Wednesday, January 18, 2006

To Tell Or Not To Tell? -- Research Report on Disclosure & Organized Word-of-Mouth Marketing Programs Now Available!

I am excited to announce that my research report on disclosure and organized word-of-mouth marketing programs is now available free of charge at my download page. The report is a result of a major industry-academic collaboration between BzzAgent, Inc. and Northeastern University.

My hope is that the report will stimulate discussion about the role of disclosure in organized word-of-mouth marketing initiatives and I invite thoughful commentary and criticism. If you are so inclined to blog about the report, please provide a trackback and a link to my download page -- -- rather than uploading the file to your server. Also, please feel free to write comments to this post.

Below is a summary of the main findings...

• For approximately 75% of the conversational partners (the people with whom the word-of-mouth marketing agents engaged in word-of-mouth communication) it did not matter that they were talking with someone affiliated with a marketing organization. Instead what mattered was that they trusted the agent was providing an honest opinion, felt the agent had their best interests at heart, and were providing relevant and valuable information.

• None of the key outcome metrics (credibility, inquiry, use, purchase, and pass-along/relay) were negatively affected by the agent disclosing their affiliation. In fact, the pass-along/relay rate (the number of people a person told after speaking with a word-of-mouth marketing agent) actually increased when the conversational partner was aware they were talking with a participant in an organized word-of-mouth marketing program.

• In over 75% of the cases where a person learned about a brand or product from another source of information (such as a print, radio, TV, or web advertisement), talking with the marketing agent increased the believability of that other source of information. This finding was also unaffected by agent disclosure.

• Prior to the enforcement of the word-of-mouth marketing organization’s disclosure policy (where agents were required to disclose their affiliation in episodes involving an organized word-of mouth campaign), 37% of the conversational partners reported they did not know of the agent’s affiliation.

• For about 5% of the conversational partners who were not aware of the agent’s affiliation with the marketing organization there was a negative “backlash” effect when they found out. These negative feelings could be directed toward the agent, the interaction with that agent, the brand being discussed, and/or the company who made the brand, product, or service. There were virtually no negative feelings, however, when the conversational partner was aware of the agent’s affiliation.
... and key conclusions:
• Participation in an organized word-of-mouth marketing program does not undermine the effectiveness of word-of-mouth communication.

• Disclosure has practical business benefits. It does not interrupt the “natural” flow of conversation.

• Word-of-mouth marketing organizations should adopt a clear policy that requires disclosure. This policy should be implemented with a combination of both education about the practical business benefits of disclosure as well as enforcement procedures.

• Word-of-mouth marketing organizations should pay special attention to interactions with strangers and acquaintances as these relationship types were the least likely to know about agent affiliation and also more likely to have negative feelings when they did not know about agent affiliation.

• Policies regarding disclosure should go beyond requiring agents to disclose affiliation and should have special considerations to make clear the market research aspect of the business model.

Many thanks to all the agents and conversational partners who participated in this study!

Click on the links below for other posts on this blog regarding disclosure and word-of-mouth marketing:

- Clarification in ClickZ's Story "BzzAgent to Agents: Spill the Beans, Or Else"

- The Practical Value of Disclosure in Word-of-Mouth Marketing Campaigns

- How Much Can You Trust Buzz?

- Do You Know of Video Clips about WOM, Buzz, and/or Undercover/Stealth Marketing?

- Faked Out By BK?

- Campus Ambassador Programs, Buzz Marketing, and Disclosure

- On Affiliation with a Buzz Marketing Agency, Disclosure, and Shopping in a Supermarket -- Part 2

- On Affiliation with a Buzz Marketing Agency, Disclosure, and Shopping in a Supermarket -- Part 1


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