Why “Easier” is Better for Your Brand

April 19, 2010

Is “easier” better for your brand? Consider this excerpt from the article “Easy = True” by Drake Bennett

Imagine that your stockbroker…who’s always giving you stock tips–called and told you that he had come up with a new investment strategy. Price-to earnings ratios, debt levels, management, competition, what the company makes, and how well it makes it, all those considerations go out the window. 

The new strategy is this: Invest in companies with names that are very easy to pronounce. This would probably not strike you as a great idea. But, if recent research is to be believed, it might just be brilliant.”

If making it easier to pronounce the name of a company can influence stock market performance for the better, can making your marketing “easier” for consumers build your brand and Marketing ROI? 

Cognitive Fluency

A relatively new topic of research in the world of psychology these days is “cognitive fluency.” It’s the study of how the ease or difficulty in thinking about and understanding a topic influences our attitudes and preferences toward it. As a research topic, psychologists are learning that cognitive fluency affects our thinking in subtle, yet important ways. Many of which are very relevant for communicating with consumers. 

Apple Advertising — “Easier” in Action

Let’s take a real world example: the Apple iPhone. With the iPhone, Apple had a tough task: communicate the incredible multiplicity of apps so that consumers would immediately understand the ease and simplicity of accessing them to solve basic everyday problems.

iPhone TV Advertising - Simple & Effective

Now think of the Apple iPhone TV advertising. What I think of is simple, easy and wow. Showing the ease of using the iPhone, tapping cool new apps, and solving practical problems brings their value to life in a way that makes complicated and complex-well, easy. 

The Broader Advertising Landscape

In my experience, simple and easy to understand ads tend to be more effective. The impact of making something easy to understand has been show in research to influence consumer preference and choice. For example, Novemsky et al. demonstrated that even something as simple as fonts can make a difference; fonts which were easier to read doubled purchase intent versus more difficult to read fonts. 

Cognitive fluency suggests that making your Marketing easier to understand results in making it easier for consumers to do what you want them to do — consider and buy your brand. There are multiple angles you can take for making your brand easier. Or, just by making it your Marketing centerpiece as Staples has with their “Easy Button.” 

Staples Easy Button - Marketing & Cognitive Fluency

5 Areas to Make Your Marketing “Easy”

1.  Brand Equities – Every brand should have both strategic and executional equities.  Strategic equities include brand benefits and reasons to believe, while executional equities are the distinctive executional assets the brand wants to own (e.g. McDonald’s and the yellow arches; Bounty and the Quicker Picker Upper, etc). 

Once defined, brands should work to build strategic and executional equities into distinctive assets that distinguish the brand from competition through repetition and variation.  Repetition is important because it makes your brand more familiar and, as cognitive fluency learning shows, more familiar equals easier. 

McDonald's Yellow Arches: A Distinctive Brand Equity

2. Visual and Auditory Cues — Another smart way to build brand familiarity and make it easier for consumers to identify your brand is through visual and auditory cues. A great example of a visual cue is the Pantene “hair flip” that communicates “shiny hair,” which has been part of virtually every Pantene ad for the past decade. 

Auditory cues are also important, as I wrote in a previous blog post “Why Your Brand Needs an Acoustic Identity.” Can you imagine the Olympics without the Olympic theme music, or a United Airlines ad without “Rhapsody in Blue?” Of course, when done well, visual and auditory cues can also become executional equities. 

3.  Congruent Context – Ease of understanding is also related to context. The more congruent a brand’s ad with the program content it sits within, the easier it is to relate to the ad. A Slim-Fast ad in the The Biggest Loser is easier to understand and remember than a Slim-Fast ad in another TV program about a different topic, even when the demographic make-up of the audience is the same. Why? The Biggest Loser viewers are thinking about weight loss, and so, it’s easier for them to digest the Slim-Fast ad message. 

4.  Packaging – Even packaging can make consumers’ lives easier. Ease of finding a package in store is a key metric many CPG companies use to evaluate packaging impact. The easier it is for consumers to find your package, the more likely it is that they’ll actually consider and buy it. 

Packaging - Critical to the In-Store Experience

5.  Pricing – Many companies have moved to “value pricing” with low everyday prices and modest merchandising discounts. Making it easy for consumers to understand your true value includes pricing strategies that don’t distort the real value. 

