Archive for Secrets of WOMM

Get a Free Copy of “The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing – Second Edition”

February 27, 2011 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  2 Comments
The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing - Second Edition
I have a gift for you, the readers of my blog: a free copy of the Second Edition of my book, “The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.”

I’ve described a little of its history here.

It is a broad, systematic approach to word-of-mouth marketing. It approaches WOMM in principle and avoids getting bogged down in all the details of the tools of word-of-mouth marketing. if you don’t understand the basic principles, you’ll get overwhelmed, fast. That’s what’s happening in life in general and in marketing in particular.

I list dozens of broad categories of new media that have become popular since 2001, the publication date of the first edition. ALL of them contribute to the importance of word of mouth and, therefore, to our overload — to yours as a marketer and to your customers.

Not only are you and your customers in overload, we are in the middle of several simultaneous revolutions. So, I give you some advice for what to do when inside revolutions.

This book will help you know how to think about the wildly changing world we are living in.

The first person who I just gave a preview copy to just emailed, “This isn’t a book about word-of-mouth marketing, it’s a book about life.” I couldn’t have hoped for a higher compliment.

Click on this link to fill out the download form.

The simple, timely message wins — How to Make Your Message Simple and Timely

The No-Brainer Solution

I guess after the annual Super Bowl Advertising Debacle — in which advertisers try to show how cool they are by making “in” cultural references and edgy humorous skits that have nothing to do with product benefits — I’m on a clarification and simplification of message kick.

After cleaning up my own messages here and here, I got to thinking about the importance of simple messages. I wrote about it in the 2nd edition of Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. (My presumably left-wing NY editors insisted on taking out the stuff about the Tea Party, but they didn’t have any trouble with the stuff about Obama.). Thought you might be interested in the unexpurgated version if you are in the idea marketing business. And, oh, by the way, believe me, you are in the business of marketing ideas.

Eisenhower once said, Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.”

Secret: To sell an idea, you must find out what people want most, down deeply, under the concrete.

You can’t find it by asking and taking the first answers. You have to probe deeply.. As Henry Ford once said, “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Yes, but it would have given him the opportunity to ask a “dumb question,” “Yes, but what would faster horses mean for you?” You have to identify the real desire.

Then, you have to show them how getting it is more important than clinging to and defending some of their most cherished beliefs, such as the idea that the horseless carriage is an infernal machine sent by the devil.

That’s how Obama sold Hope and Change. Those people who were willing to take a chance on him gave him a chance because they so desperately wanted something different, almost anything different. [It was a simple, elegant message, at a time of despair and dissatisfaction.] That message triumphed over a mushy Republican message that I can’t even summarize, and nobody else could either — hence the lack of word of mouth.

That’s why the Tea Party arose soon after, appealing to Independents and Democratic and Republican segments with a simple, brilliant message of “Smaller Government, Lower Taxes, Less spending.” Everyone got it. You either believed that we were on a disasterous spending binge or you didn’t. The Tea Party refused to get involved in any other issues, leaving that up to the individual candidates to sell locally (simplicity). They will probably win big (They did. This was written in the summer of 2010) because it reflects what people want, in an elegantly simple message. Conventional wisdom is that its popularity was due to “anti-incumbency,” but it’s much more profound than that.

People are willing to change their beliefs when a basic need — in this case their children’s and their own financial security — is threatened and they are presented with a clearly stated solution, and they get the social, word-of-mouth support that is enabled and magnified by the Internet.

Interestingly, one involved a strong central leader, the other the lack of a central leader. For Obama, it was a central person who was unique and spectacularly articulate enough to spark a WOM firestorm over a couple of simple words, “hope and change,”  that summed up people’s frustrations and aspirations.

For the Tea Party Movement, it was also a simple idea, “smaller government, lower taxes, less spending, and the lack of an identified leader that made it possible.

Both tapped into a basic need, and got the word of mouth going in a unique way.

Both illustrate what a simple message at just the right time can do, especially in the Internet Age.

The entire Middle East seems like it’s about to join Yemen and Egypt as the simple American idea — that we seem to keep forgetting — spreads: We don’t want to be told what to do by “rulers.” In other words, liberty and freedom, as rights inherent in individuals, not granted by governments, monarchs or other gangs.

I’m sure you have heard of “flash mobs.” People might decide to show up at a store or an intersection, all at the same time, and swamp all available space. Now, a whole country or even the world can become a flash mob — and they don’t even have to wait for an election.

The lesson for you is the power of the simple, consistent, repeatable, timely message.

