06 June 2008

The Crystal Ball of Common Sense

I've been having a bit too much fun lately with my alter-ego NostraChuckus. Sorry - but when you write a biz blog for free you can be as silly as you want. (And it's one of the ways people find me for consulting, speaking, and creative work - so my tiny corner of the ether is serving its purpose quite well.)

Even so, I'll stand by everything NostraChuckus has predicted and will predict. After all, his sole method of conjuring is The Crystal Ball of Common Sense - and common sense is all it ever invokes.

I was about to put on my turban again for this post, but I'll leave it off and just talk about boring facts:
New Survey Reveals the Surprising Reality of Boomers' Behavior Online
The results of the survey may surprise even the savviest online marketers looking to capture the attention of the coveted boomer market.
Of course, there's nothing much new, surprising, or revealing in the press release above. Let's call it a Refresher Course.

Social Networking I've covered extensively. And you should see me go on and on in my presentations about the power of Print/TV and their potent connections to product web sites. (Or, you shouldn't. I do go on and on and on ...)

WOMM? I've blabbered about that too many times for too many years. Here's a post with links to previous posts about WOMM:
What's the Word?
And two that were posted after the one above:
Diarrhea of the Word-of-Mouth

Smart or Sneaky?
Part of the confusion seems to be defining the concepts. Word of mouth is simply consumers talking amongst themselves about products and services. We've all been doing that since the beginning of modern advertising, for over one hundred years. Actually it's been going on since the creation of civilization and trade - for thousands of years. It's nothing new.

Now there's something called Word of Mouth Marketing where 'citizen marketers' march into the ether and other places and, for baubles and beads and often more, create clumsy illusions that they're giddy over some product or service. Here's the best article I've found on the subject:
Is Word Of Mouth All It's Cracked Up To Be?
By Jack Trout
The real story is this: Baby Boomers read, listen to, and watch news. They're technologically savvy, and pick and choose the technology they think will be useful to them.

They might not visit many blogs, belong to many social networks - but they've read about them. They know a little or a lot about blogs, or have some vague recollection of news stories like the ones about the WalMart RV Blog and the Microsoft Vista free-giveaways-to-bloggers fiascos. If they can't quite remember the specifics, they know it's getting very weird out in cyberspace and they shouldn't believe big chunks of what they come across on the Web. It's spam, its scam, it's something sleazy.

And if they're one of the ones (and there are a lot) who've been around since the beginnings of the Web, they know exactly how sleazy it can be.

And they know how incredible it all is - all this information, entertainment, and connection at your fingertips! It's not much different than stepping outside your door and entering the real world: amazing stuff out there - but you'd better look both ways when crossing the street. And bring an umbrella.

So … most Baby Boomers are on the web, use email, use a few other means of communicating and gathering information that is web/internet-based, watch short entertainment, informational, and commercial videos.

But what about when they casually discuss products and services they use or are interested in? As I've said over and over, first they do deep research, usually trusting news sources and product web sites. And just as important: they email, phone, and talk face to face to friends.

Is there better word-of-mouth to be had?

Word of Mouth Marketers would like to contaminate this honest communication with all sorts of tricks and sleaze and invasions. It all seems counterproductive to me.

I've been around the web since 1994. In 1996 I was writing an online column (now they're called blogs) as part of a web community (now they're called social networks).

In 1999 I was working for an international company that manufactured and marketed audio equipment to professionals and non-professionals. I fought for and supported a message board (now they're called online forums). It was a tough sell:
"What if they write things we don't like?" I kept hearing.
"We can answer them," I'd say. "Officially answer them. It's called PR."

Finally the powers-that-be warmed to the idea. Nowadays it's obligatory to have some sort of online forum on your company or product web site.

Is that word of mouth marketing? No. It's PR. It's simple, straightforward marketing. It's also great for research purposes.

What if you find negative comments on the web about your product or service? You bring in the professional PR folks, the marketing folks, and decide how to deal with it. You might want to respond, or ignore it. Nothing new here. It's called PR. It's not word of mouth marketing.

Word of mouth marketing is when people leave messages in the ether just about anywhere - and they're getting paid to do so. Even if they happen to be transparent about it, it's still WOMM - and kind of silly. Of course, there are other (and more devious) ways of shilling in cyberspace. I'll leave those alone for now.

Why any advertiser would want to mess with good ol' honest word-of-mouth is beyond me. From a previous post:

So your product or service is getting some sort of positive response from users/consumers? Maybe a cult is forming. Or something. People are talking.

Take advantage of this. You'd be stupid not to. Bring in the PR professionals, the marketing people. Reference it in advertising campaigns. Support this grass roots excitement.

But trying to create buzz out of nothing? Paying shills to hand out lipstick and gum, paying bloggers for their so-called objective opinions?
I often wonder who's really being taken to the cleaners with Word of Mouth Marketing. Consumers … or advertisers?

For the umpteenth time on these ethereal pages, a slightly tongue-in-cheek quote from my hardcopy (they used to be called books):
When it all comes out in the wash, WOMM will be the best thing to happen to (silly retronym ahead) traditional advertising. Pretty soon, consumers won't believe anybody - even their best friends. They'll realize that they receive the most honest and straightforward information about a product or service from a TV commercial, radio spot, print ad, direct marketing collateral, or product web site. At least we don't lie about who we are and why we're saying what we're saying.

Remember this: Advertising didn't die with the invention of the telephone.
But don't believe me. This is just some blog, and I'm just some blogger. Who knows if someone's paying me to trash word-of-mouth marketing ...

One thing's for sure: You'll never know.

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