Future Forces: Pass it along

Combining location-based marketing with mobile technology will make word-of-mouth marketing even more powerful.

By Patrick Kiernan

You have probably noticed the growing use of the term word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing as the way to leverage social media and drive sales. Communications and advertising agencies now recommend that companies devise programs to drive social media conversations that in turn lead to WOM recommendations and sales. While the social Internet world is continuing to evolve, let us try to find the connections between the old world and this new world of instant information.

According to 2010 report from The Nielsen Co., U.S. consumers now spend more than five hours a day using social media. Email, videos, searches, games, entertainment and social network blogs are available 24/7. Besides Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we now have many more companies, such as Google with its Google+ project, Katango and Strava, joining the social networking fray. We are not only sharing what we like, but in many cases where we are geographically. Information and daily stories that used to be shared over the dinner table are now available anytime, anywhere and food (new dishes, new restaurants) is at the top of WOM lists. Websites such as Urbanspoon and Yelp dish up tens of thousands of customer experiences each day. Yet, one old truth remains: more than 90% of people say that a recommendation from a friend, family member or colleague remains the single most powerful influence in their purchase decision.

The real question to answer is how will family members and friends use social media to make recommendations going forward? Our daily question of “What’s for dinner?” and the retail-based marketing on products in stores, signage and displays must now share this question with mobile technology. WOM mobile technology, when combined with location-based marketing, will be disruptive and even alter today’s web-based marketing.

But before you enter into the new world of mobile word-of-mouth marketing, let us remember more of the “old world” truths. Nordstrom and Wegmans, to name just two retailers, created word-of-mouth marketing before the Internet and social media by simply providing exceptional service through knowledgeable enthusiastic sales staffs.  Memorable service creates remembered stories that get told over and over to family, friends and neighbors.

In a new book titled The Dragonfly Effects, Stanford University professor Jennifer Aaker and marketing strategist Andy Smith share numerous examples of how social media storytelling and word-of-mouth can inspire infectious action. The four “dragonfly wings” create the framework for useful lessons of emotional engagements by telling a story, displaying empathy with customers, demonstrating authenticity and matching the media with the message.

The authors suggest that all companies should have at least four important stories: who are you?; where are you going in the future?; an “apology and recovery” story on fixing mistakes; and personal stories that tell about people rather than the company. All four wings in the dragon fly metaphor must act in concert to create “infectious action.” The focus should be on a single small measurable concrete goal, grab people’s attention and make them look. Also, engage customers by telling the story and enable action between employees and customers.

If you would like to learn more about grocery shopping and digital options, a beta site just started by Bill Bishop and his team is located at www.brickmeetsclick.com and is a must-read. Brick Meets Click will focus on the intersection where online and in-store shopping converge.

Another excellent source of WOM through case studies, best practices and industry education is the Word of Mouth Marketing Association at www.womma.org. The organization’s membership reads like a Who’s Who of manufacturer brands, including General Mills, E. & J. Gallo Winery, Kraft Foods and Nestlé USA; but too few retailers participate beyond Walmart, Verizon, J.C. Penney and Hilton Hotels.

You should start by listening to the various social media websites to know what people are saying about your company and its products and services. You can also start developing and understanding your shareable stories. What will consumers find compelling enough to talk about and share about your store, employees and products?  What should you do if your stories are already being shared on Twitter and Yelp and are bad news? With your shareable stories and a better understanding of individual customers who love your brand, you can begin to change the network conversations.

In truth, your customers are driving this technology and your story is being told everyday through word-of-mouth using social technology. Are you listening?

Patrick Kiernan, managing partner of Day/Kiernan & Associates, is affiliated with The Center for Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s Uni­versity, Philadelphia; the Institute for the Future, Palo Alto, Calif.; and Encore Associates, San Ramon, Calif. He can be reached at KiernanPat@aol.com.

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