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February 05, 2009
Word of mouth vs. buzz
Let's make a distinction between word of mouth vs. buzz.
Word of mouth is a byproduct of a remarkable culture. It's how companies like 37 Signals, Discovery Education, and The Container Store grow and flourish. Their companies are organized around a well-defined purpose and strong values, which may not be for everyone, but they're important enough to a significant group of people. Their foundations help produce notable products and services, generating word of mouth for the long-term. None would describe what they do as "word of mouth marketing."
Buzz is the result of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign. Campaign is the operative word: Programs with established start and stop moments, defined by time or money. Buzz can spread quickly via an established foundation of loyalty and trust, but its results are usually short-term. Gimmick-driven buzz is common, and it's a minefield, often exposing a soggy purpose or questionable values. BailoutBooth, an online classified ad company, used one of the oldest tricks in the book: giving away money. It handed out $50 bills to people in Times Square the other day, $100,000 worth, if recipients would sit in front of a camera and plead poverty. The buzz generated a write-up in the New York Times:
There was understandable skepticism about the whole thing, but once people realized that they could actually get money from the ploy, any reluctance disappeared.
“It’s a blessing,” (one recipient) said. “Nobody else is doing this.”
Congrats for creating buzz with potential, but visit the company's website, and you see its purpose and values on display. An attractive woman in a video pitches the company while a guy in sunglasses and a hat plays phony on the phone for no apparent reason. Smells like gimmick spirit with a big dollop of shlock. A shame to spend $100,000 marketing something that's unlikely to be converted into the social capital of word of mouth.
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Like your distinction between customer driven WOM and company generated buzz. This Times Square gimmick strikes me as consistent with the short-term buzz a company gets with a reliance on deep discount promotions. People remember saving a buck but there is no long-term positive experience that sticks in their minds. I mean, its not like I am going to go to their web site and expect them to give me money.
Denny's spending $5 million dollars to giveaway 2-million Grand Slam breakfasts.
In-N-Out Burger doing what it does everyday, serving up remarkable burgers in remarkable ways.
You're right Ben. BUZZ is what a business did as a one-off while WOM is what a business does everyday, not just one day.
This is important topic because the boundary between word-of-mouth and buzz seems blurry in some discussions. I live in a small town, and if you ask a local small business owner about word of mouth, they would say it's about business reputation -- positive or not. Small businesses work for years to build good community reputations and foster good word-of-mouth. Word of mouth builds over a relatively long term.
Buzz might be about reputation, but it might also be about a gimmick or an outrageous ad or stunt that has nothing to do with reputation. As you say, buzz is short term.
Thanks for discussing this.
I LOVE that example. Perfect!
Watching the video on bailoutbooth was PAINFUL. And very straightforward reflectoin of their values.
Buzz gets no respect in my book, either.
ESPECIALLY when it preys on people's fears. Or encourages them to be victims.
See at least HALF of the reality shows out there today...
make people popular (relevant)... buzz will get people to talk about you as a fad. A remarkable experience, a relevant experience... will get people to talk about you like a family member.
Sarah -- One of the requests on their site is money to learn snowboarding. Seems about right.
John -- Love the comparison. Timely and true.
Paul -- Good point about buzz and reputation. The two are often reflective of one another.
Bolaji -- Painful is certainly one way to put it! This is a good entry point to clarify, as well: I'm not anti-buzz. Sometimes buzz tactics might make sense, so long as they fit in with a company's purpose and values. My point only is to, as Paul suggests, help create distinctions between the two.
great blog. good thoughts. keep it up.
Important distinction and great examples Ben. Thanks. I like Kathy Sierra's take:
"Buzz: Getting users excited about YOU.
Sustainable WOM: Getting them excited about THEMSELVES.
Buzz is awesome. Focusing on getting it is not.
Often couterproductve since it’s about drawing attention, not giving it.”
Justin and Tom -- Many thanks.
I'm wondering how this can be translated into a social media social media context. Seems nowadays everyone is striving for online "buzz" by creating one crazy youtube video after the other.
From my perspective it seems like what companies really can benefit from though social media participation is WOM through basically having a good business strategy and sharing info with everyone.
My concern is the constant focus on doing superficial activities just to get noticed as opposed to developing good core values that WILL get noticed...
Ben, Great Post
I believe that Buzz continues in popularity because many executives are still stuck on buying marketing with an instant result. Albeit, that quick bang fades quickly and has little long term impact.
WOM is the Road Less Traveled, and is a much longer term commitment, and touches so many more aspects of your business to pull it off. Too WOM is a very humbling experience for the business owner and their team. Buzz Artists aren't so interested in being humble
Word of Mouth is "Hey, my name is Jeremy, nice to meet you. Here's some stuff I'm working on you might think is cool."
