The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

7 Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)

Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) has become a hot topic over the past few years in marketing. The web has helped foster the explosive growth of WOM, since it’s a powerful catalyst for spreading the word to targeted individuals in mere nanoseconds! Many companies hear about “empowering customer evangelists” and they want to jump right in. Of course, it’s not that easy, but it is a powerful marketing channel that I recommend to most of my clients (if it fits). More on that later… In my experience over the past 13 years, I have seen how the power of WOM can impact a business. It can be a powerful driver of buzz and sales, to say the least. So why do some products connect with customers and others sit in what I like to call “WOM Limbo”? Let’s face it, some products seem to start a fire under customers and others wander by, simply as part of a business transaction.

So, what drives WOM in customers?
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past 4 or 5 years as WOM has grown in popularity as a marketing channel. In addition, I’ve helped clients try and harness the power of WOM to grow their own businesses and I’ve also kept a close eye on the industry. Last, but definitely not least, I’m a customer evangelist myself, and proud of it! When I find something that impacts my life, I love to tell people about it. So, my consulting, research, observations, and my own experiences as a customer evangelist helped me identify some of the key drivers that cause people to buzz about their favorite products and services. Note, this is obviously not a complete list of all drivers of WOM, but it’s a good start.

1. The “I can do that?” Factor
Meaning, a product or service enables you to do something that you were never able to do. DVR’s come to mind. How many people are ridiculously busy now with work, kids, social life, etc? VCR’s didn’t cut it, and people were not able to catch the shows they wanted to see. Hello TIVO, and now hello DVR’s from every major cable company. When I bought my first TIVO, you couldn’t shut me up. My wife literally had to put a Hannibal Lecter-looking grill on my face to shut me up! :-) Note, you can read more about my adventures with TIVO and the Comcast HD DVR here. The bottom line: Enable customers to do something that they could never do before, and it can be a huge driver of word of mouth for your business.

2. The Early Adopter
Do you know someone who always wants the latest and greatest product? I do, and these people are buzz engines. For example, they buy the latest gizmo and want to tell the world about it. iPods, iPhones, Blu-ray HD DVD players, HD TV’s, and gaming systems like Xbox all come to mind. Not only do early adopters buzz about their latest gadgets, they typically have a platform to drive the message. Can you say blogging anyone?

3. Extraordinary Customer Experiences
We all know what this means…when your experience was so good that you feel obligated to tell the world about it. For me,, Barnes and Noble, Survey Monkey and all come to mind (online). Offline examples include Honda, Enterprise Rental Car, Marriott, and the Ping G5 Driver, the latest weapon in my golf arsenal. :-)

A Small Business Tangent: When I think about small business WOM, the party supply store in my town called Party and More comes to mind. It’s run by a woman (Denise) who truly gets customer service and word of mouth. The first time I was in her store, she spent time speaking with my 3 year old daughter. She gave her a free balloon and was genuinely interested in my daughter’s stories. Then, I saw Denise after my son was born and she gave me a display of balloons for my wife, and also spoke with my daughter about the new addition to our family. Actually, I didn’t even know that Denise owned the business since she was spending so much time with me and my family! Now every time we go to that shopping center, my daughter asks if we can go see “the balloon lady”. And we often do… I also jump at the chance to tell people to go there.

4. It’s So Close, You Can Taste It….So to speak.
Taste and smell are powerful senses…so it should be no surprise that people love to talk about food. Find a healthy alternative to french fries that tastes great, and you’ll probably tell 50 people about it. Or, if you are part of an online community or utilize social media sites, you might be able to tell thousands of people, and fast… For restaurants, you jump up another level…since service is now part of the picture. Now you need outstanding food and good service. Most people know that restaurants depend on positive word of mouth to survive, and negative word of mouth can put them out of business faster than you can say “Check please!”

5. Health
If a product or service positively impacts the health of customers, they tend to want to tell the world. Stories of people diagnosing a problem on WebMD, even when their own doctor didn’t catch it, will drive more people to the site. Omega 3 pills are another good example, with studies showing the impact on mood, brain power, retention, memory, cholesterol, etc. Diets are another good example, since one person that successfully loses weight can drive hundreds or more to the try the same style of diet. We’ve all seen that happen, right?

Dr. Oz on OprahOr, how about the latest craze, Dr. Oz on Oprah. Now, would Dr. Oz be as popular today without Oprah? Probably not, since she was the catalyst for his explosive growth. That's the power of a famous influencer. More on influencers later in the post... WOM has taken over with Oz and many people are talking about him now. So, it looks like you're not in Kansas anymore Dr. Oz.

6. The Power of Children
If it impacts your children, you’ll shout it from every mountain top. Parents would do anything to help their children. Moms and Dads are big drivers of WOM for children’s products, whether it’s toys, cribs, strollers, bedding, car seats, food, etc. Don’t believe me? Visit the babycenter forums and browse around. You’ll be shocked at how much activity goes on there…and for products you never thought existed. Well, like the Munchkin Fresh Food Eater for Babies. My son loves it...

7. It Gives You an Edge Professionally
Everyone wants to succeed at work. So, new applications, classes that enhance your skill-set, new sources of information, new ways to find leads, etc. can all drive WOM. In addition, influencers within specific verticals can drive a lot of business. If you receive an unsolicited endorsement from a key figure in an industry, watch out. Your website may go down from the explosion of traffic. Seriously, I have seen this happen and it’s amazing to watch. In addition, the people calling after reading that endorsement are typically ready to buy. They tend to feel that if John likes it, and they know John, then it's good enough for them. That’s powerful. Note, key influencers actually apply to all categories, but my last point was focused on professional wom (i.e. a leading consultant for leadership development endorsing a new class.)