Easier is Better

Of course, the list above is only a starting point–almost any part of your Marketing Mix and customer experience can be made easier. Most CMO’s and Marketers would agree that easier is better. Yet there’s an awful lot of Marketing that isn’t simple, transparent, or easy. 

Why? My guess is that Marketers, like anyone else, need to think that what they’re doing is challenging and difficult. And the truth of the matter is that it is–great Marketing is hard. And one of the reasons it’s hard is that so few Marketers focus on making it “easy.” 

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Guest Post: What the Best Financial Advisors Can Teach Marketers

January 11, 2010

This is the 4th in a series of periodic guest posts. Libby J. Dubick is President of financial services consulting firm Dubick & Associates. Ms. Dubick has extensive experience in investment product strategy, marketing, and distribution at Goldman Sachs & Co. and Citibank.

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Let’s be honest:  there are probably few Marketers out there who believe financial services has anything positive to teach them these days. There’s no question that financial services marketing has received a good deal of negative press recently. But whether it’s during economic upswings or recessionary times, there’s one aspect of marketing where financial services marketers may be ahead of the curve:  the importance of trust in the selling process.

What Can the Best Financial Advisors Teach Marketers ?

Different Types of Trust

A University of Virginia Darden School of Business study identified two types of consumer trust:

  1. “Competence-based” Trust is the confidence that a company has the knowledge, skills and experience required to provide a service. This is foundational–without it, there’s no chance that a customer will choose a firm. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
  2. “Benevolence-based” Trust is the belief that a firm will put the client’s interest first. While this might seem self-evident, the recent actions and  behaviors of individuals and firms–e.g. Madoff and pyramid schemes, out-sized bonuses for bankers taking TARP funding, etc.–certainly suggests that this can’t be taken for granted.

Both kinds of trust are required as consumers expect expertise and available knowledge before purchasing a product or service (for more on brand transparency, see  “Why Your Brand Needs to be “Open & Transparent”).

After the market collapse of 2008 and the Madoff scandal, many financial firms and advisors have dedicated the last year to winning back consumer confidence, respect, and trust. And many of these financial advisers did just that–they retained clients and maintained their referral flow, keeping their business healthy and vibrant, despite the most toxic economic environment since the great depression.

What Can All Marketers Learn From The Best Client Advisors ?

  • Listen to Clients  — Smart advisors don’t assume what their clients want or need – they ask them. While this interaction should occur all of the time, it’s particularly important when markets decline. This is basic Marketing 101–staying close to your customer in good times and bad–but always bears reinforcing.
  • Be Responsive — Many advisors made a point of returning all client calls on the same day, and not when it was convenient for them. Research conducted by the Spectrem Group, which surveys high net worth investors, found that responsiveness is the most important service attribute (even more than advisor knowledge or overall client satisfaction). Do your clients find themselves contentedly speaking with a helpful and empathetic employee, or trapped in telephone tree? Reaching out to your customer when times are tough is exactly the time they need it most — and builds trust and confidence.
  • Establishing trust: essential for financial advisors, and marketers.

  • Demonstrate Expertise — When economic times became rocky, financial advisors that sent weekly updates to their clients became their primary source of financial news. Through newsletters, email blasts, and website updates, these advisors were able to shape and color their clients’ knowledge base and perception. As an expert, news about your company or industry should come from you – or you risk allowing others to shape your customers views.
  • Be Transparent — Financial advisors have added pricing and process to their annual reviews to ensure clients understand fees and value added. Too many consumers have experienced a sales promotion that offers very little merchandise, or purchased an item online only to find “handling” charges that inflate the price. Marketers who want their products and firms to be viewed as trustworthy are open and transparent and don’t play those kinds of pricing games.

Financial services firms have a lot of work to do to regain the public’s confidence and trust. Buried within every major financial services firm, however, are financial advisors who have demonstrated to their clients that they can be trusted.

They do this by listening, being responsive, demonstrating expertise, being open and transparent, and asking thoughtful questions. In today’s digitally connected, always on world, where consumers are more empowered than ever, these are actions that all Marketers can benefit from–whether in financial services or any other industry.

