IPA|ED:final - existing customers

Harnessing Advocacy and the Power of Word of mouth: because thats how advertising works

…because I believe brands should only invest in marketing
communications through existing users of their brand


increasing importance of word of mouth (so I’m told)

takes many forms.  The principal form
with which we’re interested for the purposes of this essay is word of mouth,
the power of which is increasing.  A
relevant word in the right ear can in a moment override all our accumulated
knowledge and opinion on a planned purchase (see note 1).  Intergration’s Market Contact Audit (MCA)
declared word of mouth to be “the form of consumer contact with the highest
capacity to create consumer engagement” (see note 2).  McKinsey estimate that word of mouth
influences two-thirds of US industries (see note 3).

of mouth isn’t a modern phenomenon.  It
is, in many ways, the oldest form of communication.  What is very modern is the increased power
word of mouth has in a digital age. 
Technologies such as the internet, email, mobile phones, text messaging,
PDAs, instant messaging, and blogs have made sharing information and opinion
easier than ever before.  The combination
of these digital technologies and the fragmentation of media channels that has
instigated the waning of the disruption advertising model, mean that “in a
networked society … personal recommendations, and recriminations, have more
weight” (see note 4).  We make our
purchase decisions based on what people tell us.

as Paul Revere’s ride through New England to warn of the approaching English –
as recounted by Gladwell (see note 5) reminds us; not all word of mouth is
created equal.  Some individuals are more
powerful carriers of a message, some messages more contagious, and some advice
is more likely to come from one person rather than the next.  ævolve research demonstrates for example the
extent to which men are more likely to give advice about new technologies than
women (see note 6).

and tribes

is the effect of word of mouth limited to affecting changes in individual
behaviour, it also works at a group level. 
Our opinions and behaviours (and brand preferences) are very susceptible
to the opinions and behaviours of those around us.  “Most of us are only likely to change our
behaviour if there is evidence of a larger movement emerging” (see note 7);
evidence for which we increasingly gather in the form of word of mouth.

Earls goes further, and suggests that “when we in organisations think about
affecting mass behaviour in customers or staff, we tend to think … that it is
what we do that affects the way that our audience behaves … but this is misleading
… what really matters is what each of the individuals in the mass does to the
others” (see note 8).

his studies into the emergence of society’s modern tribes, Bernard Cova
proposed that people are less interested in objects of consumption than in the
social links and identities that come with them.  Demographically disparate but connected
individuals now have control over the brands they collectively choose to
consume; choices determined not by product or service intrinsics, but by a
shared and agreed understanding of what that brand represents and stands for
(see note 9)  Similarly Brownlie and
Elliott asserted that such tribes hold greater influencing power than the mass
audience (see note 10).

of mouth is – in the majority of instances – the single most important
determinant that influences our individual and collective behaviour.  When we form opinions and make decisions it
is as part of an ongoing series of conversations with other people.

and word of mouth

matters most then is what we communicate to each other about brands.  Yet our objectives and measurement remain
largely bound by proximal metrics – such as awareness, or ultimate metrics –
such as customer acquisition. 
Furthermore when brands attempt to engage consumers through word of
mouth programmes, efforts remain largely isolated into specific silos of

not joining up the dots.  “There is often
a mistaken notion that word of mouth needs to stand in stark contrast to
traditional forms of advertising. But this is not the case … in many cases
traditional forms of media serve as conversation starters and are the basis for
people talking about a product or a service” (see note 11).  The sentiment is echoed by James Harrison;
“the reason why advertising works has always been because of word of mouth”
(see note 12).

and word of mouth are inextricably linked. 
Those most likely to give advice about a product or service are proven
to be those most likely to seek out advertising in their given categories of
interest (see note 13).

we divorce advertising and word of mouth programmes into different silos.  We ignore not only the combined effect of
these disciplines but the opportunity it presents to engage our existing
customers – mitigating defections and stimulating positive word of mouth on
behalf of our brands – thereby generating acquisition of new customers.

New_model_for_comms_planning a new engine brand growth places retention as the starting point for
marketing strategy

new model, as outlined in figure 1, presents itself:

  • Place
    retention as a starting rather than an end point
  • With
    the aim of making existing customers not want to   defect (ie be loyal)
  • At
    the same time generating word of mouth
  • Which
    subsequently drives acquisition of new customers

this model demands is a new way of thinking about marketing and communications
planning.  We need an approach that
combines customer relationship marketing (CRM), advertising and word of mouth
in a way that not only engages and empowers the existing consumers of our
brands, but communicates to potential customers just what they’re missing.  but more of that on Monday, have good weekends…



Blades & Phillip.  Decision Watch
UK.  MRS Conferences 2005.  “The extraordinary power of word of mouth
became obvious, this unscientific sample of one vague acquaintance, whose
knowledge of cars Gary couldn’t even assess, put him off purchasing a car for
six months”.

Laborie, Jean-Louis. "The Theory Behind Engagement and Integration's Early
Experience Across Media." Paper presented at ReThink: 52nd Annual
Advertising Research Foundation Annual Conference and Expo, March 20–22, 2006: http://mail.thearf.org/roymorgan/Engagement/2006.rethink.ARF.The%20Theory.pres.Laborie.pdf].

Dye, Renee. "The Buzz on Buzz." Harvard Business Review, November
2000.  McKinsey & Company estimates
for the 1994 US Economy (note this is prior to the emergence of the mainstream
internet paradigm so likely to be conservative) – total equals $6 trillion.  Slightly more than two-thirds of the U.S.
economy has been influenced by buzz: 13% Largely Driven by Buzz (Toys, sporting
goods, motion pictures, broadcasting, amusement and recreation services,
fashion); 54% Partially Driven by Buzz (Finance (investment products), hotels
and lodging, electronics, printing and publishing, tobacco, automotive,
pharmaceuticals and health care, transportation, agriculture, food and drink);
33% Largely Immune to Buzz (Oil, gas, chemicals, railroads, insurance,

Wilmot & Nelson.  Complicated Lives:
sophisticated consumers, intricate lifestyles, simple solutions

Malcolm Gladwell.  The Tipping Point

Data from ævolve’s CCS study.  The survey
regularly asks its panel about advice given about various categories in last 3

Caroline Whitehall.  Inertia is good

Mark Earls.  Herd

Cova, B. (1999), "From Marketing to Societing: When the Link is More
Important than the Thing", in Brownlie, D., Saren, M., Wensley, R. and
Whittington, R. (Eds) Rethinking Marketing, Towards Critical Marketing

Elliott, R. (1999), "Symbolic Meaning and Postmodern Consumer
Culture", in Brownlie, D., Saren, M., Wensley, R. and Whittington, R.
(Eds) Rethinking Marketing, Towards Critical Marketing Accountings

Ed Keller and Simon Chadwick.  Is word of
mouth Just a Buzz?  MRS Annual Conference,

James Harrison, Managing Partner at Fuel, Engine Group – as quoted in an
interview for this essay

Data from ævolve’s CCS study.  The survey
quantifies the proves the propensity for people who give advice to be
‘ad-seekers’ within that category

on Monday and Tuesday: A new way of approaching communications


2 thoughts on “Harnessing Advocacy and the Power of Word of mouth: because thats how advertising works

  1. Hi Chris, really enjoyed reading your thoughts and i like where you ended up. CRM and marketing departments are incredibly silo-ed but as you point out WOM from customers count – a lot. In fact 82% of all WOM is from customers which means they are potentially THE MOST important media/marketing channel for any brand to drive new customers.So why isn’t it more important?

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