So, those are 7 key drivers of WOM. Again, this wasn’t meant to cover every driver of WOM, but it’s a start. I plan to expand on this topic in future posts, so stay tuned.

But I’d like to hear from you now. Does your product or service fit into one of these categories? Or is it in WOM Limbo for some reason? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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  • At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Eliezer Gonzalez said…

    Hi Glenn

    Thanks for sharing your fantastic insights. I have referred my readers to your article, since I think that it is really valuable.

    I think that one challenge with WOM is generating it rapidly. Coming up with those great strategies is not always easy!

    Your drivers of WOM, however, provide some big clues. For example if taste is a key driver, then you don't need to be in the food business to take advantage of it. You need to appeal to people's senses in all that you do - and taste is a key one.

  • At 3:18 AM, Anonymous Scott Pearson said…

    Glenn, thanks for this, I enjoyed the read, an interesting and different perspective.

    For me in a B2B context WOM is increasingly powerful because 1) there are so many messages that people tune out, they want to turn to someone they trust and respect. 2) Even if people listen to your pitch/advertising they see it as the same as everyone else’s – the reality is that there’s really very little differentiation no matter what spin the marketeers put on it 3) People are increasingly sceptical “you would say that wouldn’t you – you’re trying to sell me something” 4) People are better connected and networked than ever before and can reach out for independent opinion far more easily than has ever been the case in the history of Marketing!

    At this point let me be upfront and say I am involved with a Marketing Consultancy that leads the practice of “Influencer Marketing”. There’s a white paper on called “The Insanity of Marketing” that sets the context for targeting Influencers, it’s a little provocative and might make you smile! Comments?

    Cheers, Scott.

  • At 6:10 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Scott.

    I completely agree with you. Traditional advertising is about marketing spin and 1 way conversations. Sure, it can generate sales, but in my experience, consumers trust other consumers so much more...and REALLY TRUST people they know. Also, trusted influencers can get the word out to a targeted group of consumers like no other form of advertising (no pun intended). :)

    Regarding being connected like never before, you can say that again! The web is a powerful catalyst for getting the word out...I've seen one post on a hot forum with a trusted moderator almost take down a site on a Sunday afternoon…during the summer.

    I just downloaded the whitepaper you mentioned in your comment. I'll let you know what I think. Thanks again.

  • At 6:25 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Eliezer.

    I agree with is definitely a challenge to generate WOM rapidly (and let's face it, clients want it to happen fast!) :) Also, since the quality of the message being communicated is in the hands of your customers, it reveals another important challenge.

    And you make an excellent point about "taste" definitely don't have to be in the food business to take advantage of it!

    I'm glad you stopped by and I plan to read more of your blog posts today about customer retention.

  • At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Andy Sernovitz said…

    Hi Glenn --

    Great roundup. Well-done.


  • At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Vince Cardillo said…


    Excellent insights. I get a lot of people who don't necessarily have a clear tangible picture of what WOM is, nor how it can be created. A lot of people tend to think that viral campaigns are also WOM campaigns.

    I'm an avid reader of your blog. But this post inspired me to finally do something I've been putting off, and that was to compile some of my own thoughts. I'd love your feedback.

    6 Guidelines to Online Social Marketing

  • At 5:32 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Vince.

    Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I agree that WOM is confusing for some people...actually I see that a lot with traditional marketers. For many of them, WOM is so out of their comfort zone that sometimes they find it difficult to harness its power.

    I also just read your post about online social marketing and I think you make some excellent points! Actually, I wish more people followed those guidelines. :) You should go deeper with each guideline!

  • At 4:13 PM, Blogger Altagracia said…

    Hi Glenn I amnew here and I come from PR wings but right now I am facing a challenge at an advertising agency and I want to create a WOM campaign for the agency... I would like to know how do you feel about this and if you see a possible angle for my presumptious intentions...

  • At 7:39 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Maria.

    I think there are two points that stuck out for me here. The first is that it would be a B2B campaign and the second is the nature of the agency business. The B2B part would impact the potential volume of agency advocates and the second would impact the depth (or lack of depth) of communication. My gut reaction was to recommend a hybrid campaign that runs close to both amplified wom and organic wom. You would be able to leverage the agency’s work to engage potential customers and utilize advocates of your agency to build credibility and to back up the amplified wom piece. Again, this is just my gut reaction.

    That said, word of mouth and referrals are a big driver of new business for agencies. I would try to get something moving… and just be sure to track everything you can.

    Let me know if you have any other questions.


  • At 7:59 AM, Blogger Altagracia said…

    Hi Glenn,
    Thank you for your ultra rapid answer!!! It is for an Advertising Agency. We're trying to get this viral marketing on the way and of course, position ourselves among our clients, advocates and future prospects. I am not sure about the differences between amplified and organic wom but I am sure I am very interested in the subject...
    Thanks again,

  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    You're welcome Maria. And I forgot to include the link to my post about organic and amplified wom! Actually, here a link to my Word of Mouth Marketing category. Let me know if you have any questions.

    Thanks again.



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