My message in the Age of Overload: Ease the decisions. Make your product, service, and ideas a “no-brainer.”

How? Stay tuned. What, you don’t have a subscription? Sign up, free. See, I made it easy.

The Super Bowl Commercials Teach Lessons in How Not to Advertise

The day after the Super Bowl, I’m still recovering from the commercials. Is it my imagination, or do they get worse every year? The unavoidable conclusion is that these advertisers and their agencies have no idea what advertising as all about. It was a mélange of nostalgia, obscure cultural references, borrowed interest, and non-product-relevant humor. Ironically, consumers constructed the highest-rated ads, not professional advertising agencies.


The purpose of any media is to reach people and use its unique characteristics to increase product sales. The purpose of advertising — with rare exceptions — is to dramatize the unique benefits of the product in a memorable and persuasive way that causes sales increases.

The Super Bowl is no exception, even though its ads have to compete with Super Bowl party conversation, food and drink, bathroom breaks and the competing emotions that come from rooting for the winning or losing team. So, yes, Super Bowl ads have to be off the charts on the attention-getting factor. This, and their astronomical prices, puts them in a class by themselves.

But none of this absolves the advertiser from the fact that the advertising needs to be about the unique advantages of the brand.

As I look over the list of the ads, from the idiotic USA Today Super Bowl Popularity Contest, I only remember ONE ad that talks about a brand advantage: The Verizon ad, which highlights its superiority in making calls.

The reason that advertising popularity contests are idiotic is that the purpose of an ad is not to entertain. It’s to ultimately sell product. This can be done indirectly, such as by enhancing the image of the product, or directly by talking about product advantages.

When I see a charming ad like the VW borrowed interest Darth Vader ad, I’m vastly entertained. But until someone shows that entertainment causes product sales, I’m amused but skeptical.

On the other hand, when I see an ad about the Ford Focus, which tries to gin up interest in a rally they are running, I think, “When you have nothing special to say about the car, run a rally.” It’s a dead giveaway that they either have a me-too car, or an incompetent advertising agency, or both.

As I’ve written elsewhere:

Before the golden age of advertising, people just put drawings of the product in the mass media, without any benefit statements or even descriptions. Then, advertising hit its stride and discovered its true strengths: bringing dramatizations of the unique benefits of the product to the masses. It was “salesmanship in print” in the best sense. It zeroed in on the most beneficial, unique aspects of the product and dramatized them in an entertaining way that got attention. At least, the best of it did. Then, the side show took over the circus. Most of it — to this day — gave up dramatizing the benefits and went for image instead. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” became the rallying call for the hypemeisters. Advertising lost its way and just tries to make an intrusive impression, confusing getting attention with fundamental persuasion. Advertising is now judged by its entertainment value rather than its persuasive results. For instance, after the Super Bowl each year, there are many published polls naming the commercials voted “best” by viewers. So, you can win “best commercial” and go out of business because the commercials didn’t cause any sales, as 17 out of 18 of the companies did in 2000.

Advertising that calls attention to itself — instead of something related to the product — almost never works. Advertising history is filled with examples. Many of them won awards. But the products failed.

I thought you might be interested in reading the section dealing with the Dot-Com Super Bowl, from the 2nd Edition of The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, about to be published in March of 2011.

The Dot-Com Super  Bowl

On January 31, 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom, about a dozen dot-coms aired 30-second commercials during Super Bowl XXXIV at a cost of $2.2 million each, the entire marketing budget for some, in the hope that—with hundreds of millions of people watching—they would put their unknown companies on the map and establish a corporate identity. I was appalled and publicly called it the worst case of advertising agency malpractice I had ever seen. Either their ad agencies knew better or they should have. In either case, the agencies were, in my opinion, negligent.

The dot-com bubble burst soon after. The Super Bowl advertisers found that they could not establish a corporate identity in a 30-second TV spot. They found that they could get everyone talking about their quirky commercials all right, but that wasn’t the same as getting people to rave about their products’ benefits. With one or two exceptions, all the advertisers on that Super Bowl went out of business.

It became known as the Dot-Com Super Bowl and, in many people’s minds, it not only marked the end of the dot-com bubble, it marked the beginning of the end of the Old Marketing, perhaps symbolized best by the sock puppet.

Fortunately, the “too big to fail” mentality hadn’t caught on yet, so the dot-coms were allowed to “creatively destruct.” What nobody realized was that the dot-coms, ironically, were using the old media to sell the new media. Heck, they were the new media!

