It just might be the other kind of conversation, the one surrounded by doubt -- is my friend who is telling me they love this product being sincere or are they getting something out of it? By 2011, research company eMarketer estimates that 20% of adult Internet users will be word-of-mouth influencers.
I haven't seen the report, yet I do wonder if this is also based on the use of social media to publish information and opinions. Are you passionate about a product and service? Do you like being in the know? Chances are marketers are looking at you as a potential extension of their staff to go and spread the word. With traditional loyalty programs, it is difficult to tell if behavior is genuine or if it is dictated by convenience.
Meet the new customer loyalty program -- you give happy customers freebies in the hope they will tell their family and friends. As a company tailors its programs on those whose behavior can be "bought", will it miss the conversation with truly loyal customers who do not need the free gifts? And how are companies going to find those passionate consumers? If you publish, chances are one of the ways is through key word searches.
I read a lot of material, books especially, and I have featured many on this blog. Some authors have found me because I wrote about them and may decide to keep me in the loop for their next project. Other authors start as the friends I know and respect who then publish a book. In both cases, I will write about the book only if I personally found it useful and interesting. My desk is filled with books I received from publishing houses and publicists.
Which books am I more likely to find the time to read? Aside from those that are clearly well written, the ones that are going to teach me something new that will fit with what my hot topics are. And to do that, you would have to have read this blog at least a little to know what those might be.
What about the people who do not have an online presence? No problem, we'll give them one through a cool site. Procter & Gamble did with Tremor, which they define as a VIP community of teens and counts 225,000 members to date. By depicting itself as a place where it is cool to hang out, P&G is hoping it will build some equity in the teens wallets with coupons and special offers. Will it also build share of heart?
The code reference for the freebie loyalty program at Staples is Speak Easy. It's a simple concept, if your customers are going to become an extension of your sales force, why not craft a few simple messages they can use when speaking about your products? Here are some free pens and office materials and a couple of bullet points on each product to make it easier for you to tell your friends.
I tend to think that people in the end need to be responsible for what they choose to do and in that vein, the best form of advertising is often the free kind -- what customers volunteer about your product and service. Are you listening? The LA Times reports (free subscription required) that eMarketer estimates in 2006 about 65 million Americans gave word-of-mouth advice both as part of formal programs and just in the course of normal conversations. Which part did a company pay for?