Identifying the important and urgent for your word of mouth

Different products or situations will influence the potential for w-o-m.

Ideally, products or services need to be:

  • compelling, you want to try it.
  • easy to try without risk
  • visible to potential users.

A w-o-m buzz has different impact on different types of business. The w-o-m potential of a situation will be determined by a number of ‘contagious attributes’ It works well when there is:

  1. high involvement among customers, where the idea, product, or service has high potential conversation value.
  2. excitement in some way in the product
  3. innovation and something genuinely new about the product or service.
  4. providing a personal experience, for example hotels, cars, airlines, or restaurants
  5. a complex product, where there is a need to reduce risk.
  6. a high-level of risk, or expense involved in a choice. If the subject is ‘mission critical’ it will be adopted more carefully expensive, again there is a high need to reduce risk and dissonance.
  7. observable, such as clothes, mobile phones, or cars. You are less likely to discuss a product if it is ‘invisible’. How would you, for example, describe your own pension plan?
  8. offering social validation involved by making the purchase, such as the places which you perceive as defining your lifestyle or status in your network or community.
  9. a promoter behind the w-o-m who has sufficient energy and critical mass to make substantive connections
  10. a high perceived credibility of subject matter among target audiences

Different factors influence the potential w-o-m capability of a situation.

The emotional involvement with a product is a good predictor of how many people will subsequently be told about experience. Cars form have a high emotional interest and create more of an emotional bond with their users; most people can remember every car they have had, many can talk about the subject for hours, and lots of people use what car you have as a sign of your material success and lifestyle statement.

The privacy factor will also affect potential w-o-m. Fewer people will talk and tell about their own personal financial position and specific use of services. Healthcare is another potential area where a discretion to keep one’s personal life private can hinder the w-o-m dynamic.

In theUK, the National Health Service (NHS) is regularly criticised in the media, creating the impression that the service is on the verge of collapse or significantly under-performing. Yet day-in, day-out, the NHS successfully treats thousands of patients and provides a relatively good performance. It clearly is failing to harness the power of positive w-o-m. The 1.2 million NHS staff should be trained to encourage their satisfied patients to spread the word about their experience.

w-o-m will spread more significantly and extensively if there is a:

  1. crisis – where your own individual well-being could be perceived to be at risk.
  2. mission – the need for concerted effort to accomplish a major goal
  3. problem – rapid involvement of many people desirable to solve the challenge.
  4. danger – knowing about potential dangers where spreading the message can significantly increase the safety of each person. This operates as a result of reciprocal altruism. The act may evidently appear altruistic, in that you are doing something for the benefit of others. It can be rationalised as furthering your self –interest in that you would hope by doing something altruistic in the hope that others would do the same thing for you in similar circumstances.

Identifying crucial stages

When faced with a decision there are four major phases people go through:

Information stage – you cast around, sourcing data to establish your available options become aware of options

Verification stage – you try to find confirmatory evidence to discover if your information is true, where you decide-to-decide, and ultimately select among your options.

Implement/on-going use stage – your own feedback from trial determines whether you abandon or expand commitment to decision.

Advocacy stage (both negative or positive) – you decide to go beyond neutral to either positive or negative advocacy in your own w-o-m.

The need for w-o-m information will also depend on the relationships between w-o-m sender and receiver. These relationships can be characterised as:

  • expert to expert, where information is more important than verification
  • expert to non-expert, where w-o-m confirmation and verification are more important than information.

Each of the above networks will require different w-o-m seeding in both content and in the initial dissemination of the message. Different audiences will vary in their needs and also have a different propensity to spread w-o-m. Immigrant groups for example may rely on peers or community leaders. Age may impact with young people for example, being more influenced by peers than by the media.

The more specifically you tailor your w-o-m messages to the relevant stage in the decision-making process the more effective they will be. In the Information stage accuracy and availability of your information is crucial. At the verification stage third-party testimonials and case studies can be used to provide confirmatory evidence.

Different w-o-m strategies work in different parts of the adoption of ideas or products cycle. They can be used to not only secure positive w-o-m but also speed-up the decision-making process.

These tips are just a few of the 101 different tips an ideas being offered to public relations and marketing professionals in the first ‘Word of Mouth and Viral Marketing course being run by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

The half day training course takes place in Londonon the afternoon of Friday November 11th. Places are limited, to book your place visit www.cipr.co.uk or ring 0207 631 6900.

The course has been devised and will be delivered by Andy GreenFCIPR. His book ‘Effective Personal Communication Sills for PR’, part of the Institute’s PR in Practice series, was one of the first PR texts to cover word of mouth and memes.

Sharing examples from the work of Edward Bernays to the latest cutting edge campaigns, you will go away telling your friends how you can manage your word-of-mouth, how to create positive messages about you, what you do and what you stand for.

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