So, if you’re going to advertise, at least keep your eye on the ball: emphasize your unique benefits, in a dramatic, entertaining way. And only do it on the Super Bowl if you have a product that most of the billions of people watching can use. Don’t worry if people discuss it in the social media. Measure the effectiveness of ads — and any other marketing efforts — on trials and sales.

Possible duplicate posts and confirmations

February 1, 2011 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  No Comments

If you are receiving this blog via email rather than an RSS feed, you may get duplicates for a short time. Please accept my apologies. I’m switching from FeedBurner to AWeber, so you may get some emails from both. If you do, please look at the bottom line of the email. If it says Google, please just hit the unsubscribe link in the second line from the bottom. The one you want to keep is the one that says AWeber at the bottom.

You might also be asked to re-confirm by clicking on a link. Please do so to keep receiving my blog. The confirmation is because AWeber told me that confirmation was unnecessary, then sent out some anyway. Nothing’s easy. Thanks for your patience.

The good news is that I’m going to be sending you a link to a free copy of the second edition of Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, as soon as I get the web forms straightened out.

The Viral Marketing Myth: Mea Culpa

January 2, 2011 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  No Comments

[Excerpt from 2nd edition of Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing — April, 2011]
Modified slightly for blog post

Our understanding of the spread of word of mouth was helped in the early 2000’s by comparing the spread of ideas to the spread of infectious diseases, specifically viruses. It was a metaphor that both illuminated our understanding and obscured some important properties of word of mouth.

Until word-of-mouth marketing, all marketers knew that advertising, salespeople, and the rest of traditional marketing based on the broadcast model increased exposure of their product or service arithmetically. If 1,000 people a day were exposed to the product, after 22 days, 22,000 people would have been exposed. Exposure was, and still is, measured in cost per 1,000.

Richard Dawkins, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, myself, and many others popularized the idea that word of mouth spread new ideas like a viral epidemic. It seemed to explain the sudden, often overnight, spread of ideas. It caused a paradigm shift.

Here’s how we thought it worked: “Carriers” are at relative equilibrium, with about as many people getting “infected” as recovering from the disease. So, let’s say 1,000 people have the flu. They come in contact with 100 people a day, but they because they don’t touch or sneeze on all of them, they infect only 1%. So, another 1,000 people come down with the flu, which runs its course with the original 1,000, who are now cured (or dead) and cease to infect anybody else. However, the disease then finds its way to a denser or faster moving population. As a result, people are coming in contact with 200 people a day, so the spread of the infection increases to 2%. Now 1,000 people infect 2000 people, who infect 4,000 people, and so on. At that rate, if you do the arithmetic, the whole world will be infected in 22.5 days. At only a 2% infection rate!

It turns out that 75 percent of the world’s population would become infected on just the last two days! Even more amazing, on the last day, as many people will be infected as on all of the proceeding days put together. So, at the end, the spread of the disease appears explosive, as though it came from nowhere. Thus, an increase in the rate of infection from one to two percent can cause an infection to go from little growth to worldwide impact in 22 days! This leads us to believe, by analogy, that if you can get people to spread the word just a little more, the message will spread like a virus and take over the world. This idea of “Ideaviruses” reaching “Tipping Points” and spreading like infections was very compelling. This idea itself “went viral” and infected (actually poisoned) our thinking.

It obviously seemed to solve the mystery behind a common phenomenon of modern life. It fit the narrative. It explained the sudden adoption of ideas, trends, products, practices, and news that seemed increasingly to come out of nowhere to suddenly appear everywhere. The idea of the exponential, or geometric, growth model, and its relatively low initial numbers that seem to explode at the end of the cycle seemed oddly compelling. It would certainly seem to explain what is happening.

In fact, it’s a pretty powerful fantasy. As my friend Bill Cope used to say, “It’s approximately true.” In other words, it’s false.

The word of mouth pioneers—myself included—almost got it right (which is a nice way of saying we were wrong). Looking back on that heady period, I now realize that we were held hostage to our own viral metaphor. If we escape from the trap of thinking of word of mouth as spreading like a viral infection, we will unlock some pretty amazing secretss that will take us to the next level, much to our practical advantage.

My Advanced Experimental Design professor, Herbert Birch, MD, PhD, used to say, “Unless you understand the underlying mechanisms, you will think the light switch turns on the lights. It does not. The light is produced by the heat produced by the resistance to the electricity flowing through the filament. The switch doesn’t turn it on or off. It just breaks that circuit or recompletes it. Look for the mechanisms underneath what you’re seeing.”

