Word of mouth marketing is not word of mouth

Yet another pathetic agency thinking it has invented a new tool in marketing.  Apparently the US-based “WOM marketing agency” has signed up “nearly 12,000 British volunteers” for 7 campaigns in the UK.  Such people will supposedly promote products to their friends in return for some freebies. 

People who sign up to campaigns to promote products to their friends and family are sales people on the cheap.  Using social contacts as agents is a long-standing direct sales strategy used by companies such as , and .  This ain’t new.

The “volunteers” are simply sales people – seemingly working for free or on the cheap.  They are not genuine brand advocates and if they are not open about their “marketing” role, their recommendations will pretty soon be recognised as worthless. 

You cannot buy or bribe good word of mouth – it originates from delivering a truly remarkable service or product that people will honestly want to tell their friends about.

Real word of mouth works in the favour of good brands – and the credibility of such recommendations will be tainted by the exploitation by marketing agencies. 

The word I’d like to mouth at such stupid marketers is “bogoff”.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

6 thoughts on “Word of mouth marketing is not word of mouth”

  1. Kind of works I suppose.
    I’m fond of stating that that the best forms of marketing mimic the referral method of building up customers.
    You can buy or bribe good word of mouth. After all, by doing a good job, any tradesman BUYS your good worth of mouth. He’s just bought it the obvious way. If he gives you a discount next time, you’ll promote him more.
    Why not take this concept further?

  2. You’d have to be a bit sad to do this marketing work for free on the basis of a few free samples.
    If I really like a product or service I’ll recommend it for nothing. But a free sample won’t make a difference. I’m on my daughter’s school’s PTA and recently we were sent a ‘free’ product to try in the hope we’d sell similar versions on to other parents and keep a percentage of profits. We agreed the product was too naff to be associated with.

  3. I have to say my housemates appear to be among the people sad enough to fall for such a ploy. They are registered with an agency of some kind and get sent links to websites and products to reccommend every now and then, they are told that if they forward the link on to 10 people they will receive prizes and freebies – the latest prize is apparently a case of Veuve Cliquot champagne… although as yet, three weeks after they bombarded their mates with faux-reccommendations they are yet to receive a drop of cava, let alone the good stuff.

    In the meantime this agency now have the names and contact details of 30+ people (thankfully not me as I declined my invitation to partake) who they can now spam at will. I can’t imagine my housemates will be flavour of the month with their friends and families when the emails start flooding in imploring them to do the same…

    When done correctly WoM can make or break brands, but this form is just violating the good name of WoM and Veuve!

  4. I have to say my housemates appear to be among the people sad enough to fall for such a ploy. They are registered with an agency of some kind and get sent links to websites and products to recommend every now and then, they are told that if they forward the link on to 10 people they will receive prizes and freebies – the latest prize is apparently a case of Veuve Cliquot champagne… although as yet, three weeks after they bombarded their mates with faux-recommendations they are yet to receive a drop of cava, let alone the good stuff.

    In the meantime this agency now have the names and contact details of 30+ people (thankfully not me as I declined my invitation to partake) who they can now spam at will. I can’t imagine my housemates will be flavour of the month with their friends and families when the emails start flooding in imploring them to do the same…

    When done correctly WoM can make or break brands, but this form is just violating the good name of WoM and Veuve!

  5. Crushed – I believe marketing should support, even stimulate, word of mouth, but not mimic or exploit it. As Caroline illustrates, the quality of the product and service is much more critical than any hype or false endorsement.

    It seems cynical to me to say that by doing a good job a tradesman is “buying” good word of mouth. Indeed, normally we recommend people on the basis that they have done more than a good job, with actions or products that are “remarkable”, ie worthy of comment.

    Again, a discount or other “loyalty” payment would only encourage recommendations where we feel they are deserved, interesting or of value. The Threshers voucher at Christmas took off because people were happy to pass it on – thinking it was a good deal and they were in the know.

    For recommendations to have real value to organisations, the element of source credibility is essential. Do I believe and trust the person making the recommendation? Is their story honest and reliable? Have they acted in good faith?

    I don’t mind at all if they said to me, I’ve been sent this voucher, why don’t you use it or I have been given some free samples and thought you’d like them. Or I am an agent for Tupperware, would you like to hold a party? Or, if they pass on an article or report a good experience.

    Even better word of mouth would be if I spontaneously asked them for a recommendation – I love your new shoes, where did you get them? Excellent products tend to speak for themselves.

    Louise nicely illustrates the sad side of this “word of mouth” marketing approach. We are selling our friends and contacts, it is basic pyramid selling. And the quickest way to lose our own credibility in passing on any word of mouth.

    If a company has to try that hard, it makes me question the quality of the product and service in the first place.

  6. Hey nice story🙂, well it definitely is some thing that every corporate would be worried about. I know a similar story where the clinet was Pepsi and thing went terrible wrong post 3 months.😉 (not crazy to name the agency)

    However Heather please do have a look at Tell-a-Friend from Socialtwist, I am sure you would like it on your online property. I am using it on mine too http://www.ashes2brands.com

    cheers!
    Websatan

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