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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-Jul-07


Wednesday 18-July-2007

Word-Of-Mouth Marketing

One of the things that modern marketers have to cope with is an increasingly savvy public who understand well the persuasion techniques being used to persuade them to buy. Sadly missed by commercial companies, in the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s the advertising industry discovered psychology and used it willy-nilly to batter an unsuspecting public into submission. Nowadays psychology is no longer the preserve of specialists and a cynical public view marketing and promotional methods with cold distain.

The effect of this is that marketers are exploring alternative channels and methods to get their message across. Something they have known for a long time is that the most persuasive voice is the recommendation of a friend and it is to this channel that much effort has been turned in recent years. Books such as Malcolm Gladwell's 'The Tipping Point' have propagated methods such as viral marketing, where the metaphor of infection is applied to ideas. Companies such as Nike have leveraged this by seeking out social leaders and giving them their products.

The latest version of this is a self-selecting partnership called word of mouth (WOM) marketing. The idea is that you sign up, get sent free products and then talk about them to your friends. is at the forefront of this wave and are playing a careful and canny game. They know that if they put a foot wrong they will trigger a cynical response, so they emphasise up front that you should give an honest opinion to your friends. However this is not as easy as it seems as, just by giving you the product, an exchange dynamic is set up whereby you feel obliged to repay the company in some way. And the best way to do this, of course, is to recommend the product to your friends. When you do this, the consistency principle kicks in, whereby you need to keep your beliefs and actions in alignment, so you convince yourself that you really do like the product. The principle can also be nudged along by the agency sending you friendly emails (not too many, a they don't want to cause reactance).

The psychological effects continue with your friends. Having been recommended the product the exchange-and-consistency dynamic is rippled to them and so they buy the product and convince themselves that they like it too. One of the subtexts of friendship is 'I am like my friends' and making similar purchases affirms this story.
Whilst this spread through friends is not 100% reliable and not every friend you tell will rush out and buy it, the persuasive force is vastly more effective than normal promotion.

And it doesn't matter and is actually good if you tell your friends about the agency as they have not paid you anything: all you got was a free product. Impressed, your friends may even sign up themselves.

And so the snowball rolls on.

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