The virus is like the light switch. It’s just a metaphor for a mathematical pattern, exponential growth—one that makes the pattern real to us. I thought it was a pretty compelling metaphor at the time. Most marketers still do.

So, let’s try to look at several issues here. How fast does word of mouth spread? How fast can it spread? By what mechanisms and patterns does it spread? Where does the viral analogy break down and obscure our understanding? How can we trigger word of mouth? How can we slow it down when it’s undesirable, or speed it up to our advantage? What can we do to intervene? (That last one is the purpose of all books on word-of-mouth marketing, indeed, the whole word-of-mouth industry.)

First, the Pattern

Consider the following.

Step 1: 1,000 people hear about a Cool New Thing.

Step 2: Each, in turn, tells 25 other people. Now, we’re up to 25,000, plus the original 1,000.

Let’s make it real. These aren’t viruses, after all; these are people and ideas.

Nor is this higher mathematics. If I can understand it, you can follow along. We know that sneezing does not spread word of the Cool New Thing, so we must ask: Who are these people and whom have they called, texted, Tweeted, emailed, or buttonholed at work or at school to discuss the Cool New Thing?

First, the initial thousand are probably an assortment of people who are at the front of the adoption curve. They are the innovators and early adopters. Some are probably influentials whom the company spent a lot of money identifying. But others are slower to adopt; they are the people who just happened to hear about the Cool New Thing by accident. Maybe it was shown to them by their daughter’s boyfriend or a seatmate in an airplane or the aunt of an employee who came to dinner. Still others are experts, mavens, infomediaries, newsies, and people with very large numbers of so-called “friends” on Facebook and Twitter. Others are neither plugged in nor particularly influential. These days, even a hermit (perhaps especially a hermit?) has 25 people he wants to email or Twitter about the Cool New Thing. Everyone focuses on these initial

1,000 transmitters. But there isn’t a lot to learn from them except their variety.

Let’s look at the 25 people they each tell about the Cool New Thing. Now, first of all, 25 is not a lot of people. Who are these 25 people? This is important. They aren’t random, as are viruses. These are people. They are the people whom the original people chose to tell about the Cool New Thing. No disputing that.

“Why that person and why that product?,” you ask. You know just as well as I do because you do it all the time. They’ve made two choices here.

1.  The product is Cool enough and New enough to tell people about.

2.  The particular person is someone who should hear about it.

Set aside for a moment how something crosses the “cool-enoughto-talk-about” threshold. The original people are going to tell people with whom there is a “fit.” Whom would you tell? People who would benefit from hearing about the Cool New Thing and who would probably appreciate hearing about it. People who may benefit from your natural inclination to be helpful to others; people who will think all the better of you for having told them; and—I think most important—people for whom the act of telling them will make you feed good about yourself. You’re not going to share your new information with people who have no use or appreciation for it, people about whom you don’t care or people who won’t appreciate your informational generosity.

I’m trying to make as real as possible the obvious “Secret” here: you share with people for whom the information is relevant and who will appreciate your telling them. And, you don’t share with people for whom the information is irrelevant, unless you’re a crashing bore.

Okay, so there is a good match between the Cool New Thing and the handpicked 25,000 people who hear about it. In fact, the match is probably a little better than it was for the original 1,000, who found out about it accidentally, randomly, or impersonally.

So, now you have 25,000 people who are probably a little more interested and excited than the original 1,000. They have a better understanding and appreciation of the Cool New Thing. They’re likely more knowledgeable. It will benefit them more, so there are more emotions around it, more excitement, admiration, and amazement.

The result: their message about the Cool New Thing is probably more articulate and emotionally engaging than the original message they received.

So the old game of “telephone” (AKA “Whisper Down the Lane”) you may have played in psychology class or with your friends taught you something that was misleading. You played it with an inconsequential message that was needlessly detailed. The message disintegrates when it’s a meaningless rumor. But when it has focused, simple, relevant, involving content that the person is interested in getting right, the receiver asks questions actively. In “Whisper Down the Lane,” people are passive.

So, the content of the information tends to build in quantity and quality and is expressed more articulately, emotionally, and enthusiastically. It reaches and is spread by people who care about the content. Now, what’s going to happen? These people are probably going to tell more than 25 other people and tell it more clearly, more meaningfully, more passionately, and more persuasively.


The quality,  relevance, and enthusiasm of the information passed  on  through word of mouth can,  under some conditions,  actually improve through successive iterations of transmission. In addition, the ability of people  to transmit   it to the right people  often improves.


Word of mouth is what I like to call a self-improving system.  Treasure it. There aren’t too many in this world.