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Zapped by Zappos – Learnings from CEO as CMO Tony Hsieh

November 9, 2009

The best CMO is a CEO who believes in Marketing. By this definition, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, must be one of the best CMO’s around. Hsieh, known for his firm’s digital and social networking prowess, had over 870k Twitter followers the last time I checked. I recently talked with Tony after he participated in a “What’s Your Digital?” panel discussion. And what he had to say might surprise you.

TonyHsieh

Tony Hsieh -- The Zappos CEO as CMO

Zapped by Zappos

Before that, however, let me tell you about my own Zappos experience—which is instructive. Seeking a pair of dress shoes for my new job, I went on-line to Zappos, and saw a great pair of shoes on the Mezlan Zappos homepage. I searched for the shoes all over the site — to no avail. Exasperated, I sent Zappos an e-mail, asking: “where are those great looking shoes?” No response. I sent another e-mail, and waited…and waited.

Finally, I received a short e-mail:  “Yes, you’re correct; we don’t carry that particular pair of shoes and will remove the photo from our site.” And they did. In fact, here’s the new picture sans shoes:

Mezlan_Shoes

Mezlan on Zappos - Without the Shoes

This is great customer service? So, I related my story to Tony. He seemed mortified, especially after talking about how much Zappos cares about customer experience. He then followed up to have someone reach out to understand what happened so they could fix it, followed by an offer to send me a free pair of any shoes I wanted. Now, not everyone gets to talk to the CEO about their poor customer experience, but Zappos clearly IS different.

What Makes Zappos Different?

Simply stated, Zappos believes that customer service = marketing. Instead of spending loads of money on traditional (and non-traditional) marketing, they focus intensely on delivering a great customer experience—and recovering from mistakes with grace and humility. Tony believes that “the Zappos brand manifests itself through every employee/customer interaction,” and that brand is a lagging indicator of customer experience. His key points:

  • “The phone is a great marketing tool” – I’m not taking about mobile marketing here. Tony made the point that 5 minutes with a customer on the phone is far better Marketing than any web experience can ever deliver. He loves the phone and bricks and mortar touch points and thinks they are often undervalued by companies.
  • “Culture is our number 1 priority” – Many companies talk a good game about culture, but Zappos actually lives it and uses it as a core part of their business model. Zappos has 10 cultural norms that they instill in employees. They interview for these 10 norms, evaluate employees on them in their annual performance reviews, and let people go who don’t follow them.
  • “Authenticity and transparency are really important” – Tony sees authenticity and transparency (to read more on this topic, see my blog post) as a core part of the Zappos brand. When reporters show up at Zappos, they’re shown the bathroom and lunch-room and then told to roam around and talk to whomever they like. Tony’s daily Tweeting is less about Marketing than it is about him trying to make Zappos more authentic and transparent for followers.
  • “Zappos wants totally engaged employees” – Tony only wants people working at Zappos who are really passionate about the company and delivering great customer service. How much does he believe in this? So much that the company offers every new employee $2k to quit after two weeks on the job – they only want the truly committed.

What About Digital and Social Media?

But isn’t Zappos a social media icon? What about Tony’s almost 1MM Twitter followers? Well, get this: Tony hates the “social media” tag. He says they don’t even bother to measure the ROI of their digital and Twitter efforts.

Further, he’s not a believer in creating marketing “buzz.” Instead, he believes the primary role of every employee is to create “positive customer stories” about their Zappos experience. If they do this–everything else, including buzz, will take care of itself.

Oh, and one more thing. Tony does believe in the importance of “influencers,” but not necessarily the digital kind you might be thinking of. He noted that to this day, when his mom calls, he really listens.

Key Learning’s for Marketers

First, having a CEO who really believes in the brand and customer experience sets the tone for the whole organization. This job shouldn’t and can’t be left to the CMO; it’s the CEO’s job too. The CEO and CMO need to be partners in driving a truly customer-centric, marketing focused organization and business model.

Second, actually delivering a great customer experience, particularly in a service oriented business, comes down to employees delivering each and every time they interact with a customer. Building a culture that attracts the right kind of employee and fosters this kind of performance is just as important as any Marketing program.

