Word Of Mouth All The Buzz At Marketing Sciences Institute

Continuing on my post on the Marketing Science Institute’s Board of Trustees Meeting and Conference, the second and final day focused on new media and word of mouth. Here’s a three part summary:

A Construct For Word Of Mouth And Social Networks

The day began with a great presentation from Dina Mayzlin of Yale University, who presented “The Management of Social Interactions.” While all of the research about social network theory was interesting, I was most drawn to one of her more fundamental constructs: what motivates people to spread word of mouth. She says:

  • They enjoy it
  • They’re altruistic
  • To build their image

I think Dina’s right, but I think she’s missing a fourth fundamental motivator: the basic human need (like sex) to express one’s self. Case in point: MySpace. MySpace is a lot of things, but it’s an expression megaphone, if anything.

Word-Of-Mouth Listening: The First Step

Following Dina Mayzlin’s introduction to social networks was a great presentation by Randall McAdory, manager of Web-based consumer insights at DaimlerChyrsler. He’s a committed researcher to the notion of customer listening through passive measurement of Consumer-Generated Media. He shared the key areas where CGM insights impact automotive business decisions:

  • Concept Phase: product development, public relations, product research
  • Pre-Launch Phase: product development, marketing strategy, advertising, public relations
  • Launch Phase: marketing and advertising, sales training, manufacturing
  • Post-Launch Phase: product redesign, marketing and advertising

Randall mentioned that it’s sometimes very hard to present CGM findings on automobiles to various key internal stakeholders; he used the analogy of telling someone their baby is ugly. I often feel Randall’s pain in my own experience. I think this pushback has more to do with the fact that big companies often have cultural and customer philosophy issues to overcome. Companies can suffer from:

1) denial that customers do talk about, engage with, and own the brand, and

2) a disrespect of the customer when the customer has something to say.

Discussion: Word Of Mouth’s Evolving Impact On Marketing And The Organization

Following Randall McAdodry’s presentation, was a panel discussion including:

  • Steve Knox, CEO of P&G’s Tremor
  • Randall McAdory
  • Dina Mayzlin
  • Moi

Each person’s most important point, according to me, and paraphrased by me:

  • Steve talked about the importance of understanding the consumer insight and framing the message the way consumers want to hear it.
  • Randall noted that although DaimlerChysler is only focused on the listening component of word-of-mouth marketing, buzz is actually fostered and affected by a wide range of consumer touch points and experiences. Buzz isn’t a standalone outcome of a single effort.
  • Dina Mayzlin thinks the laws of social networks apply similarly in b2b contexts as they do b2c or c2c.
  • I noted the continued rise and dichotomous relationship of search and consumer-generated media. Search engines love CGM. If search engines are our window into our Internet and information universe, then together search engines and CGM will play a major role in brand equity and customer decision-making.

Finally, Jim Figura of Colgate asked a great question: What will social networks, word of mouth and CGM look like in five years? I believe Google (and others like it) will continue to serve as a catalyst of CGM by exposing the long tail of social networks – the proliferating niches of dynamique content over formerly centralized institutional content. And if Google’s prowess continues into the evolving mainstream advertising and media world – as it has done so far with a vengeance – then this combination results in a world where average people (aka consumers) with relevant experiences and passion will have a much more influential role in determining the fate of brands – brands that marketers today think they have so much rigid control over, but really don’t. It will fuel a renaissance of more genuine customer-to-marketer relationships – one based more on mutual respect.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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