Here’s what happens next in our quality and quantity journey,

Step 3: Now suppose each of these people pass the information to 50 people, on average. Don’t forget, they are much more motivated to do so. They will embellish and improve the message, perhaps adding video. Certainly they will apply their own accumulated experiences, thereby offering more than abstract facts.

Do they know a large enough number of people to select 50 for whom the message is most relevant? Of course they do. These are the people at work or at their special interest clubs, who are reading comments on websites, in their schools, from their email contacts, on their forum, and so on. None of them are hermits. Maybe they spread the word by writing articles in their association’s newsletter or on a blog or other news sources. When we say these 50 are selfselected, it means that they respond to a headline because they see Cool New Thing does awesome stuff in the headline. They’re really jazzed. They’re abuzz. Maybe they’re frenzied, like people outside an Apple store the day of a new iCoolNewThing launch, reinforcing one another’s enthusiasm. (Full disclosure: I’ve done this twice. Embarrassing, but true.)

Those 25,000 people have now each told 50 people. Wait, while I get out my calculator. That can’t be right, but wow, it is. The improved message has now reached 1,250,000 handpicked people in only three steps.

Step 4: If these 1,250,000 improve it and each pass it along to 75 people, the total number of people who have now received the message is 62,000,000.

Step 5: If these 62,000,000 spread it to 100 people each, the total is now a staggering 6,250,000,000.

This is more than the adult population of the world!!!

A more accurate metaphor to word of mouth than viral growth is the exponential growth of a nuclear chain reaction. Both word of mouth and a nuclear chain reaction need to start with the right conditions, that is highly refined fissionable material. They need critical mass, sufficient density, and a jump start. Both have an accelerating growth rate and are self-sustaining reactions that feed on themselves. Both have growing energy, change form in the process, and permanently alter things. If not, it’s a dud.


Word of mouth isn’t like a virus and doesn’t  spread like one.  It’s a nuclear explosion or a dud.

I know that I’ve made several false assumptions for the purposes of easification. But, when you take them into account, it strengthens the case:

In fact, one person will tend to get many different exposures to the same message, from many different perspectives, and from many different people. It’s not like the same advertisement repeated endlessly as it interrupts her favorite TV program. So, a lot of people hear all of their friends raving about their experiences with the Cool New Thing or see it being used (the most persuasive way of “telling” someone about a product, since actions speak louder than words.) When multiple friends pile on the message, people are tens of multiples more likely to purchase. That’s why the Zune never had a chance against the iPod, even if it had been well designed. iPads, iPhones, iWhatevers are Apple’s to lose, not for another company to take away.

Adding a Killer Ingredient: Network Effects

“Network effects” is a term in economics. It means that some things are made more valuable if more and more people use them. Not that the items have more uses, but rather that more people are using them.

For example, your neighborhood park is made less valuable as it becomes more and more crowded. But some things become more valuable. I learned of this effect firsthand around 1975 when I purchased our company’s first fax machine, the “Xerox Facsimile Telecopier.” Although it was an unwieldy, rotating drum that enabled the transmission of low-quality copies of documents, it made projects so much easier. A client made us get the machine, and it made our workflow so much more efficient that we practically required our clients to get it. The point here is that it’s of no use unless both parties have one. And, it’s so valuable that you want everyone else to get one. That, in turn, increases its value to you. So, you have a strong motivation to “push” its adoption. This isn’t just a Cool New Thing that you’d like other people to have, a situation where it may make no difference to you if they get it. This is a case where if they get it, your life (and theirs) is improved.

It doesn’t do me any good if I throw an auction and nobody comes. So, I’m going to tell everyone who’ll listen about eBay, and I’ll even help them sign up. The same is true about PayPal, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email, blogs, and the next twenty things that manage to build in network effects.

That’s the Network Effect. It’s now called the “Viral Feedback Loop,” newly discovered by the technology sector, but it’s been known for a long time. So, now we have word of mouth passing along information selectively in a highly motivated manner.

So, mathematically, we have something that appears to be more powerful than exponential growth, which is a population multiplying by a constant factor. We have a multiplying factor that is increasing, maybe even multiplying itself. I don’t know if there is a mathematical name for this phenomenon; non-mathematicians call it an explosion.

