Word of Mouth Stats and Data: Free From WOMMA …and the Complexity Paradox Applied

by Marianne Richmond on July 28, 2006

Ann Green (Millward Brown), Ed Keller (Keller-Fay), and Gregg Wester (VoodooVox) co-authored and presented an awesome compilation of the latest WOM research at the recent WOMMA conference. WOMMA has made the presentation available for free download at the WOMMA Research Blog.

The presentation was awesome and having it as a resource is invaluable for knowing the WHO (Who is creating WOM), WHAT (What is being said), WHERE (Where WOM is happening) and WHY (Why is it important) of Word of Mouth.

Some of the highlights:

The issue of offline conversations sparked many discussions at the WOMBAT conference, both during presentations and  after presentations. Max Kalehoff of Buzzmetrics writing at Attention Max says that to debate online versus offline WOM is pointless; they work together holistically.  I would agree.

The issue is more fundamental. The issue is the conversations itself. And it can be complex.

Clayton Christensen book,  The Innovator’s Dilemma, has the subtitle, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. He writes of sustaining versus disruptive innovation. Searching for the location of the consumer conversation is pre- point of inflection or pre-tipping point strategy; it is a sustaining not disruptive innovation. At this moment in time, 71% of the conversations may take place off line; but as Richard Saul Wurman wrote in Information Anxiety 2,we live in the Age of Also, of adapting to alternatives. He writes, "For the next decade, there will not be a single best way to receive information, rather a choice."

   I agree with Max that to debate on-line versus off-line word of mouth as if it is an either/or proposition is pointless. It is pointless because it is a simplistic approach to a complex concept. Looking at the WOMMA we see that people don’t trust advertising, they trust people like themselves for product advice and they are talking off line.OK. That’s just not enough information.

Looking at the Pew Internet Data we see that 73% of Americans use the Internet, 53% say they use the Internet at least daily,  45% of those Internet users say that the Internet helped them make a major life decision , between 8 and 10 Internet users get health related information on the Internet and 58% of those say that the Internet was the major source of health information, and 44% say they share content on line.

People don’t trust advertising and now they don’t have to watch it/listen to it(13mm households have DVR,  Forrester predicts 55% in 4 years; An In-Statsurvey found that of the 407 DVR HHs in the survey, 87% zapped commercials. Proliferation of  IPods, Satellite Radio, Internet Radio ).

Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer writes in response to the Keller-Fay data about offline word of mouth, "It’s pretty clear, though, that the most word of mouth occurs primarily while we’re not sitting in front of computer screens." But back to the Age of Also, we read about the 5 Steps of How a Story Spreads which details the influence of YouTube and the blogosphere in spreading the Comcast technician and AOL customer service stories. And about the power of one blogger, Toby Bloomberg who posted questions about a Jupiter Research study that were not addressed by Jupiter until many voices asked questions.

Max used the word holistically in his post as in on-line and off-line work together holistically. P&G apparently got the memo about this and has enlisted 600,000 mothers to talk about their products according to Businessweek. Another data point from emarketer, there are 32 million moms on line. Take a look at the Secret Times Square site which is an incredibly innovative WOM campaign.

Idil Cakim, writing at the Guidewire Group stated that to advance the understanding of WOM, "consider online influentials as a distinct breed of consumer, not simply a segment overlapping with the traditional group of influencers." He goes on to discuss the tech influential segment and writes:

Thinking of the communications process in separate silos (e.g., online vs. offline) may work well for measuring the returns on a media plan. However, everyday conversations about companies, brands and products flow over a much more complex and intertwined set of channels. Public opinion leaders may start telling a story in-person and continue informing their networks online, and vice-versa. Before weighing one communication channel over another,
marketers need to:

-understand their audiences’ affinity with technology
-determine the tone of their discussions
-prioritize between the online/offline channels to reach consumers

Then, just when this isn’t complex enough, there is the discussion over begun by Doc Searls about Markets Without Marketing. Markets, he says are no longer just conversations, they are relationships.

Marketing is irrelevant. Advertising is dying and PR is dead. He writes," In a world of highly networked markets — with more and more public information about everything, where everybody is in a position to publish information about anything, or to ask questions about anything and get them answered by anybody in a position to know those answers — people who make stuff need to relate directly with the people who use that stuff. We don’t need a separate corporate organ to "relate" indirectly between engineers and customers or users." This according to Francois Gossieaus at Emergence Marketing is the difference between the Silicon Valley and the Madison Avenue view of marketing.

Or,  the complexity paradox as stated by Larry Tesler: One can’t reduce the complexity, one can only shift the burden.  The Age of Also. We are bowling alone, connected on line, and/or bowling differently. Life and Second Life.  On-line/off-line. Madison Avenue/Silicon Valley. Pass the mind map, please.

Max Galloway has an awesome and very comprehensive report called Listening to Online WOM: A Primer that is available at New Communications Review.

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