Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gimci, Nicolas Cage, and WOM Marketing in South Korea

This dispatch comes from Seoul, South Korea. I have been here for the past few days at the invitation of Ms. Inus Hwang, CEO of Advantage Marketing Lab and founder of, an online community dedicated to Korean housewives (currently there are about 600,000 members). I met Ms. Hwang last year at the 1st International WOM Marketing Conference in Hamburg, Germany. Since that time they have changed their name from Azoomma Marketing Lab to Advantage Marketing Lab as they broaden their WOM marketing program offerings for other products and services beyond Korean housewives.

For this trip I was invited to speak at the 3rd Annual Korean WOM Marketing Conference, which took place on Thursday. There were over 100 brand managers, press, and academics in attendance at the event. Apparently Seth Godin's book Purple Cow has been pretty popular here, and more and more companies are beginning to use WOM marketing techniques (see this article from the European magazine, Infomag, for a brief overview of the media and marketing landscape in South Korea including how WOM, buzz, and community marketing are being used [note that the article confuses terminology quite a bit]). There are a few other WOM firms in the country now, and at least two are WOMMA members. Additionally, about two weeks ago, there was a big article in a Korean newspaper about the Net Promoter Score, which was the first introduction to the metric for a lot of companies in South Korea.

The title of my talk was "Will the Real Word-of-Mouth Marketing Please Stand Up?". In my presentation I discussed five common misunderstandings that people have of WOM marketing:

Misunderstanding #1: WOM Marketing = Buzz Marketing = Viral Marketing (confusion about terminology and thinking that buzz and viral marketing represent the only forms of WOM marketing)
Misunderstanding #2: WOM Works Best in Stealth Mode (there have already been cases here of stealth marketing)
Misunderstanding #3: WOM Is Only Used for Launching New Products and Services (this is partially related to Misunderstanding #1 in that companies tend to focus on the shorter-term WOM strategies rather than the longer-term principles and techniques, such as community, evangelist, and grassroots marketing)
Misunderstanding #4: WOM Versus Advertising (the sense is that if you do WOM marketing you don't also use advertising or vice versa)
Misunderstanding #5: WOM Cannot Be Measured (here I discussed a number of differnt ways firms are measuring WOM marketing programs and ROI)
While in Korea I also learned a great deal about the culture, people, and cuisine. In terms of cuisine, for example, I have learned to appreciate Gimci, which is fermented vegetables and a staple of Korean meals. The sequencing of foods that are eaten is also very smart (for example, eating noodles or rice after meat, followed by tea, really helps to settle the stomach). My Korean vocabulary now stands at about 10 words (hello, thank you, nice to meet you, good bye, etc.). I learned about "bang culture" which is where there are a number of public rooms devoted to PC gaming, DVD viewing, conversations, and singing (see the recent article in the New York Sunday times on PC bangs; bang literally means "room"). I have also learned that many people in Korea think I look like Nicolas Cage (I guess I should take that as a compliment!).

Ms. Hwang and her staff at Advantage Marketing Lab have been wonderful hosts and it has been a memorable experience for me. Hopefully I will have the chance to visit again soon!


Friday, October 27, 2006

Weighing in On The Edelman & Wal-Mart Flogging Scandal: Insights from Organizational Communication

Like many others, I was very disappointed to learn of Edelman's role in the Wal-Mart fake blogging (flogging) scandal, especially since Edelman is a governing member of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. This issue is especially salient to me, not only because I am a member of the WOMMA Advisory Board and Co-Chair of the Research & Metrics Council, but because I also conduct research in the WOM marketing space, consult orgnizations about how they should ethically and effectively manage WOM, and am an educator who teaches classes on the same topics.

There has been a great deal of discussion about what WOMMA's response should be. Broadly speaking, should it take more of an educational role or an enforcement role, or some combination of the two? Clearly WOMMA has an educational role to play and I struggle with what role an industry association should play in terms of enforcement. I'll speak briefly to this below, but for the time being, I would actually like to bracket (just for a few paragraphs) what WOMMA's role should be so that I can discuss what I would like to see from Edelman, or any company in this situation, but especially a company who is as well-known and respected as Edelman is in this space.

In one of the classes I teach at Northeastern -- Advanced Organizational Communication -- we study certain communication imperatives that any organization must follow in order to be ethical and effective. There are a number of imperatives, but two seem highly relevant to me: the notion of automatic responsibility and the institutionalization of dissent.

