Tuesday, February 13, 2007

WOM Program Planner: A Tool for Organizations to Align WOM Initiatives with Objectives

In addition to my academic research and teaching I really enjoy working with organizations of various kinds in a consultative role. In one particular engagement where I was presenting about the WOM and social media industry I learned that someone wanted to develop a guide or check-list that could be distributed throughout the company to aid the planning of word of mouth initiatives (kind of like a "if you want to accomplish x, then do y" guide).

My first thought, though I didn't mention this to the person at the time, was that anything like that would ultimately be too much like a recipe and "cookie-cutter," resulting in uninspired use of the various WOM techniques available to companies. I still think this is a danger, but I also liked what this person was saying: that people, especially those trying to get a handle on WOM (and especially in a large, global company), could use a helpful framework to get people up-to-speed quickly. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (disclosure: advisory board member) has done a good job with their WOM101 guide, but I'd like to take up the challenge of providing a quick primer that could be used as a planning tool that matches objectives with techniques to accomplish those objectives.

(By the way, another reason I did this was because a common myth about WOM marketing is that it's only used for promotion or for the launch of a new product; I wanted to provide a range of objectives for which WOM techniques can be used).

I offer the following as a work in progress. I'm sure there will be some disagreement about what I've done here, and I've probably erred on the side of making this too simplistic, but it's a start and I would appreciate people's feedback. Here's what I did:

Download WOM Program Planner (PDF)

I placed the more common objectives of WOM programs across the top row, and listed some of the more common techniques down the left column, resulting in a grid. These aren't exhaustive, but I could only fit so many on a PowerPoint slide!

Common Objectives for WOM Programs:

- Customer insight and innovation
- Generating awareness and pass-along
- Crafting favorable brand perceptions
- Engendering purchase intentions and driving sales
- Diminishing impact of negative WOM
Common Techniques or Initiatives for WOM Programs (see WOM101 for more details):
- Conversation Tracking (monitoring and tracking brand-related conversations in online and offline venues)

- Community Creation and Management (providing people with like-minded interests a platform for dialogue and belonging with one another and the company)

- Brand Advocacy or Evangelist Programs (mobilizing loyal, passionate customers to advocate on behalf of the brand)

- Managing Service Experience (providing superior customer service and service recovery)

- Blog Marketing (managing a company or product/service-related blog and/or engaging others in the blogosphere or other online venues)

- Influencer Marketing (identifying people who are especially influential within social networks and engaging them)

- Viral Marketing (making it easy for people to spread the word on behalf of a brand, especially in an online environment, and especially using content this humorous, provocative, or otherwise entertaining)
Then, I can match and rank the relative value of each technique for each objective. I used "Low" (not particularly useful or not commonly used to achieve that objective), "Medium" (a pretty good fit), and "High" (optimal fit).

So, let's run through a couple of easy examples (view WOM Program Planner):

- Viral marketing tends to be really useful for creating awareness and stimulating pass-along, but there is a danger of the resulting communication to be about the campaign itself and not about the brand (see WOM creationist for further details). While there may be instances where viral marketing drives sales, this is less frequently the case and often times not the primary goal. Whereas, for example, advocacy programs and influencer programs may be especially well-suited for generating intentions to purchase or use the brand.

- Private, branded communities are especially useful in generating customer insight and innovation. Tracking WOM episodes in online and offline venues can be especially helpful for this, in addition to identify trends and identifying who is particularly influential on a topic.

- Managing the customer service experience and service recovery is an excellent way to manage negative WOM. It's not necessarily designed to stimulate pass-along across many generations of people (even if we're really satisfied with the customer service experience I may tell a friend about it, but what's the impetus for that person to pass that message along as well?).

- Blog marketing and engagement can be especially robust in accomplishing a number of objectives (see Naked Conversations for a helpful overview).

- Identifying and reaching out to influencers (one of the classic WOM techniques for many decades is especially helpful in stimulating pass-along and generating purchase intentions. I ranked it "low" on diminishing negative WOM not because it can't be used for these purposes but because it often isn't (it tends to be more of a promotional activity to stimulate positive WOM and/or as part of a seeding initiative). However, a way that it could be used to diminish negative WOM is in a crisis containment and recovery scenario. For example, when Kryptonite was trying to to damage control after the whole "Bic pen" crisis, a representative from the company's PR department, Donna Tucci, identified a number of influential bloggers and online community members to engage them and explain the company's response (see this interview, for example). This was helpful in curtailing at least some of the negative WOM that was spreading about Kryptonite's response.

A less helpful way to use the WOM Program Planner is as a set of "answers"; a more useful way is to facilitate discussion about possible avenues. For example, what are the pros and cons of using technique X? Or how can technique Y be used to accomplish our objective Z?

As I mentioned above, I'd be interested in constructive criticism from those experienced in the ways of WOM and those trying to get a handle on it, so that this tool can become more useful to individuals and organizations.

Download WOM Program Planner (PDF)