WOM Hyperbole

Posted on January 31, 2007



The loosely defined term Word Of Mouth Marketing has been on marketers’ lips for a while. Companies and “experts” in this ‘discipline’ are now popping up like pimples in the face of a communication industry undergoing a weird form of puberty. I find this quite interesting and asked myself what it is these companies do that is any different from what agencies have been doing for years.  

In my view, WOM Marketing is essentially founded on the simple truth that people influence each other and that some people have stronger influential power than others. So it’s a no-brainer that some consumers are disproportionally important as communication targets. That’s all very well and good, but where is the real news here? Which advertising agency worth its name hasn’t been helping clients go after opinion leaders and key influencers for years with an array of tools and methodologies? What am I missing here? What I see are so-called WOM “proprietary tools” which in reality are only proprietary in so far as their names go.  

As an aside…I am very skeptical toward people who claim the holy grail of communication can be uncovered through their “proprietary tool”. If I hadn’t realized that many people who make this claim actually believe their own word, I would feel insulted as well.   Even if you try to sell/justify the WOM discipline from a credibility angle, it still doesn’t make sense to me. People have always been saying they don’t trust advertising (of course they don’t), but trust likeminded people. WOM companies use this argument to promote the effectiveness of their services (“you need a WOM company in addition to your creative TTL agency”). But whether you trust advertising or not has become almost immaterial since the role of advertising today isn’t that of conveying product superiority based on rationality (which may admittedly require credibility) which was certainly the case during the 50’s and 60’s. The primary role of advertising today is to generate interest by forging emotional bonds between the consumer and brands. Irrespective of stated credibility levels, we know that advertising has the power to influence attitudes and behaviour. We may, however, not be aware of it as approximately 80% of cognitive processes that influence our behaviour unfold in our subconscious area of our minds. 

No, I don’t claim WOM Marketing to be futile. It’s in fact tremendously valuable. What I’m saying is that the WOM “discipline” (for the most part) is a hyperbole, an exaggeration to imply that an entirely new and more effective communication approach has become available to marketing directors. It’s old news and it doesn’t need a new name. If I’m wrong (yes, it happens) would somebody care to enlighten me? 


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