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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.

Creating the right buzz through WOM

Prof. Sushil Bahl, Faculty, Marketing Area, Nirma Institute of Management, Nirma University, Ahmedabad
Branding, positioning, target marketing, niche marketing, network marketing, image marketing, are buzzwords in the “marketing concept” of today. Of late, however, the “buzz” in marketing is meaning to be of a different kind. “Buzz” marketing is a new tool in advertising and sales of a brand. It is an activity to get consumers to talk about a brand at the marketplace. It is different from the conventional sales promotion within the branding and the brand concept.

Buzz marketing is about consumers--present and potential--talking and discussing about a brand by word of mouth (WOM) leading to its purchase and sales. It is about the excitement created around the brand on its virtues, and recommended to others. The recommendation, or referral, is based on the brand’s USP, a big campaign idea, an image created, or a novel sales promotion behind it. In other words, something that offers consumers a feel-good factor about the brand, and giving the brand an exponential sales pull. A new restaurant in the city, and how it draws customers is an example of how buzz works. Or even for that matter cricket today--the one-day internationals in particular.

Success of WOM

The kind of success achieved through WOM or buzz marketing depends on getting across brand information and sharing of an experience with someone who would gain nothing by lying to you. It is quite different from “propaganda” or public relations and publicity. It is something more natural. It is a first-hand consumer reaction and experience, making it a talking point about its features and communication (advertising). Even select cues on the brand and in its communications and advertising help create a buzz successfully. A number of our Bollywood movies can be cited as examples, such as ‘LOC’ and ‘Kohi Mil Gaya’ In the case of ‘LOC’ the buzz seems to have failed, and in the case of ‘Kohi Mil Gaya’ it worked successfully in making the movie a hit.

Personally I would compare WOM or the marketing BUZZ more with the “grapevine” as it exists in organizations. If the issue (or story) is strong, it will spread far and wide like wildfire, and everyone will be talking about it. Maybe in whispers in an organization, but in the case of a brand quite openly at the marketplace. Thus making or breaking the brand depends on the referrals! Good referrals in the long run are beyond advertising and possibly will help to reduce media spending for the brand. Sony TV’s promotion of ‘Jassi Jaisa Koi Nahin’ through WOM is a good testimony to the concept.

The Alphas and the Bees

Success in creating the buzz depends on the plus points, or talking points, of the brand, the message about it, and the positive experience with it in use. In that, the brand must be interesting, exciting, new, different, and unique–so to say, worth talking about. Ultimately all this must also be true.

In building a successful buzz, the source of the story or message and its delivery mechanism needs to be harnessed. You need to identify, design and create sources, and the delivery of WOM should be persuasive and motivating. You have to depend on the ability of the endorsement for the brand by taking account of the consumers’ psyche, fashion and lifestyle related to the market for the brand. Success of the movie ‘Lagaan’ and Britannia’s tie-up with it for their Tiger brand of biscuits is one such scheme in which the buzz had a positive impact.

Marketers have to be clear on what they have in mind. The buzz strategy has to have its objectives clear and ensure that it carries through to its logical conclusion. You often notice that people tend to try and over do it where it is not required, and that invariably ends up putting off consumers and thus it creates a counter-buzz. The success of the ‘India Shinning’ ad campaign is an example of this. True that India is incredible, and the ad campaign generated a lot of interest and the buzz within the country, but then the question that arises is what is the government doing to actually deliver ‘incredible India’ to the world? In this case, when the grassroot services are not available, the experience can be a forgettable idea! The brand has to live up to the recommendation--getting a crucial set of people interested and talking as faithful users of the brand. It has to be done by design and not by default. Only in a rare case it may be by default. Club Mahindra recently set up shop on board the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express targeting and selling their holiday packages to families. This can be a unique way to generate the buzz for the service they offer, and time will tell if it has been successful or not.

Buzz marketing strategy demands that it be supported at various levels and by different type of consumers. Marian Salman in her book ‘Buzz: Harness the Power of Influence and Create Demand’ calls these consumers ‘Alphas’ and ‘Bees’.

The Alphas in marketing are consumers who are independent, upward moving, initiators, and who lead the pack. Marketers use them to create the buzz for their ideas and brands using the networking advantages they offer. In the present day context the success of many of our fashion products and brands, as also others, for instance, are influenced by the behaviour of celebrities, ambassadors, and the ‘Page 3’ consumer groups. These are the Alphas we are talking about. This effort is then spread further through the group of consumers who are the ‘Bees’--communicative, and the ones who share and spread things just like the common bumblebee that hisses its buzz far and wide! They are messengers and recommenders at the same time. They are the spokesmen and mouthpiece spreading the message of the brand and generate the buzz on a large and widespread scale. They carry the message from the Alphas to society at large! You need to use both for creating a successful buzz, and a notable impact of your brand at the marketplace.

Making the ‘Buzz’ work

If your product or brand is not worth getting excited about, then the effort obviously will be wasted--no matter how novel your referral mechanism may be. That is why it is important to get the brand and your communication right in the first place. Buzz is like the fizz of soda. If you miss the buzz, you lose the fizz! Ignite an idea and see it spread like a wildfire--that’s the power of WOM! Today the common denominator in this is technology--the Internet and the virtual interlinking of consumers in all fields of business life. You have to have a message, velocity (speed) and a mass in the right mix for a positive impact of the buzz.