Buzz is "HEY CHECK THIS OUT IM JEREMY PLEASE LOVE ME IM AWESOME COME HERE OFTEN SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER WANNA COME HOME WITH ME PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?"
And as we all know, desperation is wholly unattractive.
Some people can think of these short term buzzes for all the time. Not all are big wins. They never sit down and see what costs more and what really gives impact.
The Wright Place TV Show
Great distinction! What's that saying about people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing? And speaking personally, this post is a *gift* for me as it pinpoints what I want to say in a presentation on social media a couple of weeks from now. I was grappling with how to get the point across. What was hanging me up was that with some campaigns that worked on the "sucker born every minute" principle there were people - apparently intetelligent - saying, in so many words, "what's the problem? If it works, it's ok." Maybe "intelligence" isn't all it's cracked up to be.
I've enjoyed reading the books that you and Jackie have written and have learned a lot from both of you. I completely agree with your take that WOM is the byproduct of a remarkable culture and it is much more effective than the buzz gimmicks you outline above. However, as the author the Buzz Builder Blog since January 2005, I'm not ready to stop using "buzz," a great descriptive word. Most businesses want to create buzz and I don't see anything wrong with that. Rather than trying to talk businesses out of using the word, I will continue working to educate them on how the best buzz is created by providing excellent products and service and engaging customers in an authentic manner over time.
Theodor -- That's an excellent topic idea. I would think that any organization that's using social media should ask two questions:
1. What's our purpose for using X social media tool?
2. Does that purpose fit with our purpose as an organization?
Eric -- So true. Shortcuts is one answer. The other, I believe, is that there are a few metrics around buzz, however nebulous they may be. Word of mouth, on the other hand, has the big-daddy metric: the Net Promoter Score.
Jeremy -- Heh! I want to see you make the YouTube video of that.
Des -- Perfect timing. There's a lot to explore with word of mouth vs. buzz via social media, as referenced from Theodor's earlier comment.
Patrick -- Many thanks. I'm not anti-buzz, and I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of focusing on it. As I wrote in the Society for Word of Mouth newsletter today: "Buzz is the result of a marketing campaign. Campaign is the operative word: Programs with clearly defined start and stop moments, defined by time or money. Buzz can spread faster if there's an established word-of-mouth foundation of loyalty and trust. Caution: It can also reveal a soggy purpose or questionable values."
I like your take on WOM. Way too many companies think that it is all about how they market. If they do something shocking or funny they think that they can generate WOM, but all you really end up with is a flash in the pan about the commercial, not their products. Great customer engagement takes time and effort. My company is starting to use a product called Brosix to communicate with customers one on one. They really seem to respond to the IM's.
Buzz is a word. Word of mouth is the necessary language to form the word.
Nice article. Keep going lile this, pal!
Totally agree Ben - there is nothing more trite than a company that tries to create a "viral" piece of marketing with purposes of creating buzz. Do you think PR helps with word-of-mouth? I'm thinking of using a pay-per-article-placed agency (like PublicityGuaranteed.com) but was curious to get your thoughts.
Interesting discussion going on over at AmEx's OPEN Forum now, debating differences between womm and buzz. You did a terrific job of outlining it! http://blogs.openforum.com/2009/02/11/the-art-of-generating-buzz/
Kate -- A gimmick is a tax on creativity.
Ariherzog -- I like it!
Dan -- Word of mouth is PR. Professional PR assistance can certainly help, but the ultimate goal is to make social media become your PR.
Hayli -- We're huge fans of Emanuel Rosen (and Guy, too). We have news about Emanuel to announce pretty soon over at SWOM (http://www.theswom.org).
nice post... I think, nowdays the diference betwen two concepts are not yet undertand
I agree with you...but i prefer, for buzz, talking about approach (as weel as viral, guerrilla, etc.) than result.
Wom is a global marketing paradigme including viral, buzz, guerrilla... It's a paradigme based in generated conversations betwen consumers and users...
Buzz is a wom mkt approach based in generated a incredible, remarkable or impacted new or anything to generate wom (conversations)... This approach has to be impactting, diffrente... A new that eveypeople want to talk about. It's like a way of generating wom throught the impact
Welcome to the NEW Pasión por el Marketing
Ben: that's look sound to me and i agree to you Today world is a Business and Business depends on your Stratigies and Marketing Word of Mouth is a nice and convinent way to market your business.
I like the way you describe the distinction: word of mouth is a byproduct of real and legitimate efforts, or as you say a "culture". Buzz has the gimmicky connotation. I teach that word of mouth is, more than ever, the most powerful form of marketing and extraordinary service is the most efficient way to create positive word of mouth. Your article is consistent with this description in that in order to deliver great customer service there must exist a "culture of service" within the entity. This is a distinction worth making as the already amazing power of word of mouth has increased perhaps 100 fold with Web 2.0 Thanks for the post. - James Kohn, www.jameskohn.com