kinds of reports all the time. For example, IDC predicts that there will be five billion videos downloaded in 2010.

The second kind of future are those “aha” futures or the disruptions in the market. The third kind of future, is the future that we create, and it’s the kind of future that May tracks.

Does someone set out to be a futurist?

My guess is one doesn’t set out to be a futurist. Working on that assumption, I asked May what he set out to do initially. May countered my question, saying he doesn’t believe the question is isolated to just “futurists.” He doesn’t think anyone sets out to what they do and specifically points to what Jefferson Thomas said that if someone sets out to be in politics, they may not have the right stuff to be in politics.

May believes his career has grown to what it is today, because “I attach myself to questions that matter…[And] the questions that matter are the questions that aren’t been answered yet.”

“I’m an ignorance leader,” May continued, “I’m attracted to places where we are ignorant.” Not saying he’s exploring areas where people are stupid, but rather referring to areas where there’s an absence of awareness. “I’m very comfortable not knowing the answer, but knowing that we are moving in a non toxic direction towards actually making progress,” May explained. He’s eager to discover answers.

Being a caterer of answers

May doesn’t want to take direct credit for the industry knowledge that he collects. Wearing a bowtie, May says, “I’m not a thought leader, I’m a caterer…I create sacred collaborative shared spaces where bright people can come together and actually move the ball forward on issues that matter to them.”

I was witness to this kind of discussion ringleading that May is famous for. During the CIO Boot Camp, he led a great discussion at a lunch table with wannabe CIOs about why IT people can demand such high salaries (16 min).

“I’m a conversational chef. I actually think everyone has amazing knowledge ingredients. And the trick is to pull them out from people,” said May, “You have to put a lot of bright people in the room and you have to give voice if you will to multiple perspectives and then you synthesize.”

May is old school in that he just likes getting people into comfortable environments like universities or even bars to exchange ideas. But just watch Thornton in action in the above video. He’s so excited by conversation and he so engages people and makes them want to contribute.

How to be a conversational chef

I asked May what he does to bring this knowledge out of people, and to no surprise, he said it’s all about active listening. Referring to himself as a smaller animal, May said, “Smaller animals need to sense their environment or they’ll be lunch.” And that’s why he thinks active listening is critical to his success.

Having done his doctoral work while in Japan, he likens his active listening to Japanese communications. You can’t even speak in Japanese unless you know in what context and social relations that are going on there, May said.

May prefers roundtables because you have peripheral vision to the conversation. He can see the moment when a person wants to engage in the conversation. He turns to that person, and creates a thread.

I asked him what becomes of the follow up. For May it’s all about making the connections and thinking about who should be in conversation with each other. After a conversation like the one above, May simply files it away, mentally, during down times, like when he’s waiting in line at the airport.

Thought leadership without an online presence

Surprisingly, there’s very little editorial by Thornton May online, yet he’s a very well known and respected thought leader in the area of enterprise IT. He recognizes this is paradoxical especially when people like Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson are saying that your Google Page Rank or the people who link to you digitally is the emerging currency of the next Internet economy.

Not so comfortable with new media publishing

Every different media requires different editorial mechanisms, said May. And in situations where he knows the audience, May is comfortable. For publications like Computerworld (May has a semi-periodic column), May knows the publication’s editorial make up and he knows how to speak to that audience. When speaking publicly, May can actually see the people and know them. But when he’s just generically “online” he doesn’t know who his audience is. And so he self edits to the lowest common denominator when he can’t visualize who he’s messaging for. But he is heading towards the opposite where he creates his own online social media voice and his audience will find him.

“I think the future belongs to people who are working on charismatic problems.” Something that makes you gasp cerebrally.

“In this real time, omni-connected, twittered up world, where does perspective come from? You do need some time to think about all this information. All of this real time processing,” said May. Turning to
editors, May said, “I want someone to put this all in perspective for me or help me find perspective on my own.” I believe that’s why opinion columnists are so popular.

May goes through about a thousand business cards every five or six weeks. He thinks about a problem and asks key people what they think about it. Surprisingly, May doesn’t use any automated tools. With all these business cards he’s collected, he doesn’t maintain a mailing list.

But he doesn’t need to do outbound communications because people come up to him and say, “Thornton, I know you’ve got this great network, I’m wrestling with this issue, can you help me out?”

“I’m a big believer of looking at other industries and seeing who may be farther down the curve than you are and seeing what you can cherry pick from their best practices,” May said.

