To Generate Buzz Do Remarkable Things

December 15, 2006


“If you are genuinely not interesting, you have to do advertising,” says Andy Sernovitz. “That’s the price of being boring. People don’t want to talk to you. You have to pay them to talk to you.”

I’ve heard advertising compared to prostitution before but never in such a clever, compelling way.

Sernovitz is right. Word-of-mouth is the best marketing, and he’s leading the way in providing a structure to transform word-of-mouth into a marketing practice that can be utilized as effectively as search advertising or network TV.

Sernovitz is the author of the just published book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. He’s also founder of the two-year-old Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), which holds its annual conference this month in Washington, D.C.

When Sernovitz launched WOMMA in Chicago in 2004, I thought word-of-mouth marketing was a passing fad. Building buzz by word-of-mouth is a nice idea, but it is totally hit or miss. You have to be lucky to get people talking. Could word-of-mouth campaigns catch on and be thought of like print advertising, direct mail or radio?

I underestimated Sernovitz who’s smart, articulate and entrepreneurial.

“There is definitely some luck involved,” admits Sernovitz, “but that’s the old kind of word-of-mouth. When you add the second ‘m’ and call it word-of-mouth marketing, things get much more interesting.” Sernovitz’s point: There are some things marketers can do to earn good conversation. Those things are the focus of his book.

How do you get people talking about your products and services? “You need to do something remarkable,” is Sernovitz’s answer.

He’s right. We marketers have grown so risk averse we’ve forgotten word-of-mouth is the best marketing. You have to do remarkable things.

My conversion to word-of-mouth marketing came when a brown cardboard box arrived at my home. Inside was a bag of great-tasting Dale and Thomas popcorn. Also enclosed was a brochure for the Englewood, N.J.-based gourmet popcorn company and a copy of Sernovitz’s new book along with a note from Andy asking me to spread the word.

I ate the popcorn. It tasted great. Then I looked at the cover of Andy’s book. The forward is by author Seth Godin and the afterword is by Apple evangelist and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. Say what you like about Godin and Kawasaki—and I like and respect them both—but Sernovitz definitely got the right bookends. Remarkable, I thought. I have to call Andy and write a column.

Sernovitz is a natural raconteur, but I was still skeptical. Then he told me about the five T’s. “I’ve looked at hundreds of word-of-mouth marketing campaigns for literally hundreds of products,” says Sernovitz. “It always comes back to the five T’s.

Those five T’s to successfully applying word-of-mouth marketing are: talkers, topics, tools, taking part and tracking. If you adopt them, you can create brilliant word-of-mouth campaigns. Here’s how each breaks out:

Talkers — Find the people who are talking. Identify them and learn who they are. They could be your customers, bloggers, tech junkies. For every product or service it might be different. Understand what is going to get them talking about you.

Topic — A topic is a reason for people to talk about your brand. A topic is not a marketing message. It is not a mission statement. It is something short and remarkable that people can easily repeat. It is why people should talk about your brand. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is masterful at creating topics with his pink and purple PCs. They get people talking.

Tools — Consider using tools that make conversations happen. A topic on a static Web site is interesting, but messages on blogs, message boards or e-mails can easily scale and travel. “You can put a topic on a Web page and it’s just a Web page. You put the same exact thing on a blog, and it is linkable, restorable, portable and built to travel. Suddenly lots of people are involved with the conversation,” says Sernovitz.

Taking part — For word-of-mouth marketing to work, marketers need to participate in the conversation. When blogger Jeff Jarvis described his woes with Dell service and support and coined the term “Dell Hell,” the company was slow to take part. “This is the one that makes marketers incredibly uncomfortable,” says Sernovitz who calls the top performer in this area. “They have message boards, communities and a blog; it is all about these never-ending conversations,” he adds.

Tracking — “Word-of-mouth is very measurable,” says Sernovitz. “With blogs, suddenly millions of people started writing down everything they were thinking. We have this massive wealth of information. It gives us the ability to understand what people are saying and why they are saying it. This is very good data.” He says Hershey, Intuit, GM and even Dell are now tracking.

Reflecting on my conversation with Sernovitz, I realized his five T’s are remarkable and word-of-mouth marketing will grow in importance. That’s good for all of us.

Says Sernovitz, “Five years from now companies are going to treat people better. Products are going to be better because companies are going to be more respectful.” Why? Because new technology and word-of-mouth marketing is changing the marketplace.

“Two years ago you could advertise a bad product into good sales,” says Sernovitz. “Now if you put out a bad product—especially a bad tech product—within days, it is going to be on blogs and Amazon reviews. It is going to be on every tech message board.”

In the future, no amount of advertising will compensate for a bad product or bad service. Tech-enabled word-of-mouth will push the truth to the top immediately.

Michael Krauss is a president of Market Strategy Group based in Chicago, and can be reached at or


 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners