WoMM – The Evergreen Strategy for Free Marketing

[As part our coverage on 'Free Marketing Tips' for entrepreneurs, here is a real life case study.]

Before I go to the main topic, a small anecdote: An acquaintance who has recently moved to India wanted to buy some books; he casually asked me today to recommend him any good store in Bangalore where he should check out those books. My quick suggestion was to try out flipkart.com. Surprised he replied – “you’re the third person since morning who has referred me this site, has e-commerce picked up in India or is this site that good?  What is it doing differently that this online brand is the first response by many of its consumers?”

Definitely this startup is doing something different to command such free publicity by its consumers in the market. In fact it would be safe to say that flipkart has been marketed mainly through word of mouth medium. As mentioned by one of the founders at Unpluggd event, apart from the initial spend on digital medium, flipkart has not taken any other paid marketing route. Most of its acquisitions and sales have happened through free word of mouth and their consumer-focus approach has been the main reason for the viral spread of their service.

“Word of mouth” marketing is an age old concept now and from bigger organizations to start ups, almost everybody wants to take this free marketing path. While some think that WOM is something which will happen on its own, some go ahead & incentivize their customers to spread the word and then there are some who take extreme steps of contracting paid outsourced help to create positive word of mouth for their brands. Despite this being “known-by-all” concept, how many startups are there who genuinely have been focusing on this free marketing route and targeting the consumers who can be influencers for fresh leads?

In a recent session at Forrester’s Marketing Forum, Forrester analysts Josh Bernoff and Augie Ray presented some interesting findings on peer influence and word of mouth marketing. Though the statistics on influencer impression data might not be directly relevant for Indian scenario but the insight on influencers and the kind of word of mouth marketing these influencers can do is definitely worth reading:

Ray outlined a Peer Influence Pyramid that breaks down influencers who can spread the message about your brand into three types: Social Broadcasters (at the top), Mass Influencers (middle), and Potential Influencers (bottom of the pyramid).

Social Broadcasters are few in number but great in scale — they are the top bloggers, most well-connected individuals, and have a lot of followers looking to them for news and advice on the latest and greatest. They have scale but lack trust, in the sense that their followers will click on the links and recommendations they share but still perform their own evaluation of the data — this makes Social Broadcasters better suited for awareness than preference.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the Potential Influencers — this is where the trust really is. These are the proverbial “average consumer” who have primarily networks of people they actually know in an offline context (friends, family, peers). These networks are rich with trust, and make up 84% of the total population of the pyramid.

In the middle are the Mass Influencers, who make up only 16% of the pyramid but account for 80% of the influence impressions about products and services. Ray says of this group, “you can’t ignore the minority that creates the majority of the influence.”

They also highlighted where those influence impressions are happening in the online world. The following graph captures the results of where people are sharing influence online in both of the above categories:

Influencers and Word of Mouth Marketing

In case of flipkart recommendation, I think I was in the category of “potential influencer” i.e., an average consumer from the bottom of the pyramid.

Today consumers have enough medium to express – be it social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, forums like blogs, review sites or maybe the more personalized channels like chat or smses. Consumers are speaking out and spreading the word about brands through multiple routes. Now whether they are creating positive or negative word of mouth definitely depends upon the extent of customer-centric approach of the organizations.

Of course with easy access to such mediums while the opportunity to spread the positive word is immense, at the same time in case of customer dissatisfaction, the peril of spreading negative word is equally high as well. I don’t think we need to discuss on how to do right WOMM since the mantra for it remains the same as earlier – i.e., focus on customer-delight, be it through product, content, engagement, service or all. While WOM is an excellent free marketing route for any organization but it is all the more important for startups to focus on it as this is one route which can ensure persuasive publicity by many real-life brand endorsers at an absolutely or almost zero endorsement cost.

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In the middle are the Mass Influencers, who make up only 16% of the pyramid but account for 80% of the influence impressions about products and services. Ray says of this group, “you can’t ignore the minority that creates the majority of the influence.” You can read rest of the report on “The State of Online Word of Mouth Marketing” here