Even if I’m wrong and it’s “only” an exponential growth rate, it’s still amazing. I prepared Table 3-1 when I believed the growth rate was exponential. It always gets audible gasps. And, this is underestimating the rate. Table 3-1 shows the results of 25 people telling 25 different people, who do the same, in turn, six times. Here’s the result

Table 3-1

Exponential Growth Rate

1st Wave

25 people  tell  25 each  =



2nd Wave

625 x 25 =



3rd  Wave

15,625 x 25 =



4th  Wave

390,625 x 25 =


NY  City

5th  Wave

9,765,625 x 25 =


Approximate U.S. adult population

6th  Wave

244,140,625 x 25 =


Approximate world population

From 25 people to the entire world in six steps! As we’ll see, people have a much higher talking and listening threshold, so information spreads faster than viruses. If they do not think something is worth talking about, they talk about something else. Economic theory is something I like to talk about, but teenage girls like to talk about clothes and boys. There’s little danger of any of my memes infecting them. But try to stop each of them from texting 100 people a day about the latest clothing fad, with videos included.

So, word of mouth tends to be either explosive or unworthy of conversation. If it doesn’t explode, it will likely fizzle. Given the table above, in which the 25-people multiplier is probably a serious underestimation, the recently reverified “six degrees of separation” shouldn’t be a surprise. You really can get from just about any person to any other person on the planet in six steps or less.

Therefore, let’s stop using the term “viral” as a synonym for “runaway word of mouth.”

“Viral” leads 2011 List of Banished Words — Hooray!

December 31, 2010 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  No Comments

A university has just put “Viral” at the top of their 2011 List of Banished Words.


Now, let’s ban “Viral Marketing” from the marketing lexicon

Usually, when people talk of the “viral” spread of anything, or “viral marketing,” they have no idea what they are talking about. They just mean that something got popular. When they do know what they are talking about, as in the authors who speak of Viral Marketing, they are flat out wrong.

The next edition of my book The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, due out in April of 2011, goes into some detail about how the infectious disease analogy — viral marketing — that we all spread 10 years ago is not correct and obscures a deeper understanding of how word of mouth spreads.

Excerpt from second edition of Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing to be published April, 2011, explaining why “viral marketing” is a misleading metaphor.

Word-of-Mouth Campaign Effectiveness is Impossible to Measure by Conventional Means

November 24, 2010 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  No Comments

The Silverman Uncertainty Principle:

You can’t measure your word-of-mouth campaign with a conventional control group design, because the purpose of word of mouth is to set off a chain reaction of second-order word of mouth that reaches everyone quickly. In experimental design, it is called “contaminating the control group.”  You can’t use a pre/post design because you can’t control for the other variables without a control group, which you can’t use. Also, the second order effects are much more powerful than the initial exposures. Your boss is going to hit the roof over this.

The Problem with Word-of-mouth Measurement

Word of mouth is the only marketing method that can’t be measured accurately. Even more disturbing is that the more effective the program, the more likely any attempted measurement is going to be invalid. That’s a serious problem, because most companies now require that you show a substantial return on investment (ROI) for any marketing method you use.

Don’t get me wrong. You can plot the number of mentions of your product on the social media when compared to your competition, but that’s not the same as measuring the bottom-line effectiveness of a particular word-of-mouth campaign. That campaign isn’t the only thing that’s happening in the world. You can’t use a control-group design, for instance, to measure the purchases of people who attended your Webinar. The major effects may be on friends of friends. In most cases, that can’t be tracked back to its source.

This  lack of measurability goes contrary to common sense. Everything else is measurable, so it seems obvious that word of mouth must be measurable.

More to come on this, but I welcome your comments.

An interesting word-of-mouth technique shows the darker side of word of mouth

First, I have to make a disclaimer. I am not advocating the following, I am reporting on it because it is interesting and illustrates several important properties of word of mouth.

Let’s call it hoax marketing:

Here’s the way it works:

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How my interest in marketing started

October 16, 2010 |  by  |  Marketing - Gen'l, Secrets of WOMM  |   |  No Comments

My interest in marketing started one day in my father’s drug store. I watched a Camel Cigarette salesman repeatedly approach customers who had just bought a pack of the largest competing brand, Chesterfield.  He had pushed a Camel and a Chesterfield cigarette through two holes in a 3 x 5 index card, so that they couldn’t see the cigarettes’ brand names. He asked them to take a few puffs of each and tell him which they liked better. Most of the Chesterfield smokers said that they preferred the taste of the one that turned out to be a Camel. He showed them that they had chosen a different brand, Camel, over their regular brand. They were shocked, much to my amusement. It looked to me, at about the age of 12, like a pretty good joke on them. But then came my turn to be shocked. He offered to exchange the cigarettes they had just bought for his brand, whose taste they had just proven they preferred.

Most of them stuck with their regular brand!

