Monday, March 20, 2006

Dr. Carl @ NE: Lecture on The Gensis of WOM

Dr. Walter Carl is holding a lecture this Wednesday titled: Consumer-Generated Media: The Birth of the Word-of-Mouth Industry. If you haven't met or heard Walter, you definitely should. I may be victim to a little-bit of academia-envy, true--but I've always felt like he has a very clear and concise view of what WOM's about.

I wish I could be there--the talk is in Chicago and I'm here in SF. But I would love to offer my own theory on why Word of Mouth has experienced such a resurgence, of late. It all comes down to the priorities of the marketing department. In the (fairly recent) past, the most important task for marketing was awareness. But the priority stack has shifted, and now the top task is relationships.

You could certainly argue that TiVO-technology has viscerally demonstrated the downward spiral of awareness marketing to the ad team. But really, the provision of easy-avoidance technology has only demonstrated what people already knew: commercials are to be avoided.

WOM is really evidence of a relationship: if people discuss you, they care about you. Focusing on WOM is focusing on relationships. Or, at least, it should be. I worry that people consider WOM to be yet-another-media channel, and they seek to buy and manage it just like they've always done.

Certainly that's a part of the challenge, but fitting WOM channels into traditional marketing structures only diminishes its important. I imagine we'll start seeing PodCast GRPs sometime soon, which is cool. But all that really means is that big, traditional marketing subsumes all channels.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walter is in Boston at Northeastern University, not in Chicago.

I wish he WAS in Chicago so I could see his talk : )

10:27 AM  
Blogger Walter Carl said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for posting about my talk. We had a great turnout and a lot of good questions afterward. I'll upload the slides to my blog in the near future.

To speak specifically to the rest of your post, here are the four reasons I argued WOM is experiencing a resurgence:

- Advertising is increasingly perceived as invasive and "clutter";
- Distrust of corporate messages, at least among some groups and a corresponding increase in the importance of "people like me" recommendations;
- Consumer desire for greater control and engagement;
- Emergence of communication technologies to amplify WOM.

I agree with you about the increasing importance that organizations place on relationships though I fear that some companies wish they could "get away" with awareness and have only come to the idea of relationships begrudgingly (and thus I think some of their efforts will be seen as shallow).

In my talk I also discussed the issue of WOM as a media channel and argued that if the industry (or a portion of it, anyway) makes this shift in how we talk about WOM, then the effectiveness of the channel will still rely on relationship principles that serve as the foundation of effective and ethical WOM. These are:

- Trustworthiness (I trust the person with whom I'm talking)
- Caring/Goodwill (I perceive the other person has my best interests at heart)
- Experience-based knowledge (The person who is giving a recommendation has actual experience with the brand, product, and service to ground the recommendation)
- Relevancy (I perceive the information I'm receiving is relevant to me).



11:21 AM  

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