Bringing Word of Mouth to Cause Marketing

1. worthy of notice: worth noticing or commenting on
2. unusual: unusual or exceptional, and attracting attention because of this
The success of your next cause marketing campaign (and perhaps all your marketing efforts) may hang on this single adjective. That’s the word from Andy Sernovitz, author of the book Word of Mouth Marketing and founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

Word of mouth has been around forever and everyone knows how powerful it can be, for good and ill. But without an assist from the tenets of marketing, word of mouth by itself is incomplete, like pasta without the sauce.

Propelling good word of mouth, Sernovitz says, has never been easier. Email and the social media amount to word of mouth particle accelerators, getting more from word of mouth than it could under its own power.

For instance, Sernovitz says, Gap sends out an occasional email to their staff that is passed off as a super-secret friends-only discount. The email says that the discount is only to be shared with one friend or family member. But Gap has something like 100,000 teenage employees, and their definition of sharing with one friend is different than mine. The result is that the discount code ends up on a lot of Facebook pages.

What are some other word of mouth campaigns that demonstrate the use of the remarkable?
  1. The stunning wrapping paper that online retailer Red Envelope wraps gifts in.
  2. The annual Thanksgiving release of gross-out flavors from Jones Soda, like turkey and gravy. You buy a case as a novelty, pass around small sips to your Thanksgiving guests, whereupon everyone turns up their nose. And next week, when you’re in the store, you buy one of Jones’s more appetizing flavors, like strawberry lime.
  3. Drury lnn, an otherwise indistinguishable $79 a night motel offers its guests one hour of free long distance for each night’s stay. You start calling people and in the conversation you tell them you’re calling because you got free long distance at the Drury Inn. Never mind that you’ve got free nights and weekends on your cell phone. In effect, Sernovitz says, you’re doing outbound telemarketing for Drury from your room!
  4. Sun Microsystems’ Project Blackbox, wherein Sun’s servers come in a jet black self-contained cargo container.
  5. Heinz’s Top This TV Challenge, which offered a $57,000 (get it?) first prize to people who make the best commercial for Heinz and post it on YouTube, launched with no more promotional support than on-package labeling and a single press release.
  6. The first computers from Apple after Steve Jobs had returned to lead the company had… are you ready?... color. Which is little different than subtly changing the hue of the color burst on the box of Tide detergent. And yet Apple began its resurgence with just that one seemingly insignificant action.
The genius of word of mouth marketing is that it’s relatively inexpensive. And if you can’t figure out something remarkable over a long weekend you’re either a dolt or you’re over-thinking it.

As far as the marketing mainstream is concerned, the price for launching a new consumer brand in the United States starts around $100 million.

Speaking only for myself, that's a little out-of-reach.

But in his book Word of Mouth Marketing Andy Sernovitz says there's ways to build a respected brand for less.

The book tackles his five Ts of word of mouth marketing and the challenge of The Chocolate Problem.
  1. Find people who will talk. Bear in mind that talkers may not be customers and that if you try and buy their participation, you’ll almost certainly undermine their credibility as talkers.
  2. Give them a topic. And don’t couch it in the marketing-speak of features and benefits. Nobody recites a brochure list of features and benefits when they pass on word of mouth.
  3. Give them tools to help the message spread. Facebook, blogs, email, coupons, the ‘tell a friend’ option are all key tools.
  4. Join the conversation… take part. If your company has stumbled, apologize. Repeat as necessary. Invite people back. Leave thoughtful notes on message boards and blogs. Etc.
  5. The last T is track. As Sernovitz archly said, word of mouth is at least as trackable as all other kinds of marketing, which sometimes means not very trackable at all. But you can certainly use BlogPulse, Google, Technorati, Feedster and the like to get a read on your word of mouth marketing efforts.
Finally, word of mouth marketing faces what Sernovitz calls “The Chocolate Problem.” By which he means, no one ever called a friend and said, “Have you tried this thing called chocolate? It’s incredible!”

That secret’s pretty well out.

Likewise, no one emails a friend about getting a great room and attentive service at a Ritz Carleton Hotel. People expect that. It’s baked in.

How do you combat The Chocolate Problem? Well, you keep coming up with new things that people find remarkable. Google search was once remarkable, but no longer. Now, it’s a useful commodity. But Google Earth is still pretty remarkable. My father-in-law, now age 81, is entranced by it.

Now is Google Earth really useful? Let's be honest, it's more gee whiz cool than truly beneficial. But it certainly is remarkable in Sernovitz's formulation. To fight The Chocolate Problem, you must keep coming up with new remarkable things.

Smart marketers and product developers tend to release remarkable new products just as the last hit is cresting.