Here's one very effective way to see what's going on in the industry: watch the job listings and hiring announcements. Knowing who's creating what positions and, more importantly, who eventually fills those shoes, tells you an incredible amount about what opportunities are attracting the smart marketers. Three recent job-hops caught my attention because they all have one thing in common: word of mouth marketing.
Sam Decker, the marketer behind the growth of Dell.com, has joined Bazaarvoice, a new word-of-mouth firm started by Coremetrics founder Brett Hurt. (You heard it here first.) And recently, two analysts -- fellow columnist Gary Stein of JupiterResearch and Jim Nail of Forrester -- jumped ship to join word-of-mouth-oriented companies. Gary's starting next week at BuzzMetrics and Jim has begun work at Cymfony.
The changes got me thinking about the growing acceptance of word-of-mouth among major marketers. We're not completely beyond the days when big brands cringed at user-generated re-mixes of their marketing messages, but things seem to be getting better. I talked with a few folks this week, including two of the above about why the space attracted them. (Gary is on vacation but I'm sure he'll be addressing word of mouth in his column.) Some trends and thoughts that sprung from the conversations follow.
Metrics, Metrics, Metrics
Maybe it goes without saying these days, but I'll say it anyway. Word of mouth marketing has grown in popularity and currency -- and we pay attention to it at ClickZ -- not just because so much conversation takes place online. That's part of it, but the fact the conversation takes place online makes it accessible, and, therefore, measurable. Once you can measure something, you can try to move the needle.
But trying to move the needle shouldn't be the first step.
"I think we will see that this year will be the year of listening to consumers," Jim told me. "Last year when I was at that first WOMMA conference, everyone was talking about 'How do I inject myself into these consumer conversations? How do I push my messages though word of mouth marketing out to the consumer?' More and more marketers are coming around to the idea that the first thing you have to do is understand the conversation."
Amen. What's been astounding about this past year -- and the sheer size of the trend didn't hit me until I looked back and thought about it -- is the dramatic increase in tools designed to help consumers express themselves. Blogs are obviously still the cornerstone of this trend, but under the Yahoo umbrella alone exist a wide variety of opportunity for consumers to weigh in about brands -- Flickr, del.icio.us, Yahoo Trip Planner, Yahoo Answers and Yahoo Shoposphere, to name a few. Multiply that by the rest of the Internet, and it's almost frightening to behold the size of the word of mouth conversation.
All Marketing is WOM (Web 2.0)
Interestingly, most of those services I mentioned above are RSS-enabled. This means those user-generated content chunks can be readily shared, remixed and then show up in unforeseen locations. This idea meshes nicely with some thoughts Troy Young, EVP and chief experience architect of Organic, shared with me.
"I think of all marketing as being word of mouth," he said. "You look at all the places where these people spend their time. You make content mobile, shareable and mixable and get it out there . We live in a time where people are your most valuable media because the Internet takes the friction out of the conversation. "
Says Sam Decker, "Customers are overloaded with information, they're cynical about marketing and there's an oversupply of products, so the only place to turn is [to] each other."
The big problem with word of mouth is it's resource-intensive, and it's difficult to incorporate learnings into the corporation as a whole. I expect this will be a key theme in word of mouth in the coming months, as it becomes a more standard part of companies' playbooks.
"You have to be able to facilitate the word of mouth, make it convenient for people to share their opinion, input their feedback," Sam told me, "and then you have to have the analytics behind it so you can feed back to the rest of the company and always be optimizing that."
Young, too, expressed some frustration with the difficult, one-off nature of implementing word of mouth programs.
"We're trying to create a process to do that that's kind of reusable, because it's a lot of work," he said. "That's basically what the whole industry is going through."
No wonder these folks are getting into the word of mouth business. There's plenty of work to be done, and it's right there on the cutting edge of today's Internet marketing universe.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.