Automatic responsibility is the idea that each organizational member has the responsibility to solve a problem as they become aware of it (whether that problem be a difficulty a customer is having, or whether there is an ethical violation within the organization). If they don't have the technical knowledge or skill set to solve the problem, then it is their responsibility to make sure they find somebody in the organization who can address it.

The institutionalization of dissent is the obligation of an organization to build communication systems such that organizational members are encouraged to dissent, have that dissent be listened and responded to, and to be rewarded (rather than punished) for their dissent.

Upon learning of Edelman's complicity with this obvious and unfortunate violation of the WOMMA Ethics Code (for example, dishonesty about the bloggers' identities) I was left to wonder how this could have happened.

How could an organization who contributed to the creation of the ethics code and who has demonstrated leadership in the social media space commit such a transgression? What was the organizational decision-making process that led to this? Did anyone ever dissent and say this (fake) blogging program wasn't a good idea (it should have been the moral obligation of each employee to exercise their automatic responsibility and do so)? If there was dissent, what happened to this dissent? Was it ever encouraged in the first place? Was it ever listened to? Further, was it (or will it be) rewarded or was it punished?

I read that Edelman wants to make this situation right (see Rick Murray's comment on the WOMMA discussion list) and I sincerely believe that they do. A lot is at stake, as it represents a crisis of confidence for the reputation of their company, for WOMMA and the WOM marketing industry, and for the consumer/citizen.

So what should Edelman do now? A tough question and here's a start (see the WOMMA-faciliated discussion for other ideas): If I were advising them on what to do I would counsel them to conduct a comprehensive, independent investigation whose purpose would be to uncover the organizational communication and decision-making before, during, and after this scandal. Specifically, the goal would be to find answers to the questions above about where were the voices of dissent and if there were voices, why weren't they heeded? Fundamentally interrogating this issue of dissent is paramount in a media and organizational landscape where the dominant values are discursive engagement, openness, and transparency.

The board would include representatives from the following groups: consumer protection group(s), the FTC, academic expert(s) in corporate blogging and/or corporate ethics, member(s) of the WOMMA Ethics Council (and possibly other associations to which Edelman belongs), and of course, blogosphere netizen(s) or other consumers/citizens. The board would make the results of their investigation publicly available through a written report (electronically faciliated and with a public discussion board). Individual actors and the organizational system must then be held accountable in accordance with the findings of the report. The appropriate actions of holding individuals and the organizational system responsible cannot be further debated until after the investigation and the report is made public -- well the actions can be debated, but there's still too much we don't know at this time.

I feel this would be an appropriate course of action because it would be conducted in the spirit of openness and transparency that is highly valued and desired by not only the blogging community but by the principles of a democratic citizenry, it would allow Edelman to continue in the leadership position they have taken great strides to establish by showing they should be held to the same principles of openness and transparency they espouse, and it is a proactive move that would allow other practitioners and students to learn from this crisis.

I think the decision to initiate this investigation should be Edelman's while WOMMA (and again, other relevant industry associations) should continue to facilitate this process by continuing to host discussions on the matter, to contribute a representative of the Ethics Council to the investigation board, and to help with the educational effort based on the results of the independent investigation.

I would love to hear others' views on this matter through comment, but I would encourage that we make trackbacks and/or comments to WOMMA's discussion board as well.

Many of the principles discussed in this blog post were dervied from Phil Tompkins' book: Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia: The Decline of the Space Program (A Study in Organizational Communication) which I use as a textbook in my class.

Addendum: I should add that part of the investigative or auditing process I describe above needs to include Wal-Mart and what role they played in this. Working out the practicalities of involving Wal-Mart makes this more complex but it would be important to understand the systemic dimensions.

Update (11/1/2006): WOMMA has officially placed Edelman's membership under a 90-day administrative review. Edelman needs to take the following 6 steps (some of which appear to already be underway) in order to re-instate its full membership:

1. Provide assurances that all inappropriate programs have been stopped.
2. Provide a briefing to the WOMMA Executive Committee to fully explain the details of the incident.
3. Implement a training program to educate all employees on ethical practices and disclosure requirements.
4. Institute systems to prevent violations from happening in the future, and to correct them if they do.
5. Formally participate in upcoming WOMMA ethics programs and comply with all new ethics requirements for members.
6. Please provide detailed documentation of your compliance with the above requests.


