Feb 15

Rediscovering Word of Mouth Communication

The comic strip Shoe by Chris Cassatt and Gary Brookins featured a humorous view on word-of-mouth communications on Monday (View 13 Feb 2006 strip on ucomics.com). Of course, humor is funny because of its underlying truth. In fact, word of mouth is often cited as one the most significant methods of communication in general, and the largest source of new customers for many businesses.

This was proved once again recently by some simple log keeping by a colleague of mine. She studied the reasons that new patients gave for joining her organization’s physician practice. For a one month period in January there were 96 new patients. These patients reported being motivated in this manner:

  • Family & Friends (i.e. – Word of Mouth) 50%
  • Paid Advertising 20%
  • Insurance, Referral from other physicians & Other reasons 30%

The point is clear; word-of-mouth communication is a major influence in generating new customers, at least within a professional practice. Current communication theory divides word of mouth into two parts:

  • Organic word of mouth
  • Amplified word of mouth

Organic word of mouth is the natural type that occurs over the back fence, while amplified word of mouth is the result of efforts designed to influence, facilitate or heighten individual-to-individual communication. Amplified word-of-mouth tactics are something most small business owners have done naturally for years, but which professional marketers often overlook.

One organization helping marketers refocus on word of mouth is the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). An informative primer entitled “Word of Mouth 101” is available on their web site. Another source of information about word of mouth is Boldmouth.com, a new marketing agency specializing in building word-of-mouth for brands. An interview with CEO Todd Tweedy is available online (MP3, 10.9MB)

Communication theory developing around word of mouth is helping give structure to many recent marketing approaches such as buzz, viral, pyro and 1-on-1 marketing; customer evangelists; and other popular viewpoints. There is also a developing overlap with new media techniques such as blogs and podcasting, as well as with the traditional fields of sales and customer relations.

In light of this, and that research shows that only one eighth of organizations have any type of formal WOM marketing plans, it’s worth taking some time on Thursday to restudy how your organization could — or should — be using word of mouth in your marketing communication efforts.

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