Way back in 2006, a young technocrat-business leader of a global IT giant had written, on my invitation, a very interesting and insightful piece on how one could tell the whole world about any tremendous new product one wanted to market that fulfilled a specific need. No, it wasn’t about grabbing large swathes of OOH real estate or any other major traditional marketing media. Such heavily advertising-driven communications are always important at the launch phase. But what could one do after the essential Advertising budgets for a new product in its initial phase were, well, spent?
Read on for a very brightly, conversationally written piece by Moninder Jain — who was then Director South Asia, Logitech. He’d written it for a publication I used to edit then, and every time I’ve gone back to this piece over the years, I’ve marveled at how interactively, brightly, frankly he expressed himself – the thoughts and the elan are arresting.
Today, Moninider Jain is VP & Head VP and Head – Russia, Africa, Middle East, Central and South East Asia at Logitech, having worked across functions and leadership roles in various geographies for 14 stellar years at Logitech. And with, before Logitech, another five years at Samsung and four at Xerox and one at UB, he has emerged as one of the world’s best and most respected strategic corporate and technology leaders. Little wonder, then, that when Jain was thinking aloud way back, 12 years ago when digital was mostly, if not only, online in India, he came up with WORd of Mouth MarketerS. Or WORMMS. In 2006.
Here’s that deep dive again. Rewarding nostalgia, featuring Moninder Jain’s innovative thinking from 2006. With a picture from the same year J On WORd of Mouth MarketerS. Or WORMMS. Now if only he had patented the term.
The Word of Mouth Marketers
By Moninder Jain
Written in 2006 when he was Director – South Asia, Logitech
You have a product, well….ok… a Great product .not really.. ..actually what you Think is a great product. The product itself has been hopefully a result of well researched market potential – that there exists a space for such a product or service. Now, the need is to tell the whole wide world that you have such a tremendous product that fulfils a certain need.
So what do we do? More often than not, the answers for those companies with obscene amounts of money to spend is “Advertise” via a Media Blitzkrieg. That’s the route hotshot marketing managers take – not because it may necessarily be the most effective way – but also to prove the “virility” of their company. “I advertise therefore I am” is what most of us believe (or at least demonstrate even if we don’t believe) to impress the hell out of our Internal customers (yes, the forever complaining sales guys who want to chill with a beer in front of TV and let the customers buy on their own); the Shareholders (“they will grab some more shares of our company pronto – gives them the impression we are rolling in money”); the Agency (“maybe they will put the better looking execs on our account” – the unfortunate illusion (delusion?) of having footloose Amazonian women and Greek God men trying to win over your “strategic” account by hook or by crook) and the Media (a large percentage would say, “Hey, let’s also give these chaps some good free PR in return for all the marketing dollars/ rupees they spend on us”). It’s an Ego trip which builds on the narcissistic philosophy of “Jo Dikhta hai, woh Bikta hai”. But hey, what about that dude/dame called the ‘Consumer’? The person who would actually shell out the big/small bucks to buy our product or service? How does this enigmatic entity fit into our plans?
At the outset, let me make it clear that I have nothing against advertising. Advertising is a great way to make people quickly aware of your new product/service/promotion. But is it good enough to sustain it? My recommendation is that money is best spent on advertising in the initial phase. Beyond that, we need to figure out a way for the product to sell itself.
And hence the need for rise of the WORMM. What are WORMMs? Well, it’s just a catchy way of saying “WORd of Mouth Marketers”. It could have been WORM but extra M takes care of the numerological favorability much like the names of the dozens of Teleserials and Movies (we will mention those later in this piece as well). And yes, it makes it sound a little less derogatory than it would if someone called you or me a WORM. (Q-What do you do for a living? A- Well.. .I am a Worm. hmm. doesn’t sound that great so say ‘I am worm with an extra “m” – at least that will arouse curiosity levels and decreases avoidance ones.)
Word of Mouth of course refers to the power of brand reputation built on a usage experience mostly of a non interested third party. And the transfer of that information to his or her Circle of Trust (a term I am gonna rush to trademark/ patent lest the “soon to rise legions” of WORMMs lay claim to its origin). Circle of Trust refers to the group of people who admire the circle around the head of the person (called the halo in ancient times) stemming from perceived expertise in a particular area or on everything.
Word of Mouth vs. Advertising
Looking at Word of Mouth vs. advertising. Advertising by contrast is the attempt to build brand reputation by an interested party – the company which is trying to sell the product or service.