Playing 20 Questions With Ethics -- It's Not Just A Game

WOMMA is at it again on the ethics front. Building from their Ethics Code and Honesty ROI framework (Relationship, Opinion, and Identity), the Ethics Council has created a tool to help organizations evaluate whether or not their next WOM marketing program falls within what could be considered ethical boundaries. WOMMA has submitted their "20 Questions Ethics Assessment Tool" in draft form and is inviting public comment.

This document is very timely given recent revelations by Edelman about its role in the Wal-Mart flogging (fake blogging) scandal and other violations of the Ethics Code such as LonelyGirl15

Disclosure: WOMMA Advisory Board member


Talk About An Effective Use of Cause and Viral Marketing: Dove's "Evolution"

Here's an excellent example of a company using viral and cause marketing. It's part of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty and the name of their viral clip is "Evolution." [option to download or open clip in Windows Media Player]

Not only is it well crafted, there's an opportunity to pass-along the clip, get involved with the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, and join in a discussion in Dove's self-esteem forum (all available at the campaign web site)

Reflect and pass it on!

Thanks to Liz Stokoe's post to the DARG listserv for making me aware of the clip


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Word-of-Mouth Marketing Communication Bibliography Project

There is a tremendous amount of interest in all things word of mouth these days. But many people who are new to this topic and interested in learning more are not aware that research on word-of-mouth marketing and related concepts -- like loyalty, advocacy, consumer behavior, social networks, etc. -- have been studied for decades and decades in the academic world and by some companies.

In light of this I have conducted my own review of the literature on the topic of word-of-mouth marketing communication and, along with others who have done the same -- notably Greg Nyilasy and Martin Williams -- we have combined our bibliographies and are making them available at my download page as a common resource.

We make no claims that this bibliography is complete in any way. Further, what exactly counts as "word of mouth" is somewhat ambiguous and so there are a lot of articles in the list that are tangentially related. We have also included, albeit unsystematically, industry white papers and news articles on the topic.

The current list is both in PDF format and as an Endnote bibliography file (as it stands now, the list is at 32 pages). The PDF format is not as useful as the Endnote bibliography, but most everyone has access to PDF. You can request a copy of the Endnote file (other academics and researchers would be most interested in this, I would assume) but we would just ask that you agree to make a meaningful contribution to the bibliography project (for example, contribute new resources to it, spot-check it, add in abstracts or summaries of the articles, etc.).

We would love for people to fill in gaps where the current list is incomplete! Simply e-mail me (w DOT carl AT neu DOT edu) with "WOMBP" in the subject line. I aim to update the file every month and post a new version. When there are significant revisions or additions I will create a new blog post.

There's surely a much better way to maintain an active bibliography, such as through the use of a wiki, and we'll probably move to that at some point. There are also other WOM-related resources to check out, such as:

- The WOMNIBUS and WOM Library hosted by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association
- Google Scholar (keyword search "word of mouth")
- SPIDER (Social Psychology of Information Diffusion -- Educational Resources)
- The New PR Wiki (managed by Constantin Basturea)
- Michael Cafferky's WOM Resource page
- Kerimcan Ozcan's website
Happy researching!

Link to download page for WOM Bibliography Project


Friday, October 13, 2006

Top Ten Sources for PR and Marketing Communication and Higher Education Blogs

I recently learned that the Word-of-Mouth Communication Study blog was included as one of the Top 10 blogs for PR, Marcom, and HigherEd. The list was compiled by Robert French from Auburn University. His blog and associated resources at Auburn Media are excellent and should be included in the Top 10 as well, but he modestly put himself at number 11.

Here's the introduction that Robert put together for the list:

Public relations from the academic point of view. These links represent some of the people teaching the future PR practitioners of our world and those practicing PR for their universities. What do they have in common? They are blogging. Their views are important to the wider public relations conversation occurring online. To the PR practitioners of the world, your concerns are important to these bloggers. Without active involvement from practitioners, how else may future PR practitioners be prepared for post-graduate life? To recent adopters, or those just exploring social media for their classes, may this list serve as a jumping off point for your efforts. Please engage these educators in conversations.
Given this description interested reasders may want to check out my class blogs: Advanced Organizational Communication and WOM, Buzz, and Viral Marketing Communication.