I saw another salesman do a similar comparison test with Breyer’s Ice Cream. Same results. Even though they preferred Breyer’s, they walked out with their regular brand. “Why?” I wondered.

At the same time, I was learning to practice the art of slight-of-hand.  As I mastered more and more sophisticated magic tricks, I realized that people saw what they wanted to see, no matter what the evidence said. Why?

I was hooked.

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Revised Table of Contents—Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, 2nd Edition

Here’s a much more manageable table of contents of Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Marketing in a World Where People Only Listen to their Friends, 2nd Ed. April of 2011 is the target publication date. But you don’t have to wait. My deal with my publisher is that I can use modern word-of-mouth marketing techniques and post the contents of the book online. If you want to carry it around and make marginal notes, you’ll have to buy the paper book or e-book when it comes out.

The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, 2th Edition

Prologue: The Calf-Path

1.   Why This Book—and Word-of-Mouth Marketing Today—Is Different

2.   Changing Your—and Your Company’s—Way of Looking at Things

3.   The Systematic Approach to Word of Mouth

4.   Dominating Your Market by Easifying the Customer Decision Cycle

5.   How to Use Word of Mouth to Easify the Decision Process

6.   The Decision Process

7.   The Nine Levels of Word of Mouth

8.   Five M’s to Live By

9.   Researching Word of Mouth

10. Creating the Content

11. Delivering the Message

12. Electronic Word of Mouth

13. Six Steps to Harnessing Word of Mouth

14. Viral Marketing…Maybe

15. Constructing the Ultimate Word-of-Mouth Campaign

16. Which Methods Work Best for What?: Word-of-Mouth Checklist

17. Your Word-of-Mouth Toolkit

18. Managing—and Leveraging—Negative Word of Mouth

19. Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Specific Audiences and Circumstances

20. Tips, Techniques, and Suggestions That Will Make It Easier

21. Word-of-Mouth Measurement

22. How to Fight Word-of-Mouth Fraud and Other Shady WOM Practices


Recommended Reading

The New Media

The new media are not just incremental improvements. They are fundamentally new ways of doing things. They are supplanting the old media because something basic is changing. So, High Definition TV is only a quality improvement until it becomes so realistic that it changes people’s behavior. For instance, people actually stay home and invite friends over to watch a current movie via Blue-Ray DVD because it’s actually a better experience for them than going out to the movies: better video, ability to stop, better food, cheaper popcorn, ability to talk, etc.

Notice that almost every one of these increases both overload and word of mouth in some way. Some are actually WOM media, some stimulate WOM, and others force it.

It’s hard to believe that the following media emerged that weren’t even mentioned in the first edition this book because they didn’t exist or hadn’t caught on yet:

This isn’t a complete list, it’s in no particular order yet, and the categories are fluid and overlapping. It’s just to give you a flavor of how much we’ve been hit with in the last 10 years.

Media Examples, comments
Blogs The whole world of Twitter, WordPress, Technorati, Blogger, TypePad, etc.
Rating & Review sites Zagat, Yelp, Opentable, Tripadvisor, , C-net,,, etc.
Social Networking Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Myspace
Social Bookmarking (Digg, Diigo, Stumbleupon, Reddit)
Mass Collaboration Open Source Movement, Google Wave, Google Docs, Various Microsoft Collaboration Tools
Wikis WikiPedia, WikiHow, WikiNews…
Remote meetings GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, etc.
Webinars, Remote Courses, etc. University of Phoenix (current enrollment: 240,000+), 1000’s of private courses, etc.
Texting, Video chat ICQ, iChat, Jabber, Buzz, etc.
RSS feeds, Newsreaders, News aggregators, Mega News Sites “Reverse Browsing”: Google Reader, Netnewswire, Feedblitz, Feedburner, etc.
Customer-generated Media (CGM): YouTube, Flickr, …
Recommendation Engines Netflix, Jinni, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes,
MP3 players iPods, Podcasting
500+ Cable, Fiber Optic and Dish Channels CableVision, Fios, Dish Network
Downloaded TV Episodes iTunes downloads, etc.
Web TV viewing Hulu, Network web sites
Flat Screen TV, HDTV, 3-D TV and Movies IMAX, home screens
Universal Remote Controls Important means of skipping commercials, switching to other content. Lets people pause and engage in WOM.
Video Games