Tackling charismatic problems

I asked how one captures the knowledge that he’s collecting. May corrected my way of thinking and said he believes the knowledge is already there. “The vital first step is attaching yourself to a problem that matters. Because if the problem is significant enough. If the problem is charismatic enough. There will be interest. There will be funding. There will be allowances made to let you do an examination,” said May, “Now you can poach on this knowledge stream that is out there.”

In one case of tackling a charismatic problem, Thornton May was asked about the issue of digital piracy. May discovered that in cases where employees view their senior management as unethical people, they feel obligated to steal from them. And that situation is exacerbated when senior management is monstrously compensated. That issue has yet to be resolved because there’s a huge social fabric issue. It’s a problem that matters, and May is attaching himself to it.

“Everybody’s connected to some chunk of knowledge that they want to share and our job is to help them out,” May said.

Filed under: Editorial, Podcast | 2 Comments »

It’s OK to be a dork online

December 11th, 2008

icon for podpress  Interview with David Meerman Scott [36:02m]: Play Now

David Meerman Scott is the author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” “Tuned In,” and the forthcoming book, “World Wide Rave.”

David Meerman Scott from Inbound Marketing

Summary (David Meerman Scott)

  • Three years ago, most companies were more interested in site usability and design for their site, not content.
  • Marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you.
  • With new media, you can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.
  • Stop measuring sales leads and start measuring the number of people exposed to your ideas.
  • If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market. You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.
  • Fallacy of viral marketing. Traffic doesn’t equate to customers for you. Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff.
  • Ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. Ask that question every day, and over a couple of years you’ll be an industry voice.
  • Everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.

Full Article:

(NOTE: I admittedly bury the lead on the title as it doesn’t appear to the end, but you’ll see all of Scott’s commentary leads up to not fearing making stupid mistakes online.)

I discovered David M. Scott while researching for this very blog and podcast, looking for people who wrote about the value of creating content for your business. I reached out to Scott in hopes of just having a conversation with him on the phone. He was so busy with his day long seminars which sends him all over the world, that the earliest time he’d be available for just a phone call would be in a month. I put a note in my calendar to follow up with him in a month, but I also started following him on Twitter and he started following me as well.

Two days later Scott sends out a Tweet announcing that he was flying to San Francisco the next day. He didn’t know I lived there, so I tweeted back that I’d love to get together for a drink or a meal. The next day, Scott and I sat down for dinner and I shot this quick video interview with him.

Ahead of the curve on developing content for your business

David M. Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” has been wildly successful. But it wasn’t his first book. Scott has written many books before that, and the one that caught my eye, which was so in line with the thinking for “Be the Voice” was his book “Cashing in with Content” which didn’t do nearly as well as “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”

Scott believes “Cashing in with Content’s” lack of success had a lot to do with the obvious reasons: a small publisher, limited distribution, and it was only available in paperback. But he believes he was too early for the market. “In 2005 I was talking about content [saying that it] was the most important part of the Web site and [at the time] the whole world was focused on design and technology,” Scott said. From my own experience, it’s still difficult to explain to people why creating content is so valuable for their business.

Patting himself on the back for his foresight three years ago, Scott really felt like a pioneer touting the value of content and getting out there and blogging. While blogging has been out for a while, nobody else had written a book about the value of creating content for your company at that time. That’s why I stumbled across Scott.

Explaining the value of content for your business is still difficult. Scott believes the reason is because marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you. Business and communications schools still teach advertising and media relations.

But what Scott, myself, and many others are trying to prove is that you don’t need to be beholden to others to distribute your information. You can create the content and distribute it yourself. That idea by itself is an enormous logical leap from ‘you have to buy access’ for which we’ve been trained through schooling to believe.

It’s going to cost you zero

If you want to buy access on TV, you have to pay for access. There’s absolutely no other way around it. If you want to buy a TV ad, you need to pay for the audience that it will be shown to. In the new media and social media sphere, there are no pre-defined costs. You can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.

Measure success of influence

One of the questions I use to chronically get during my early days of trying to sell new media was “How much is it going to cost us, and how many people are we going to reach?” It’s a question that I could never answer because neither I nor my client can control the audience.

Scott argues that in marketing we’ve never truly been able to measure reach and that what we do is we calculate success based on other metrics like sales leads or number of press clips/mentions in the media. “I don’t think either of those are effective ways to measure the success of being a thought leader. Of getting really great information out there. Of creating something that people spread one to another because they want to consume it,” Scott said.