How does one do this and succeed in it? You need to identify novel feature, benefits, emotions--the DNA of the brand--and then give it to the right people, with the right message, at the right point of their decision-making cycle. Get them to be more than just users—get them to be brand advocates. Get them to deliver your brand claims, promises, and benefits by WOM to others for you. WOM that moves people at the marketplace to talk centers around hard information, finding and studying available options, and gaining trail for the brand. Observing the brand in use and evaluating its performance, then communicating about it to generate the WOM centering on the sheer experience is the task. WOM often defies the need for market research, as it is more on instinct. Thereafter, it builds on purchase loyalty and expanded usage, along with the brand advocates.

WOM is an inexpensive form of marketing. In a way it is the most persuasive marketing weapon. You need to harness this influence force through WOM information “tools”, such as opinions of experts, seminars, workshops, Internet, video tapes and CDs, hotlines, testimonials, including your own employee WOM referrals within the organization and outside.

Marketers tend to rely heavily on mass media advertising and lesser on carefully developed reputation campaigns. On the one hand, marketing is a form of advocacy. Advocacy, however, is not perceived to be the objective. Therefore, marketing is often not believed. On the other hand, it is always the big unifying idea or the single most relevant factor in a brand that results in the positive experience that results in the buzz and sales.

Plan of action

Choose your Alphas and Bees carefully and work on the super connectors. Create a WOM plan that can be implemented for success. A WOM campaign should be based on targeted communications, to consumers and to other influential groups as well – such as the financial community, industry watchers, media, distribution channels, and the community (general public). Get the right idea across, to the right people, at the right time for success -- in your WOM.

In his book ‘Thriving on Chaos’, Tom Peters also suggests that since the exploding array of new products and services was causing more and more confusion in the marketplace, we should organize our marketing efforts around explicit, systematic and extensive WOM campaigns. Purchasers buy certain categories of products such as durables, primarily upon perceptions and recommendations of respected peers. For getting referrals you need to make our WOM more systematic. This, in Tom Peters’ view, can be done by:

(i) Careful charting of consumer data with your official and unofficial opinion leaders.

(ii) Selling aimed at highly reputable, would-be early adopters.

(iii) Sales incentives offered to encourage working with early adopters.

(iv) Events that pair happy customers with a wider audience staged on a one shot basis or on an ongoing basis.

(v) User newsletters established, and then circulated to targeted non-users, especially in B2B and industrial products and services categories.

(vi) Testimonials that can be systematically gathered and appropriately used and circulated.

(vii) Putting the strategy and programmes together in a detailed, written, step-by-step word of mouth campaign plan for execution and follow-up.

The most critical WOM activity is targeting the early adopters. Above all, the innovative adopters, and not necessarily the big ones. Big ones may be good for WOM, but they are usually laggards when it comes to actually adopting the product or brand. Therefore, one would be wiser in looking for smaller consumer groups of individuals with a progressive nature and attitude towards adopting products and brands. Pouring almost all your energies into getting these leaders on board and recommending your brand is usually the most worthwhile strategy.

The computer in the Buzz

Soon, everyone will be buying products in radically different ways. For instance, through online and based on their specific interest, getting the right information in a sequence and manner they prefer by choosing the links to click on! Further still, through forums, teleconference discussions, and experts’ seminars and workshops. This is already happening and spreading in the West. Networked markets are beginning to self-organise faster than companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the Web, markets are becoming post-modern, deconstructionist, non-hierarchical, and even cooler buzzwords that we will be posting. For the B2B and industrial brands this is certainly going to be another opportunity for generating WOM. Technical in nature, but high on returns for them.

The ability of present day technology computers and software offer tremendous one-to-one marketing opportunities. For instance, among the youth who live in our world as we live in their world! This is resulting in marketers being able to control and manage WOM effectively. It is becoming easier to select consumers for the purpose, and also enable people to self-select themselves for WOM. Marketers will better understand the different kinds of people who are their prospects, and they will be able to analyse their decision making better and deeper founded. They will opt for custom-made, customer-driven information, directly through WOM and use what they learn from WOM in some of the other marketing methods and strategies they use! They will thus also help make decision making easier for the consumers.

As a result of technology, information gathering is highly customer-driven and is virtually effortless. And when you make it easier for your customers to decide and act over that what your competitors are doing, the consumers will go with your brand. This will allow you to capture more of the market faster, and then even dominate your market. WOM properly delivered is the easier way to gather information. It can, therefore, accelerate decision-making in the adoption cycle of the consumers and create a pull for your brand and make your sales go up, and up.

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and try it.
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How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
- Swapan Seth, Co-CEO, Equus Red Cell - 12/16/2002
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An ardent bridge player, a producer, a writer and a teacher - one could go on and on about Amit Khanna. Khanna has a wide lineage- he has worked in theatre, radio, television, journalism, advertising and films. He has been on the executive committee of IBF, Indian Music Industry, and Film Federation of India. He set up Plus Channels in '90s and quit in 2000 to launch Reliance Entertainment with Reliance. Khanna the Chairman of the Convergence Committee of FICCI. And also he is the Member of the Core Group of Ministry of I&B, on GATS and Ministry of Commerce. His contributions and association is a long list.
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exchange4media has been calling me for my Viewpoint, but like a true advertising person, I have no time! So I decided to write it in sleep (if you can walk in sleep why can't you write in sleep?) If it hurts your sensibility or you disagree with my views, please disregard this as a piece of junk - because I know it is impossible to pour water in a glass full of water - to give gyan to advertising gyanis.
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Creating Media Assets
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"The views expressed are personal views of the author and not necessarily represent the views of the organisation author works for or of exchange4media.com."

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