When we hear the phrase “word-of-mouth marketing” these days we automatically think of the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

But while these can all be useful tools for a company that wants to increase its brand presence, word-of-mouth marketing is really about much more than just a great presence on the web, says Geno Church, “word-of-mouth inspiration officer” for Brains on Fire, a marketing company based in Greenville, South Carolina. The firm, says Church, “helps organizations build movements through a bond between word-of-mouth marketing and identity development.”

Church will speak on “People are the Killer App: Lessons Learned in Building Word-of-Mouth Movements” at the next meeting of the New Jersey Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association on Wednesday, October 28, at 6 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street. Cost: $25. Reservations can be made at www.njcama.org. For more information contact njcama@njha.com or call 609-275-4123.

Church has helped build word-of-mouth campaigns for brands such as Fiskars, the American Booksellers Association, Rawlings Sporting Goods, and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities. A 1982 graduate of the University of South Carolina, where he majored in graphic design, he credits his professors as some of his earliest influences in understanding the concepts of word-of-mouth marketing.

“I was very lucky,” Church says. “I was really influenced by Madison Avenue, but my professors always held me to the fire to make sure that I developed good strategy. They stressed it’s not just about the look, about creating great design. It’s not about being the most creative, but about what works.”

Church began his career doing more traditional marketing. “Our firm won awards,” he says. “We won Addy’s (American Advertising Federation awards) for our designs. But in the mid-’90s I started to understand that doing the right thing for the client meant doing the right thing, not winning an award.”

The campaign that was the turning point for Church was called, “Rage Against the Haze,” an anti-smoking campaign aimed at South Carolina high school students.

“We could have developed a great, creative ad campaign, but instead we realized that the way to serve the clients, and the students we needed something different,” he says.

The campaign, which is still in effect in South Carolina, works to develop teens into non-smoking advocates for other teens.

Develop a plan. One of the first mistakes many people make when starting to use social networking as a business strategy is to forget to develop the strategy. “Don’t just start a Facebook or MySpace page because everyone tells you that you need to,” Church says. Zappo’s Shoes, for example, has been very successful using Twitter because it works with the company’s overall strategy of selling shoes online. “It is a great way for the company to listen to people. They are saying, ‘What can we do to help you right now?’ and if someone sends them a Twitter they can respond immediately.”

Pull vs. push. Unfortunately, most companies do not have such a well-thought out strategy for their social networking marketing. “Most companies are still treating social networking sites as public relations sites — a way to push the information out to their customers. Instead, they should try to pull in their customers,” he explains.

Church uses a bagel shop as an example. “The shop can put out a Twitter saying ‘right now we’ve got a two for one special going on bagels,’” and pull people into the store. They can talk about how their bagels are made and get responses from their customers.”

Give a little. One of the best features of social networking sites is the ability to personalize your business. “Give a little bit of you,” he says. “It’s not just about saying ‘you need to come in and buy our product.’ You want to share your passion, share why you are there. That’s the great thing about social networking.”

There is a delicate balance, however, between sharing enough and sharing too much information. When Church was asked to create a word-of-mouth campaign for Fiskars, the scissors manufacturer, he first studied several blogs devoted to scrapbooking and crafts. He spoke with Donna Downey, a well-known crafter, with a successful blog. Her formula, he says, was that 90 percent of the blog should be about life and 10 percent about the business. Her theory, he says, is “if they don’t like me they aren’t going to respect me.”

That does not mean, however, that a business-related Twitter should include tweets on every aspect of the person’s life. “If you tweet every time you go to the bathroom people are just going to hope you shut up. Tweet about your personal life, but make it meaningful,” he advises.

Just be polite. “There is no formula” yet for successfully using social networking for a business,” Church says. “We’re all still new at this. We’re all just taking the master’s class together.” The basic thing to remember is to be just as polite on your social networking site as you would be in person. Don’t be a nuisance.

More than social networking. Word-of-mouth is about a lot more than just learning to effectively use social networking sites. “Sell the passion, not the product,” is Church’s basic rule for word-of-mouth marketing. “Find out why your customers love your product or service, then tell others.”

He mentions a South African mattress company that gets love letters every day from its customers. They asked Church’s advice on how these testimonials could work for them.

He suggested inviting the letter writers to the factory for a special tour to see just how their mattresses were made. This type of individual marketing helps to develop a personal relationship between the customer and the company. Any customers who take the tour are certain to tell all of their friends about the experience.

Personal recommendations. Successful word-of-mouth marketing creates personal recommendations about your business. “If someone becomes a fan on Facebook and I read that, will it really have any meaning for me? I don’t know you,” asks Church. In fact, he says, 90 percent of word-of-mouth marketing occurs offline, rather than online.

“If someone I know talks to me about a product and tells me how great it is, that’s a recommendation I remember.”

Facebook Comments