Beyond the “Word” in Word of Mouth

It happens every time. No sooner is a marketing discipline named, then it expands. The new name becomes inadequate. It’s happening now with word-of-mouth marketing.

It’s no longer just “word.” There are entire channels of person-to-person testimonials, experiences, and recommendations that are less centered on “words” than on the visual conveyance of a thought, emotion, or experience. This conveyance can, of course, happen in person (the original conversations) or through writing (e.g., blogs and product reviews, a.k.a., the “new conversations”).

Added to that is the exploding use of multimedia for casual entertainment. The “Kryptonite Bike Lock” video from a few years ago is back with a vengeance as users of sites like YouTube begin to introduce commercial video onto these platforms. I recently wrote about Snapse, a platform that takes this concept further by allowing remixing of commercial content. It’s only a matter of time before word of mouth is presumed to include the full range of multimedia content and therefore only a short step to consumer-generated media (CGM) that’s truly as compelling as any rich media marketing channel.

MySpace is predominantly English-language, while its counterpart in much of the Spanish-speaking world is Egrupos. There’s also the digg-like Menéame. It’s too bad more people (particularly in America) don’t speak more than one language. How much cool stuff is missed simply because we can’t communicate?

As we split into language-centric groups, we reduce the range of available perspective and hence influence. Moving toward visual images helps. One of my favorite sites (we’ve used it many times to choose apartments when we visit Barcelona) is QDQ, a photo-navigation site that preceded Amazon’s similar effort. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can navigate streets and visually evaluate various apartments based on proximity to other landmarks.

Another example of language-independent communications is the number-one, all-time-most-viewed video on YouTube. It’s just a guy dancing, but it’s collected roughly 34.5 million views, due in part to the fact that anyone, anywhere, can watch it and get it. Get above the barriers — like language — and watch your marketing efforts take off.

Germany’s Speadshirt is another example of this evolution in personalization, soon to be marketing. I featured it in a podcast with MemeticMind‘s Martin Oetting on word-of-mouth marketing in Europe. You can review Oetting’s site and listen to our podcast in English or German. Notably, the German version outranks the English version by a wide margin in German-speaking countries. So much for the, “Oh don’t worry. Everyone speaks English” excuse. Many people do speak English as a second language, but you can bet their first choice for word-based communications is their native language. Linguistic issues will remain, which again suggests “visual word of mouth” will become quite powerful as a global marketing channel.

The shift is on. Visual personalization applications like Mikons are rapidly gaining ground as language-independent platforms. People around the world are using Mikons to create symbolic messages that transcend specific language and so can be used in all sorts of applications, including, of course, consumer-driven marketing. Mikons have large user communities in the U.S., England, and now Japan. The company has teamed with UBU in Austin, TX, to offer instant printing of Mikons symbols on T-shirts, in addition to online delivery worldwide.

In an increasingly connected world, many new communications channels — especially those involving visual media — have a global effect and are adaptable by consumers who want to evangelize brands they love and vilify those they don’t. It’s word of mouth for your eyes.

What should we call it?

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