Word of Mouth: Advertising 2.0

My last column discussed interruptive advertising, the common practice for the last 20 years. Your mailbox, TV, inbox, and desktop, even the movie theater to which you paid admission fell prey, one by one, to the onslaught. It seemed unstoppable.

Until now.

Enter word of mouth and the equally relentless push of technology. Like some great, agnostic liberator, technology offers opportunities for marketers and consumers alike. Each time a consumer creates a review on Amazon.com, shares a photo via Flickr or FilmLoop, or adds an entry to a blog or wiki — in other words, each time a consumer contributes to the marketing conversation — she takes back a little control and a little ownership over the information that comes at her. Each time a marketer embraces that contribution, the conversation improves all the more. Working together, marketers and consumers are shifting from “interruptive” to “invited.”

Word-of-mouth marketing, unlike one-way traditional media, actually invites users to take control, to create their own messages and share them. Part of the larger set of disciplines called “social media,” word of mouth is participative, scalable, and remixable. It’s built on collective intelligence. Sound familiar? It should. It’s from the Web 2.0 framework.

Word of mouth is a primary component of “Advertising 2.0,” to borrow from the Web 2.0 framework. The 2.0 framework offers a mental model for marketers. Today, I’ll describe how Advertising 2.0 is participative, scalable, and remixable, and is built on collective intelligence. I’ll also define genuine word of mouth and portend its increasing role in marketing. This at least partially explains its sudden presence in consumer conversations, marketing plans, and columns such as this one. Everybody’s talking about it.

Word of Mouth Encourages Participation

Participation underlies what contemporary advertising and marketing are all about. I recently interviewed 20 leading authors, practitioners, and thinkers around word of mouth in conjunction with the upcoming WOMMA Basic Training conference. Each said word of mouth presents opportunities for true two-way conversations. Consumers and marketers together have the opportunity via structured word of mouth, managed feedback, and similar social channels to genuinely participate in the design, development, and promotion of the products and services they find valuable.

Word of Mouth Is Scalable

Think of a traditional TV buy; its pure persuasive power is inherently non-scalable. Sure, I can add markets and increase frequency. But that doesn’t scale the campaign’s persuasiveness. It only scales the campaign’s footprint and budget. As a marketer, consider “persuasiveness” verus “awareness” and “budget,” and ask yourself which one you’d rather scale. In the current tech-enabled information channels, getting through is half the battle. Awareness by itself isn’t sufficient, however, something I established in an earlier column. To truly persuade, you must engage. That means getting people to talk.

Compare this to word of mouth. If someone you trust recommends you try something based on a current need, you probably will. If five people you know recommend the same, you’re even more likely to. If 50 people tell you to try it, it’s no longer a suggestion; it’s a movement and you’re very likely to join it. Word of mouth offers persuasive scalability. It builds until everyone with an opinion is talking to anyone willing to listen.

Word of Mouth Is Remixable

The permalink is a tiny but powerful connector that allows individuals to make and share meaning in the blogosphere. It’s the fundamental connectability of online conversations that makes remixing word of-mouth possible. Remixing lets me take a fragment here, a fragment there, and create personal meaning. I may combine a review on Amazon and information about that reviewer with what my friends told me to make a decision.

But wait, there’s more.

That same remixability allows me to craft a persuasive message of my own built from these fragments and to pass it on to those who might be interested. One tenet of word-of-mouth marketing is a marketer cannot gain knowledge of the inner workings of a social network without disturbing the network itself. Remixing, or network members recrafting messages for network ingestion, gets word-of-mouth marketing cleanly and properly into the network. Through remixing, anathema within the traditional agency creative process, genuine word of mouth is able to seep into the social networks marketers want to penetrate.

Word of Mouth Is the Collective Intelligence

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but… you know the rest. At its most basic, word of mouth is what people with an opinion about something say to other people when asked. This opinion may or may not be based on experience. Consumers have agendas, too, and some simply like to repeat what they’ve heard from their hipster friends. Information may be passed on by people who got fooled.

Either way, “truth reveals itself,” as my mathematics professor used to say about the importance of good study versus boastful optimism. Eventually, an accurate picture based on experience permeates interested networks. The world is small and, more important, round. A genuine story will eventually find its way to someone who’ll use it.

Special note to marketers: There are two distinct ways to influence the collective intelligence. You can try to fool people (in which case you should read this column over), or you can offer a superior product and market it in ways that invite consumers to talk about it honestly, with you and others. Done this way, the collective intelligence can and will work for you.

Word of Mouth Is Advertising 2.0

What do you think? Is word of mouth really a defining element of Advertising 2.0? It sure seems like it, and the time to use it is now. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you… and your friends.

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