I encourage folks to check out the other great blogs and wikis on the list.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WOM Marketing Activity For Your Next Class, Presentation, or Training Session

I recently received an e-mail inquiry about exercises or activities that can be used when presenting about WOM marketing with PR and marketing professionals.

One activity I’ve found really useful when talking with groups is about the different approaches to WOM marketing. The goals of the activity are:

1. for people to see the broad range of strategies and techniques that fall under the umbrella of WOM marketing,
2. to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each, and
3. to understand when to use each technique.
The activity is based on my own observations and interviews with industry practitioners, as well as on the work of authors and consultants Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer, and consultant John Moore from Brand Autopsy.

First, I explain that the range of WOM marketing initiatives can be broken down along three continua (there are more but three is a good start):
1. Degree of control over messages: consumer control versus company control
2. Outlook for future: longer-term versus shorter-term
3. End-goal: generating advocacy by developing a better brand, product, or service experience versus generating awareness though an attention-grabbing WOM activity
Second, I present case studies of actual WOM marketing initiatives and ask the participants to place the case along each of the continua above. In selecting cases I make sure that the case serves as a good representation of certain WOM marketing techniques. You can find a list of these techniques at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s website. Placing each case along these continua often generates some very good discussion.

For example, I have presented the case of the Chevy Tahoe Campaign where Chevy hosted a contest on their site to determine who could create the best consumer-generated ad. Chevy provided folks with the tools they needed: images, audio tracks, an easy editing interface to create the ad, and then a way to easily spread the message to other consumers. Many of the user-generated submissions were posted on their own site while others found their way to YouTube. Additionally, many of the ads were not very flattering from Chevy’s perspective, often serving as political statements about the negative effects of SUVs on the environment.

So after I explain the program I ask the audience to place it along the first continuum: consumer-company control. Some audience members think it should go all the way on the consumer end arguing that consumers could create their own ad without any input from the company. Further, Chevy didn’t filter or exclude submissions they didn’t agree with. Others argued that it shouldn’t be all the way on the consumer-control end because Chevy still did provide the raw materials and hosted many of the videos on their own site. Plus the ads on their site were taken down after the campaign, thus suggesting more company control over the process).

The next continuum is whether or not the initiative represented a longer-term strategy or a shorter-term campaign. Most of the audience says this is a shorter-term campaign (but maybe some initial stages of a longer-term strategy of figuring out consumer-generated media).

In terms of the third continuum, the end-goal, most audience members feel like the focus was to capture attention and generate awareness of Chevy Tahoe through an innovative activity designed to spread WOM (of course, Chevy wasn’t the first to do this; other examples include Converse, MasterCard, etc.). To support this classification, I usually chime in here to show that the WOM activity wasn’t really designed to elicit consumer feedback about how the Chevy Tahoe could be built better or how it wasn't designed to build more loyalty to Chevy and ultimately WOM advoacy.

The contrasts among the different types of programs become clearer when you discuss a few different examples. Here are some examples of other ones I’ve used:
1. Monitoring & Engaging in Online Conversations (Kryptonite U-locks)
2. Creating Consumer Communities & Cultivating Advocacy (Discovery Educator Network’s program for their unitedstreaming product; Church of the Customer)
3. Providing Tools for Viral Spread of Messages (Family Guy DVD program; M80)
4. Engaging Influencers (Wine Council of Ontario’s VQA program; Matchstick)
5. Stimulating WOM via Agent-Based Networks (Hershey’s Take 5 candy bar program; BzzAgent and Arnold Worldwide)
Finally, after going over the continua and presenting each case and discussing where each falls, I then facilitate a discussion about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each type of program and when a company might want to use each one. In the facilitation I think it’s important to emphasize that each technique can be useful depending on the specific company goals, and may in fact be complementary (here’s a link to one of my students’ post about combining the goals of generating both awareness and advocacy).

Feel free to contribute other activities, exercises, or discussion points you might use, or want to see, in a presentation on WOM marketing.

For more information on this post:

Watch John Moore's presentation on WOM Creationists versus Evolutionists.

Read Ben & Jackie's post on the buzz versus WOM divide

Read posts on the Chevy Tahoe campaign from Church of the Customer and Pete Blackshaw's CGM blog and ClizkZ column on consumer control and what counts as (in)authentic consumer-generated media:

Why Chevy Tahoe campaign was doomed before it launched

Chevy Tahoe campaign: Not CGM

GM Steps into the Chevy Tahoe Debate

Can Marketers Control CGM? Should They?