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Yikes! I’ve Been WOMM’ed (or Have I)?

Posted on: December 18th, 2006 by: John Scheibel

Yes, even executives of marketing firms can be the unsuspecting “victims” of novel marketing communication initiatives.

If you Google “word of mouth marketing”, you’ll get almost 1.3 million items selected. I was surprised to find out that there actually is a Word of Mouth Marketing professional trade association that I can join called WOMMA, that there are numerous articles being written about this “powerful” tactic (including the Washington Post), and that I can start practicing it tomorrow after I learn about the “five easy steps” of this practice, thanks to the article posted at marketingprofs.com.

Maybe its me, or the combination of too many years and too little non-gray hair left on my head, but my skeptical-brain alarm always starts beeping whenever I am advised about something that someone claims is so revolutionary that over one million “Google hits” already exist about the concept. It’s probably a little of both.

In situations like these, I like to do a little more research and reflecting.

First, what actually is “word of mouth marketing”? When I went to Wikipedia, I found that on Monday, December 18, 2006, at approximately 3:30 PM CST, the “definition of word of mouth, aka Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM)” is:

the passing of information by verbal means, especially recommendations, but also general information, in an informal, person-to-person manner, rather than by mass media advertising, organized publication, or traditional marketing. Word of mouth is typically considered a spoken communication, although web dialogue, such as blogs, message boards and emails are often now included in the definition.

There is some overlap in meaning between word of mouth and the following: rumour, gossip, innuendo, and hearsay; however the negative connotations of these words are not included in the meaning of word of mouth.

Hmmmm, very interesting!

I work for a professional services firm, and we have several professional services firms as clients. Professional services organizations are notorious for leveraging the recognition of the high quality of their services and their people into their networking efforts, thereby increasing their capacity to obtain referrals for new clients from others who are already impressed with/satisfied by the services provided by their firms. This has been a standard marketing practice for these types of firms for decades.

Back in the early 1990’s, when “Total Quality Management (TQM)” was all the rage, I remember being advised that satisfied clients, on average, tell four others that they are satisfied, dissatisfied clients, on average, tell seven others that they are dissatisfied, and clients who are dissatisfied, but who have their problems resolved by you in a proactive manner, speak your virtues to, on average, nine others. Moral of the statistics: create a way for your satisfied clients to acknowledge their satisfaction, proactively identify which of your clients are dissatisfied, find out why they’re dissatisfied, and fix it quickly.

Eighteen months ago, I began looking for an organization that could help me be a better CEO of a company. A mentor of mine referred me to an organization called TEC – The Executive Committee. I met with one of their chairs, sat in on one of their meetings, and spoke with another business leader (and TEC member) whose opinion I respect. The end result was I immediately joined a TEC group; I highly recommend TEC to whoever is reading this posting (hopefully more than four people!).

It now appears to me that there is the distinct possibility that WOMM is actually the early-21st century version of TQMM (Total Quality Marketing Management), with a pinch of referral-based marketing thrown in. On the other hand, I just might be the early-21st century incarnation of the former leader of the United States Patent Office who, in the late-1800’s, recommended that that organization be disbanded because anything that could be invented had been invented already.

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