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What About Word-of-Mouse?

I’m all for word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing, but I couldn’t help but be repelled by “a recent article”: I came across on In it, advertising columnist Roy Williams points to WOM as “one of the most credible forms of advertising.” Businesses must greatly exceed their customers’ expectations, he says. So far, so good. Then he goes on to provide a series of tips for generating WOM that include transforming your brick-and-mortar business into an eyesore and giving away free desserts.

If you ask me, there are several inherent problems with this advice. I agree that a business “must go far beyond the boundaries of what’s normal” in order to be noticed and remembered. But that doesn’t mean redesigning your piano store to look like a huge piano! Society is increasingly wary of establishments that resort to circus-like promotional tactics in order to attract customers. Why can’t they simply rely on their merits? What do they have to hide?
Worst of all, though, is that Williams altogether neglects to mention online WOM — also known as word-of-mouse — in his piece. With a solid grasp of the concepts associated with it, businesses needn’t resort to tawdry devices, or risk ruining whatever reputation they might already have.
Word-of-mouse marketing can be summed up with three terms: viral marketing, brand democratization, and consumer-generated media. All are based on the concept of employing consumers as brand ambassadors, of which Williams speaks. But word-of-mouse marketing doesn’t require businesses to alter their existing modus operandi — or facade. Instead, they need only identify the consumer group that is already steady and loyal, and solicit them to advertise their product or brand by creating their own promotional material, and forwarding positive endorsements to family and friends. Williams is right in noting that the credibility of WOM is what makes it so powerful. Couple that with the power of the Web, and there’s virtually no limit to what a business can do.