Zappos Secret Weapons

These are Zappo’s true secret weapons—their CEO as CMO and their unique culture. So what about my Zappos experience? I like Tony’s description of what employees are supposed to do: “Create positive customer/employee stories.” But what I love most of all is that Tony, as the CEO, does what he says. After all, you just read a story about how Zappos recovered brilliantly from a terrible customer experience. Clearly, Tony knows how to create a good story, too.

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Is iTV the Next Digital Marketing Frontier ?

August 24, 2009

Engagement, conversation, interaction. Whatever you call it, the web has ushered in a new era for Marketers to not just preach their gospel to consumers, but to actually engage in a more meaningful two way dialogue.

But, there’s another digital frontier beyond the web, and one that also has vast potential to change the way Marketers interact with customers — interactive TV. iTV marries traditional TV with digital interactivity–by using your TV remote to “point and press.”

iTV -- The Next Digital Frontier ? (visual courtesy of bobrien.com)

iTV -- The Next Digital Frontier ? (visual courtesy of bobrien.com)

As Meg Brossy, SVP Marketing at Brightline iTV, an iTV consulting firm and services provider, says:

“Consumers are being pulled in many different directions today. Done right, interactive TV allows marketers to feed viewers’ desire for entertainment through compelling ad experiences – when, where and how viewers want to encounter them.  When a consumer voluntarily opts-in to engage with the brand in this way, not only does ad effectiveness jump, but product/brand recall and purchase intent is heightened and the consumer embraces the information. The results our advertiser clients see from iTV speak for themselves.”

Did You Know ?

  • 75MM U.S. consumers now have digitally capable iTV
  • iTV reaches 7MM more consumers in the U.S. than broadband
  • 7 major satellite/cable TV companies can now provide iTV
  • “Time shifting” is growing, continuing traditional ad erosion

Implications for Marketing

TV no longer needs to be a passive medium that is in danger of irrelevance as consumers time shift and avoid uni-directional one to many broadcast ads. Instead, iTV creates opportunities for brands to interact with consumers in a variety of ways. An interesting view of this is “TV ads that refuse to be ignored” at ECommerce Times.

iTV -- Extending Interactive Marketing Beyond Web and Mobile to TV

iTV -- Extending Interactive Marketing Beyond Web and Mobile to TV

Most Marketers seem vaguely aware of the theoretically large potential of digital TV, but largely unaware that it’s moved from “potential” to “real, scalable and impactful.” With iTV, brands can expand the range of interactive platforms beyond on-line and mobile to include TV.

Brands are catching on. Unilever has 30+ brands using it. J&J and others are not far behind. And the medium isn’t limited to CPG, as TD Ameritrade, Nike and others are experimenting aggressively.

5 Ways Brands Can Leverage iTV

  1. Improved Targeting— iTV enables brands to tailor the message to the audience. For example, TD Ameritrade offers three different investor options for consumers to “point and press” to learn more about a particular investing style. Instead of a single message, it’s now possible to let viewers choose the message most relevant for them.
  2. Content Marketing — Suddenly, there’s a large opportunity for brands to create relevant and meaningful content to deepen and surround their brand promise–via the TV. Consumers can access educational content, games, or virtually any type of brand relevant content. For example, Hellman’s developed simple games and recipes to drive increased usage.
  3. Partner Marketing— Brands can partner their iTV creative content with relevant TV programs to increase viewer engagement. Consumers can now interact with a brand during a TV program about a similar topic — e.g. consumers can learn about sleeping bags while watching Man vs. Wild, etc.
  4. Direct Response Activity— Brands can use iTV to request free samples, sign-up for newsletters, etc. Viewer data is housed within the cable or satellite providers platform, so viewers don’t even have to provide personal info in reaction to direct response activity.
  5. Metrics and Measurement— iTV is digital, which means it’s measurable in the same ways as the web. ITV brings more sophisticated engagement and ROMI measurement to traditional TV spend.

Results & Impact — Encouraging

Brightline iTV claims CTR’s typically range from 3-6% vs. <1% typically seen on-line. Viewer engagement measured by time spent with brand typically increases dramatically. And, companies like Unilever seem convinced about the ROMI of such programs as evidenced by their increased participation in this new medium.

iTV — Too Good To Be True ?