Luckily there are tons of valuable metrics out there that will show your place in the market and your thought leadership. You can measure how many people were exposed to your ideas (e.g. how many people have seen your video, downloaded your whitepaper, etc.). You can measure what people are saying about you. Is it positive or negative? How many blogs are talking about you versus the competition? Where you appear in search results on key words and phrases versus your competition?

Look beyond your current customers – The “Tuned In” methodology

“If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market,” said Scott, “You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.” Think of your potential market as a pie. Your current customers are but a small slice of that pie. There’s so much more to go after.

Scott recommends a simple solution to reaching your non-customer audience. Talk to them. Go to where they are in the real world and in the virtual world. Attend conferences, networking events, and read the blogs that they read. Interview them on their turf and ask open ended questions and listen to phrases they use.

This was exactly the technique Scott used to come up with the idea for his new book. In his open conversations with people, the phrase that kept coming up was “viral marketing.” To test the waters, Scott wrote a free online ebook entitled, “The New Rules of Viral Marketing.” Prior to writing the book, a search for “viral marketing” on Google and Scott would appear deep in the weeds, on page 20, where no one ever looked. Once his ebook was published, Scott’s public recognition for the term “viral marketing” on Google placed him as the fourth result on the front page on Google (as of publishing this blog post). Currently his ebook has 250,000 downloads and more than 500 bloggers have written about it.

“There’s a huge misunderstanding about viral marketing. And there’s a whole cadre of basically charlatans and fly-by-night experts who talk about viral marketing and suggest they know how to create a viral marketing campaign. And typically it’s traditional advertising techniques. Things like bait and switch. Things like inane contests that have nothing to do with your products. Ways to interrupt people to get them to do something and not truly information that spreads because it’s valuable,” said Scott.

That kind of viral marketing doesn’t build a relationship with your audience. “Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff,” Scott warned.

All of this plays to the advice he’s building in Scott’s new book, “World Wide Rave: Creating triggers to get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories,” coming out in March, 2009. He’s hoping the phrase, “World Wide Rave,” will change people’s thinking about the term viral marketing.

Admire those ahead of you

Scott reminds people though that it’s not just doing one thing that gets you recognized. It’s a lot of little things that add up. He’s written more than 500 blog posts and has four ebooks available for free.

Yet with all of Scott’s success, he looks to someone like Seth Godin, whom he greatly admires, and wonders when will he be able to write as well as him and have as much of an industry name as him. Even the billionaire wonders if he’ll be as rich as Bill Gates. We’re always looking at the people ahead of us. Don’t let others’ success prevent you from beginning the path of your own success.

Scott suggest you ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. It can be just a little thing like leaving a comment on a blog. But do something every day, and those multiplied over a few years, and now you’re the expert in your industry.

Blogging for research and writing a new book

Scott uses his blog to gauge the audience’s interest on different ideas. Certain topics that he think will be of great interest will fall flat with his audience while others that he doesn’t think much of will take off. But what he loves best is when he starts a concept, and those people with more knowledge and greater interest jump in and add value and sometimes correct him.

Scott points to an example about a post where he said the NY Islanders hockey team were the first to give bloggers press credentials. The post alerted the VP of marketing for the bloggers, and another reader commented that the Islanders weren’t the first hockey team to do this.

You can’t control opinion

I asked Scott what was the feedback from his new book, “Tuned In,” and he said it was split. Businesspeople liked the practical nononsense approach while academics thought it was too simplistic and it didn’t break any new ground. In essence, both are saying the same thing, but they’re coming from different viewpoints, each choosing to spin it a different way. You can’t control opinion, you can only disclose what it is that you’re doing. For more, watch this great video which includes Chris Shipley of the Guidewire Group discuss the need for transparency and how people will generate different opinions based on their viewpoint.

Scott thinks that negative comments on his blog are a very positive thing because the person is taking the time to argue against your point. But more importantly, those who support your argument will jump in and defend you. And what was originally going to be a blog post with just one or two comments is now a blog post with forty comments.

David M. Scott is a dork

When I asked Scott about his biggest mistake made in social media, he admitted to a moment of online uncoolness that was pointed out to him by his teenage daughter. After setting up his Facebook profile, he showed it to his daughter to which she responded, “You’re not supposed to write on your own wall. You’re such a dork, dad.”

“It’s OK to be a dork online every now and then,” said Scott. We don’t always know what we’re supposed to do when we start using a new technology. Scott felt foolish when he first started with Twitter and he had only one follower. Scott said you just have to jump in and not worry, “I think everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.”

Filed under: Blogging, Editorial, Micro-blogging, Podcast, Web 2.0 | 6 Comments »