The market leaders are brands with ‘immense’ consumer trust, brands with great positive buzz around them due to a good user experience, not necessarily brands who have advertised heavily before they became successful
To put it in a nutshell, advertising is self publicity, whereas word of mouth is people’s publicity. Pure advertising suffers from lack of credibility. Advertising may be a necessary evil for Pepsi and Coke (“I advertise more therefore I am better” philosophy) and work wonders for Close Up toothpaste. And perhaps for Fair and Lovely or Fair and Handsome which, by the way, I won’t benefit from using till I meet someone who has used it – but that’s because I am in tech and I always go by references or “word of mouth”.
Research shows that word-of-mouth can be seven times more effective than print media, twice as effective as broadcast media and four times more effective than sales personnel
The market leaders are brands with ‘immense’ consumer trust, brands with great positive buzz around them due to a good user experience, not necessarily brands who have advertised heavily before they became successful. Same is true for the Software and Services sector which has put India on the global map. The only ads you see from the biggest companies are the recruitment ones though even there most hiring is done through employee references.
Research shows that word-of-mouth can be seven times more effective than print media, twice as effective as broadcast media and four times more effective than sales personnel. Why? As Regis McKenna, considered the marketing Guru of Silicon Valley says, and I agree: “People are deluged with promotional information, and they are beginning to distrust advertising. People are more likely to make decisions based on what they hear directly from other people, including friends, experts, or even salespeople”.
Word of mouth has always been around. The task in front of all of us is not to challenge it, but to use it
Word of mouth is often the single most important factor behind successes of movies and tele-serials (when did advertising and similar stuff like movie producers sending steamy SMS clips from the movies ‘ever’ work for a lousy movie? And just see what movies like Iqbal managed without too much advertising – purely from word of mouth). The biggest brands in the world are not products but people (politicians?) and Religions. In both cases, it’s word of mouth, which has aided their popularity and/or spread, not advertising.
Word of mouth… has always been there… The task in front of all of us is not to challenge it, but to use it
In the modern world it may not be Religion, but Technology and Consumerism that are the opiate (or cocainate in case one refers to the swish set) of the people (sincere apologies to Marx), but the power of word of mouth is still as relevant.
Word of mouth is stuff that has always been there and is here to stay forever whether we like it or not. So the task in front of all of us is not to challenge it but to use it. WORMMs are going to be the next generation marketing hotshots. And Marketers/Advertisers are the right people to do this effectively as they understand communication very well. What we need to do to protect our well paying “creative thinking” jobs is to ensure us marketers and ad agencies have a way of harnessing Word of Mouth for neutralising the inevitable dip in ad effectiveness (and revenues). And yes, of actually IMPACTing the consumer.
Generating positive Word of Mouth
So what are the various ways on generating positive word of mouth? I suspect libraries of books would be dedicated to this subject in the coming years but my limited intellect comes up with a few simple points….
Having a Media plan that leverages word of mouth – both following it and leading it. So, identify the people among your target audience who are Opinion Leaders and have their “Circles of Trust”.
Ensure that the product is used by them before the media launch.
The bigger the media spend, the faster a product will fail if it’s not good or relevant – such is the power of word of mouth that is generated
And then just watch as word of mouth and initial ad burst spreads the gospel on your product like wildfire. If the initial response from Opinion Leaders is lukewarm, dump your emotional connect to the great product you think have developed and don’t waste mega money on an ad blitzkrieg. Dump or modify the product. The bigger the media spend, the faster a product will fail if it’s not good or relevant – such is the power of word of mouth that is generated.
Keep the Opinion Leaders on your side – convince, confuse or corrupt – but keep them positive. Have meetings explaining the technical superiority and competitiveness have cocktail dinners, give discounts on your other products.. .do whatever.. .just keep them in good humour.
Encourage “tell a friend” programs with rewards matching sales.
Have frequent get-togethers of a randomly chosen user group where you put your best foot forward. Have demonstrations of your products and upcoming products in controlled environments where it seems these products were designed by God himself.
Use common people in advertising – actual users – instead of irrelevant superstars. That’s an excellent way of advertising word of mouth. Testimonial advertising is better than Celebrity endorsements. Your customers are your best brand ambassadors. (apologies to Messrs. SRK, Ash, Sachin)
Yes, this is the age of digital media. So use blogs and try and influence them to sound more positive than negative.
Lots of other stuff – but then there is a word limit to this article. All in all, exciting options are available to all marketers and ad people by evolving into WORMMs. Why should Word of Mouth not become a medium which can be influenced and paid for? This is the Holy Grail of Marketing where companies wouldn’t mind spending an extra bit on the people who actually matter – the dudes and dames we call the “consumers”.