So, what’s not to like about iTV ? Well, there are challenges:

  • Complexity— Each of the 7 cable and satellite companies have their own proprietary platforms and measurement approaches. Creative developed for iTV has to be modified across platforms. While these challenges are not insurmountable, they create cost and complexity and have deterred many Marketers in the past.
  • Opt-In / Audience Size— CTR’s are impressive, but there’s still an open question about consumer education and opt-in. iTV will only be as good as the number of consumers who know how to use it and are willing to opt-in. To date, it’s unclear what fraction of the 75MM viewers are actually “engage-able.”
  • Organization Skills— Where does iTV fit ? Is it creative or media ? Who drives it–ad agencies or clients or special service agencies ? What works and what doesn’t ? Like any nascent technology, there’s a lot to learn.

The world is moving digital — but not just on the web. iTV is arguably the next digital frontier for Marketers. CMO’s need to ask a very simple but fundamental question:

Should my brand be exploring iTV ?

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Guest Post: 3 Things Marketers Need To Do Now

August 20, 2009

This is the 2nd in a series of periodic guest posts. Susan Kanefield Lauinger is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.

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August, 2008:   Do you remember what you were doing this time last year?  You may remember gas prices going up, you may have heard of a friend of a friend who had been laid off from his job, but overall, things in the U.S. were pretty good. 

September, 2008:   Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy.  AIG requires a bailout.  Stocks plummet.

Flash forward to August, 2009:   The fallout from the economic crisis has touched every corner of the U.S., causing a significant shift in consumer confidence and a sea-level change in the way consumers think about their spending and consumption habits.  

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

Marketers -- What Do I Do Now ?

What Should Marketers be Doing Now to Rebuild Consumer Confidence?

1.  Keep the Conversation Going — As the economy suffers and budgets shrink, it is tempting to look to marketing dollars for quick cuts.  However, brands that go dark risk playing into the fear and uncertainty that consumers are feeling.  In fact, Harvard Business School professor John Quelch stresses that a recession is the time to maintain, not cut, marketing spending.  He writes:

“It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times. Uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands…”  (Read a summary of John’s article here).

2.  Remember the Basics:  In these tough economic times, there is a driving consumer need to get back to the fundamentals.  Consumers are hunkering down to weather the financial storm and are looking to their brands to reflect that new focus on things like price, value, family and stability.  

Kraft Foods, for example, has added a “Budget Wi$e” section to its website, highlighting tips for feeding your family while watching your spending.  One tab of this section called  “Why Snackrifice?”  highlights snacks you can feed your family “for about a dollar.” 

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft -- Focusing on Value with Snackrifice

Kraft has also focused its product advertising on value messages.  For example, their advertising shows the difference between the cost of a DiGiorno frozen pizza and a restaurant pizza, or the lower cost of Kool-Aid vs. soft drinks. 

Allstate is another brand that has done a good job of reflecting this shift in consumer focus with its “Back To Basics” campaign.  The Allstate advertising talks about the brand’s experience managing through recessions and their understanding of what consumers need “after the fear subsides.” You can read more about this campaign here.

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

Allstate -- Focusing on the Basics in a Crisis

 3.  Think About the Future —  Although the pressure is on brands to cut spending, raise prices and retrench in these tough times, the smartest brands will be looking to the future and laying the groundwork for the next 6, 12 and 18 months.  Brands that have held fast during the recession and who are actively planning for the future will have a distinct advantage over brands who will be trying to reboot their consumer relationships in the coming months.

Keep the conversation going, remember the basics, think about the future — these are good maxims for success in any environment. But in the current hyper-charged environment where fear, uncertainty and budget conscious actions dominate, they are especially important lessons for Marketers in any business.

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Susan Kanefield Lauinger  is a senior marketing executive, strategist and brand consultant with deep experience in health & beauty, tobacco, and financial services with companies including Helene Curtis, L’Oreal, Philip Morris and American Express.  Susan holds an M.B.A. from Kellogg and a dual B.S./B.A. in Economics and Communications from Wharton/The University of Pennsylvania.