Game Boxes

Video Boxes

Bigger than Movies and Music combined!
Microsoft X Box, Wii, Playstation
TiVo, Apple TV, Roku, Slingbox
Smart Phones iPhones, Android Phones, etc.
Tablets iPad, etc.
Mobile Apps 250,000+
Web 2.0 All customer-provided content sites
Shareware, donationware, etc. Variably priced, payment optional, etc.
Filesharing Protocols and sites Napster, LimeWire, Pirate Bay, BitTorrent, Magnet Links, etc.
Portable, High-Capacity Drives USB Flash Drives, High Capacity portable drives
Music/Movie/Video Downloading services iTunes Store, Apple TV, NetFlix,
E-Books & Readers Kindle, iBook, Sony Reader, Zook, etc.
Digital Cameras, Video Complete conversion to digital from film, pocket cameras with video.
Digital Photos and Video Picassa, Flickr, Lightroom, iPhoto
Web Apps Google, Google Apps, Microsoft Office Web Apps etc.
Mass Collaboration, Hive Mind
WOM agencies Unknown in 2000, too numerous to mention now.
Advocacy Networks BzzAgent, Tremor
Auction Sites EBay (in its comparative infancy in 2000)
eCommerce, Electronic Payment Systems PayPal, Google Checkout, millions of web sites
Classifieds CraigsList
Very Fast Broadband and Broadband Wireless
App phones IPhone, Android, etc.

With hundreds of thousands of apps, many designed to locate products, ratings, comparative prices, etc.

VOIP Skype, Vonnage, etc.
Ubiquitous Network Access 3G, 4G, WiFi, WiMax, VPNs
Cloud Computing: unlimited storage & processing on demand. Amazon EC2, Google, etc.
Google Earth
Google [Everything)
Content Management

Information Management

Information Architecture

Knowledge Management

Drupal, Joomla
Word of mouth agencies

…to name only broad categories. Some of these categories have hundreds to thousands of instances: Thousands of eBay merchants, thousands of rating sites, travel sites, mash-ups, etc.

Remember when we all had AOL accounts, brick-like cell phones, dial-up modems and used Yahoo as our search engine? That was right around 1997.

Gone — or almost gone — are faxes and faxback, hotlines, pagers, classified advertising, newspaper stock listings; physical dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauruses; physical recording media such as floppy disks, records/cassettes/CDs/DVDs (almost), PDAs, photographic film, simple bulletin boards/forums, dial-up modems, Physical Maps, Traveler’s checks, telegrams, travel agents, pay phones.

Soon to be obsolete, or nearly so: Newspapers and magazines (in the paper forms we know them), paper books & bookstores, conventional libraries, handwritten prescriptions, land lines, paper money, major broadcast TV networks and cords connecting anything.

Notice that the new arrivals are almost all things that increase our interactivity and connectedness, and, thereby, our overload. They also increase our ability — actually necessity — to engage in word of mouth.

So, the Secrets you can learn from this are:

Involvement and collaboration is what it’s all about now.

The new media have brought a whole new level of overload.


A teacher once observed a child having trouble zipping up his jacket. She said, “The secret is to put the straight part all the way in, hold it in with one hand while pulling on the tab with the other hand.”

The child asked, “Why is that a secret?”

In this book, “Secrets” means key principles not generally known, not things people don’t want you to know.

The central purpose of this book is to lay out the secrets — key principles — of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, as distinct from all the details of the techniques. There are so many of them now that it would take 1000+ page book that would be instantly obsolete. By concentrating on principles, this book will help you even think about  the things that haven’t been invented yet!

On-Line, Real Time Internet Focus Groups

October 22, 2008 |  by  |  Secrets of WOMM  |  No Comments

Note: This is a reprint

You can now get real-time reactions to your Web site, Internet software, and product offerings by means of online focus groups*: Connect respondents via telephone focus groups over their standard phone lines. Respondents are at their own computers, so they can all look at the same stimulus materials. They can:

· visit web sites together
· look at new software features
· retrieve and read concept statements and diagrams
· react to new ideas
· learn a new program in the days before the sessions, or in real time.

*In other words, you get telephone focus groups coupled with Internet access. You get total interactivity in real time, in people’s real life situations. This is not like the usual “online focus groups.”

For a comparison of the usual online focus groups with both telephone focus grousp and face-to-face focus groups, click here: Online Focus Groups.

This methodology replicates the best features of face-to-face focus groups, while removing the disadvantages. You get the rapid-fire interactivity, openness and depth of face-to-face focus groups. In addition, you get nationwide representation and access to hard-to-reach respondents. You also get greater speed from project inception to completion, higher-level participants, people working on their own familiar equipment in their own natural environment. The groups are also less expensive than face-to-face groups.