The impact of word-of-mouth marketing: a McKinsey report

word-of-mouthWe’ve been extolling the virtues of word-of-mouth marketing over big-budget advertising for some time now, and when a firm of consultants like McKinsey start doing the same thing it really feels like our message is hitting home.

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly looked at the impact of word-of-mouth-marketing for businesses and how companies can take better advantage of buzz.

The article shows how many marketers are spending millions of dollars on elaborate advertising campaigns when often what’s really needed to help influence consumers is a  “word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source” which “cuts through the noise” of traditional marketing methods.

This is nothing new to us here at FreshNetworks. We’ve always said that online communities and social networks amplify word-of-mouth and that the right message can resonate and expand, affecting brand perceptions and increasing sales. But what is interesting is the way the article looks at at the impact of word-of-mouth marketing – or, what McKinsey term, “word-of-mouth equity”.

Word-of-mouth equity is a brand’s power to generate messages that influence the consumer’s decision to purchase. In essence, this is the average sales impact of a brand message multiplied by the number of word-of-mouth messages.

When assessing the impact of word-of-mouth marketing the following factors need to be taken into account:

1. What’s being said

In order to influence consumer decisions a successful word-of-mouth message should address important products or service features. (While marketers tend to build campaigns around emotional positioning, consumers actually tend to talk—and generate buzz—about functional messages).

2. The identity of the person who sends the message

The word-of-mouth receiver must trust the sender and believe that they really know the product or service in question. Otherwise that message will not trusted or spread any further.

3. The environment where the message is circulated.

Messages passed within tight, trusted networks have less reach but a greater impact than those circulated through dispersed communities (Think about the difference in hearing an opinion from someone you know and trust, to someone you’ve just met on the street), so there’s usually a high correlation between people whose opinions are trusted and the members of networks that are most valued.

If businesses take these key driving forces into account when pursuing excellence in word-of-mouth marketing, the potential benefits are huge. Yet many marketers avoid actively using word-of-mouth as it’s seen as an immature and somewhat unsophisticated approach to marketing.

As a starting point, marketers should look at word-of-mouth through social media. Social media monitoring can be used to track how the message is being spread online as well as the impact it is having on your brand or business. Marketers should also engage in social networks and online communities where they can help guide and stimulate word-of-mouth by interacting with customers and people who are interested in their business or services.  Any negativity or derogatory comments can be addressed and managed in an appropriate and timely manner and, more importantly, any good comments and recommendations will be broadcast to the entire online universe. Now that’s really spreading the word.

The McKinsey article is our Required Reading at FreshNetworks this week, and you can read the full article online.