Word of mouth is generally considered to be the most powerful form of marketing on Earth today. But we find that it is poorly understood, because most of us look at it from the lens of our experiences – particularly B2B demand generation.
Why is it so important to learn the principles of Word of Mouth marketing? Simply said, it’s very low cost, even free. But it’s also a lot of hard work. And it can be very counter-intuitive.
Take the example of a lead capture form. In B2B demand generation, you’re encouraged to keep the form as simple as possible and use progressive profiling to capture additional information during multiple visits. Many experts advise you to reduce the “friction” in your forms. This ensures a large percentage of visitors will fill out your form.
But in Word of Mouth marketing, you’re not looking for a lot of people to opt in – instead you’re trying to uncover highly passionate people. That means you may want to create a complex form that requires an hour to complete. By raising a barrier, you screen out those without passion.
Another key concept of Word of Mouth is this: Become fans of your fans. You want to champion your fans. Fans are the key to Word of Mouth, so you need to motivate them.
Perhaps the best way to explain Word of Mouth marketing is to share a success story.
The Word of Mouth marketing firm Brains on Fire worked with the State of South Carolina in a project to reduce teen smoking. Other states were running TV ads, but when the ads stopped, smoking went back up. The goal was to develop something more sustainable.
The project was named Rage against the Haze. (Note: That name was selected by the kids.) Let me simply share the story as told eloquently by Brains on Fire.
Rage against the Haze
When the state of South Carolina received their Tobacco Settlement stipend, it became the responsibility of the state to create an awareness campaign for teens about the dangers of tobacco use. And do it in Big Tobacco’s back yard (not an easy task).
Other states were pumping their settlement funds into huge media campaigns with in-your-face TV ads. But once the ads quit running, the teen smoking rates went back up (SOURCE: American Cancer Society).
- To spread awareness of the dangers of tobacco use
- To cause a 5% decrease in youth smoking rates in South Carolina
- To create something so powerful, it would survive budget cuts
Instead of trying to engineer a media campaign, we created something much more sustainable. We gave the reins to the teens and helped them develop a youth-led movement. So, we hand-picked 92 teens who we knew could champion the cause. They played a key role in the development of everything – from the name and identity, to the proprietary curriculum that we penned. We trained and armed them with the tools to spread the word, and then sent them on their way to find other “ViralMentalists™.”
To help, we conducted weekend retreats, statewide tours, Festi-Viral events led by the teens in different cities across the state. We created an interactive website where they could check in with each other, and a RAGE store where they could get SWAG – but only if they were out spreading the word and could prove it.
We sparked and shaped the movement. But the teens are the ones that owned and grew it.
- 16.9% drop in youth tobacco use rates, surpassing the 5% goal – one of the highest in the nation. That’s with no mass media. And no tax increase on cigarettes.
- There are 6,000+ active ViralMentalists Raging Against the Haze.
- The smoking rate drop is unprecedented since SC has the cheapest cigarette prices in the nation. The rest of the US funded television and school campaigns from a $206 billion settlement — none of which was ever implemented by the state of South Carolina. And the budget did get hit by a bus. But RAGE lives on and continues to grow.
- The RAGE movement has earned a WOMMIE Award, a National ADDY and a 2008 gold EFFIE Award.
Word of Mouth marketing is incredibly powerful, but you have to take risks, like putting teenagers in charge. You have to pick your champions careful – passion far more important than popularity. And you have to let your champions lead.
“We sparked and shaped the movement. But the teens are the ones that owned and grew it.”