What’s Wrong with Word of Mouth Marketing

August 17, 2009

It’s common knowledge that word of mouth (WOM) by people you know is the most effective advertising. Research corroborates this:

Word of Mouth -- High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?
Word of Mouth — High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?

Yet, most Marketing organizations don’t behave as if it’s very important. According to PQ Media, 2008 WOM spending was $1.7B, +10% over the previous year. Estimated U.S. Marketing spending ranges from ~$500B all the way up to $1 trillion; WOM represents only 2-4% of total spend. So, why the impact vs. spending disparity ?  The answer, I think, is two-fold:

  • Word of mouth remains a black box for most Marketers — it’s really hard to figure out and even harder to do well.
  • It hasn’t been easily scalable–either within a persons social network or beyond.

Word of Mouth vs. Viral Marketing

Some people differentiate between WOM and viral. WOM is described as one to few, viral as one to many; as well, viral includes sharing and resharing–usually via the web. I think this distinction is largely false as WOM can become viral–e.g. the recent United Airlines guitar video (4.9M views).

Word Of Mouth Marketing
Word Of Mouth Marketing

WOM should build your brand. The mainstream media love to report on highly creative viral videos–e.g. the T-Mobile sing-a-long in Trafalgar Square, etc. These videos do generate incredible amounts of viewing, but are they really building the brand ? Do they engage consumers to better understand how and why the brand is better than alternatives ?

Word Of Mouth — More Scalable in Two Directions

WOM is changing as the web enables two simultaneous phenomenon:

  • Vertical Scalability — The web continues to enable new ways for consumers to share information  both within their social circle and beyond. Sharing opinions and ideas through blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Social Networking sites, etc. has vastly increased the scalability of WOM, as one person can now reach most people within their social network instantly and of course, people well beyond.
  • Horizontal Scalability — The rise of social networks and OpenID, Facebook Connect and similar services will enable personal network portability. This means that friends and families–and their opinions–will be able to flow with consumers as they traverse the web and interact with products and services. So, WOM from your social network will now become available in places it wasn’t before.

Basic Elements of Word of Mouth

Given the rising importance of WOM, how can you harness this powerful opportunity for your brand ?

1) Define Who’s Talking — Within your brand users, there’s almost always a group of 10-15% of users who are “amplifiers.” These consumers have unusually large social networks and form part of their self-identity from sharing new information with friends and family. Similarly, there are important non-users who need to be identified as well — bloggers, heavy Twitter users, etc. who can disproportionately impact your brand.

2) Define What They’re Talking About — Amplifiers don’t just randomly talk about your brand. In fact, they tend not to talk about your core mainstream messaging. Why ? Because everyone already knows about it; they get no psychic reward because there’s nothing new. They tend to talk about and share things that are important to them and also new and surprising about your brand–positively or negatively. Conduct research among amplifiers to understand the main themes they are talking about.

3) Determine Which Mediums They’re Using — Where are amplifiers talking about or sharing your brand ? Off-line in casual conversations ? On-line via Facebook ? Understanding which mediums amplifiers are using to talk about your brand gives you insight into how to facilitate or enable these conversations. Do research to find out.

4) Understand What Receivers Are Doing Next — Understanding receivers is just as important as understanding amplifiers. Without a receiver there’s no WOM. Most important is to understand what receivers do after hearing a theme. Do they visit the store ? Search on line ? Visit the web site ? Consult another friend ? Share via Twitter ?

5) Test and Qualify WOM Stimuli — If we know who is sharing, what they’re talking about, in which channels, and what receivers are doing after the conversation, then what ? Using WOM themes, develop a range of stimuli — e.g. customer experience “moments of truth,” white paper/special user content, tips/how-to’s, personalized web micro-sites, etc. to help drive accelerated word of mouth. Run a small test versus control. Did you get more people to talk or share your stimuli ? What did listeners do afterwards ? Did you build your brand equities ? Increase consideration and purchase of your brand ? Which stimuli worked best ?

WOM is hard work. Like most Marketing, it starts with really understanding your consumer. But the consumer understanding work is not well understood. And WOM is even harder to drive in a systematic and disciplined way. As WOM becomes more important, it becomes increasingly important for Marketing organizations to increase their WOM capabilities and most have a long way to go. What’s your Marketing organizations WOM IQ ?

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