Let’s make a distinction between word of mouth vs. buzz.
Word of mouth is a byproduct of a remarkable culture. It’s how companies like 37 Signals, Discovery Education, and The Container Store grow and flourish. Their companies are organized around a well-defined purpose and strong values, which may not be for everyone, but they’re important enough to a significant group of people. Their foundations help produce notable products and services, generating word of mouth for the long-term. None would describe what they do as “word of mouth marketing.”
Buzz is the result of word-of-mouth marketing. Its results are typically short-term. Gimmicks are common, and examples abound. BailoutBooth, an online classified ad company, used one of the oldest tricks in the book: giving away money. It handed out $50 bills to people in Times Square the other day, $100,000 worth, if recipients would sit in front of a camera and plead poverty. The buzz generated a write-up in the New York Times:
There was understandable skepticism about the whole thing, but once people realized that they could actually get money from the ploy, any reluctance disappeared.
“It’s a blessing,” (one recipient) said. “Nobody else is doing this.”
So, it created buzz with potential. Visit the company’s website, though, and you see its purpose and values on display. An attractive woman in a video pitches the company while a guy in sunglasses and a hat plays phony on the phone. Its purpose seems to be a gimmick, and its values are shlocky. A shame to spend $100,000 marketing something that’s unlikely to be converted into the social capital of word of mouth.
Like your distinction between customer driven WOM and company generated buzz. This Times Square gimmick strikes me as consistent with the short-term buzz a company gets with a reliance on deep discount promotions. People remember saving a buck but there is no long-term positive experience that sticks in their minds. I mean, its not like I am going to go to their web site and expect them to give me money.
This is important topic because the boundary between word-of-mouth and buzz seems blurry in some discussions. I live in a small town, and if you ask a local small business owner about word of mouth, they would say it’s about business reputation — positive or not. Small businesses work for years to build good community reputations and foster good word-of-mouth. Word of mouth builds over a relatively long term.
Buzz might be about reputation, but it might also be about a gimmick or an outrageous ad or stunt that has nothing to do with reputation. As you say, buzz is short term.
Thanks for discussing this.
Posted by: Paul Sherland at Feb 5, 2009 2:17:32 PM
Buzz gets no respect in my book, either.
ESPECIALLY when it preys on people’s fears. Or encourages them to be victims.
See at least HALF of the reality shows out there today…
make people popular (relevant)… buzz will get people to talk about you as a fad. A remarkable experience, a relevant experience… will get people to talk about you like a family member.
Posted by: Bolaji at Feb 5, 2009 2:58:41 PM
Important distinction and great examples Ben. Thanks. I like Kathy Sierra’s take:
“Buzz: Getting users excited about YOU.
Sustainable WOM: Getting them excited about THEMSELVES.
Buzz is awesome. Focusing on getting it is not.
Often couterproductve since it’s about drawing attention, not giving it.”
Posted by: Tom Asacker at Feb 6, 2009 7:49:31 AM
I’m wondering how this can be translated into a social media social media context. Seems nowadays everyone is striving for online “buzz” by creating one crazy youtube video after the other.
From my perspective it seems like what companies really can benefit from though social media participation is WOM through basically having a good business strategy and sharing info with everyone.
My concern is the constant focus on doing superficial activities just to get noticed as opposed to developing good core values that WILL get noticed…
Posted by: Theodor Tollefsen at Feb 7, 2009 5:05:28 AM
Ben, Great Post
I believe that Buzz continues in popularity because many executives are still stuck on buying marketing with an instant result. Albeit, that quick bang fades quickly and has little long term impact.
WOM is the Road Less Traveled, and is a much longer term commitment, and touches so many more aspects of your business to pull it off. Too WOM is a very humbling experience for the business owner and their team. Buzz Artists aren’t so interested in being humble
Posted by: Eric Brown at Feb 7, 2009 6:48:14 AM
Word of Mouth is “Hey, my name is Jeremy, nice to meet you. Here’s some stuff I’m working on you might think is cool.”
Buzz is “HEY CHECK THIS OUT IM JEREMY PLEASE LOVE ME IM AWESOME COME HERE OFTEN SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER WANNA COME HOME WITH ME PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?”
And as we all know, desperation is wholly unattractive.
Posted by: Jeremy Meyers at Feb 7, 2009 6:46:13 PM
Great distinction! What’s that saying about people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing? And speaking personally, this post is a *gift* for me as it pinpoints what I want to say in a presentation on social media a couple of weeks from now. I was grappling with how to get the point across. What was hanging me up was that with some campaigns that worked on the “sucker born every minute” principle there were people – apparently intetelligent – saying, in so many words, “what’s the problem? If it works, it’s ok.” Maybe “intelligence” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Posted by: Des Walsh at Feb 9, 2009 2:22:52 PM
I’ve enjoyed reading the books that you and Jackie have written and have learned a lot from both of you. I completely agree with your take that WOM is the byproduct of a remarkable culture and it is much more effective than the buzz gimmicks you outline above. However, as the author the Buzz Builder Blog since January 2005, I’m not ready to stop using “buzz,” a great descriptive word. Most businesses want to create buzz and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Rather than trying to talk businesses out of using the word, I will continue working to educate them on how the best buzz is created by providing excellent products and service and engaging customers in an authentic manner over time.
Posted by: Patrick Galvin at Feb 9, 2009 5:08:55 PM
Theodor — That’s an excellent topic idea. I would think that any organization that’s using social media should ask two questions:
1. What’s our purpose for using X social media tool?
2. Does that purpose fit with our purpose as an organization?
I like your take on WOM. Way too many companies think that it is all about how they market. If they do something shocking or funny they think that they can generate WOM, but all you really end up with is a flash in the pan about the commercial, not their products. Great customer engagement takes time and effort. My company is starting to use a product called Brosix to communicate with customers one on one. They really seem to respond to the IM’s.
Posted by: Kate at Feb 10, 2009 3:31:33 PM
Buzz is a word. Word of mouth is the necessary language to form the word.
Posted by: ariherzog at Feb 11, 2009 12:37:51 PM
Nice article. Keep going lile this, pal!
Posted by: Кирилл at Feb 11, 2009 10:42:38 PM
Totally agree Ben – there is nothing more trite than a company that tries to create a “viral” piece of marketing with purposes of creating buzz. Do you think PR helps with word-of-mouth? I’m thinking of using a pay-per-article-placed agency (like PublicityGuaranteed.com) but was curious to get your thoughts.
Posted by: Dan at Feb 12, 2009 7:47:41 AM
Nice post… I think, nowdays the diference betwen two concepts are not yet undertand
I agree with you…but i prefer, for buzz, talking about approach (as weel as viral, guerrilla, etc.) than result.
Wom is a global marketing paradigme including viral, buzz, guerrilla… It’s a paradigme based in generated conversations betwen consumers and users…
Buzz is a wom mkt approach based in generated a incredible, remarkable or impacted new or anything to generate wom (conversations)… This approach has to be impactting, diffrente… A new that eveypeople want to talk about. It’s like a way of generating wom throught the impact
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