Ruling the Roost: Word of Mouth, Part 2

  |  July 7, 2006   |  Comments

The three word-of-mouth triggers. Part two of a two-part series.

Part one of this series explains why and how word of mouth gained supremacy. Now that traditional advertising techniques are losing potency and customers wield more control, what's a marketer to do?

This column explains the three factors that fuel word of mouth and offers suggestions on what forward-thinking companies can do to fuel word of mouth.

The Three Word-of-Mouth Triggers

Recall the last few times you personally participated in word-of-mouth culture about your experience with a product or service. The product either exceeded your expectations or fell substantially below them. Either way, that word of mouth was a result of the product's performance along with one or a combination of the following triggers:

  • Architectural: This is a product, package, or store design. When a product or experience is planned or controlled for a specific effect, it's architectural. Aesthetics and a unique appearance and experience are architectural triggers.

    Product examples: iPod, Bose, BMW, "Halo" (video game), RAZR, and Michael Graves' products

    Experience examples: McDonald's playgrounds, Apple retail stores, Starbucks, and Krispy Kreme stores

  • Kinetic: This is energy and performance, in the show business sense of the word. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, which the well-known book "When Fish Fly" is based on, is the quintessential example of a kinetic trigger. Hipness, selection, fashion, and outstanding product performance are also kinetic triggers.

    Product examples: BlackBerry, "Tony Hawk" (video game), Red Bull, Starbucks' products, and Airborne

    Experience examples: Any slot machine, Cabela's stores, HDTV, JetBlue, and iTunes software

  • Generous: A generous trigger occurs when perceived value substantially exceeds the price of a product or service. Extremely large portions in a restaurant, oversized seats on an airplane, and consistently low prices are all generous triggers.

    Product examples: Kia, Vonage, Skype, Hyundai, and McDonald's Happy Meal toys

    Experience examples: Great AYCE buffets, Wal-Mart,, and the first-generation iTunes Music store.

(Note: Roy H. Williams, the "Wizard of Ads," was the first to identify and label these triggers in his Monday Morning Memo.)

The more remarkable the experience, the stronger the word of mouth. Just barely exceeding expectations isn't enough.

Apple owns the portable digital music category. This isn't an accident. From the beginning, Apple gave its customers something remarkable to talk about along each trigger. When first introduced, the iPod wasn't a superior MP3 player in terms of features and technology, but it was more aesthetically pleasing and made for a better and easier portable music listening experience (architectural). Alone, that wasn't enough. So Apple developed and released the iTunes software. At the time, it was simply the best software to manage music (kinetic). Finally, Apple launched the iTunes music store. It offered the generosity of affordable songs ($0.99) and a larger selection of music (kinetic) than any other paid online music service. Apple still owns the space and as far as we can tell has only one vulnerability: price. It isn't the cheapest, and to take it on a competitor must learn to do all these things almost as well as Apple does at a lower price.

Create a Culture of Transparency

There's no profitable reason for a company to pose for the public or attempt to distort reality. Although some companies are coming into the new age kicking and screaming, others embrace transparency. Even corporate giant Ford Motor Co. is taking a stab at it.

Most companies still have the outdated notion that any negative word of mouth is harmful. This is simply no longer true. The iPod Nano had so much architectural word-of-mouth energy that when it first hit the market, the news that it easily scratched didn't hamper sales. In fact, it blew an accessory market for iPod protectors wide open. "Negative" word of mouth about the scratches had another positive effect: it managed customer expectations of the product experience.

Anyway, 62 percent of word of mouth is positive, according to word-of-mouth guru Sam Decker at

In its recent Marketing Leadership council, Interbrand stated 21.5 percent of large market capitalization growth is directly attributable to customer experience. In my experience, those companies that are afraid of their customers should be. We usually advise them to sink their marketing budget into better customer experience or product development.

Any profitable company or service has something worth talking about. Do your part to make sure people are, indeed, talking about it.

Connect Your Customers, Connect With Your Customers

"The word-of-mouth company is the company that invests more upstream, being proactive about the customer's experience rather than spending downstream and only reacting to the bad experiences," said Decker. "The word-of-mouth company is one that gets on a level playing field with customers. They are not afraid to hear from and connect their customers to each other. And they are not afraid to join that discussion themselves."

Part of a culture of transparency is to link your customers by way of customer reviews. In some cases, customer discussion forums can be extremely helpful.

Use Customers Reviews

Customer reviews are one of the most potent tools in a transparent company's arsenal. But not all reviews are created equal. So what exactly makes a good customer review?

  • It must be honest. Any sense of something professionally polished or edited comes off as phony or posed.

  • It must demonstrate a real experience with the product.

  • The more specifics and details about how the product helped the reviewer, the better the review.

Companies should prominently feature reviews that meet these three criteria.

It naturally follows that the best customer reviews reflect at least one of the three word-of-mouth triggers. Can you see which reflects which in the following three reviews at CompUSA?

Send me your guesses. Oh, and here's example of each type:

Word-of-Mouth Golden Rule

The golden word-of-mouth rule is "be real." Work at and continually optimize customer experience with your product or service. Then, and only then, should you worry about helping to spread the word. If the experience customers have with you doesn't match the marketing hype, you'll get burned.

Share your own word-of-mouth stories with us.

Meet Bryan at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

ClickZ Live Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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