As I've mentioned to many people over the years, even if you're not steeped in this world as I am, there are 3 essential books on the subject of word of mouth everybody should have on their bookshelves.
From a broad perspective, Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" was especially formative for me in how I saw the business world and marketing work at a time when I was just starting out my entrepreneurial life with Agent Wildfire. It is a sociological treat and he gets brownie points for being Canadian.
From a "meat and potatoes" standpoint, Gaspedal's and WOMMA's founder Andy Sernovitz provides a handy reference guide "Word of Mouth Marketing" on how to do word of mouth well and avoid the executional potholes people run into.
Wedged right in the middle of Gladwell and Sernovitz is Emanuel Rosen. Guy Kawasaki calls him the "Peter Drucker" of buzz marketing. I managed to catch up with Emanuel just after he had wrapped up his book tour of "The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited" which he had conducted from the confines of a NOLS bus, powered by vegetable oil.
The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited is a sequel to his book from his 2000 writeup "The Anatomy of Buzz". 9 years later, the content is still as prescient as it was back then with many new examples and two-thirds new content. His chapter 24 "Buzz Workshop" is worth the price of the book alone filled with smart and savvy considerations , plus his 10 principles in chapter 9 and 6 characteristics of "hubs" and why we talk is potent stuff. Disclosure: I feel almost guilty given my love of Emanuel's content and the fact I received the book for FREE as part of Emanuel's personal outreach of various WOM VIPs.
Here are the outtakes from our hour on the phone together:
Buzz Canuck (Sean Moffitt): Emanuel, welcome from your tour across the country, congrats on the new book - 9 years is a long time between book editions particularly one that deals with the fast-changing world of buzz, what's changed and why the new edition?
Emanuel Rosen: Thank you Sean. I agree 9 years is quite a long time. I find one of the biggest changes is that I don't have to convince a lot of people why this topic is important anymore but more the need is to convey how these strategies and tools are being used. From my perspective, the top 3 things that have changed since my first edition (and let's remember, my first draft was in 1993!):
- most important, the availability of research simply didn't exist back in the late 90s on how and why buzz worked - we have a tonne of hard data to lean on now
- there are more case studies and practitioners and many great examples of buzz building - they are littered throughout this new edition
- it may be obvious but the technology has changed - Facebook, blogs, video and picture-based social sharing has transformed the landscape of buzz, although I would go onto mention, the majority of word of mouth (WOM) is still offline and a lot of the basic principles remain the same but the tools have obviously changed
BC: "Social media" has been the common language used in recent years to describe word of mouth and buzz building, has the world of buzz and WOM been eclipsed in popularity by the tools used to build it?
ER: Social media deserves its place in the spotlight. It is one of the ways to garner attention in this networked world. Very powerful. It's also new and as mentioned in my book - "new" gives people something to talk about. Not to minimize it but I believe social media is part of word of mouth/buzz marketing not the other way around. I think you have seen and will continue to see "word of mouth" as a term and concept have staying power and social media will subside. People have quickly learned how to deal with the tools of social media - in time, the idea of using social media will be so common, obvious and natural, it will become a component of everything we do and the term may fade over time.
BC: You've seen the debate on whether Influencers are important, Duncan Watts has produced a lot new research that suggests The Tipping Point and the Law of the Few is dead? where do you chime in?
ER: Duncan Watts ends up showing up in my book. I don't think the idea of influencers and passionate everyday people spreading buzz exist as opposite or different arguments. I'm not too sure if Watts was arguing it either. Watts mentioned that everyday people are involved in creating word of mouth and there are some people that are more influential than others, and I agree. The concern applying Watts research to marketing is applying value to what he calls the global cascade vs. building many little local cascades. I think many marketers should find value in these small cascades vs. the large yet infrequent viral effects. Also, it's a simple economic argument - is their more value in recruiting and tapping influencers weighed against the cost of finding them. In the examples of Powerbar, Purpose Driven Life and Tremor - the effects of using infleuncer hubs made sense, in other company examples, buzz spread without the use of influencer hubs.
BC: Measurement seems to be a big topic nowadays, does word of mouth work and can it realistically be measured?
ER: I'm amazed at the tools at play to measure buzz today. I deal with the idea of measurement in chapter 5 of the book but there are 4 chapter's of WOMMA's guide dedicated to it with an number of very specific examples on buzz that was effectively measured and that showed proactive word of mouth success. Buzz certainly doesn't suffer from lack of measurement and I would argue has just as much if not more rigour than its much larger cousin - advertising.
BC- I've always loved your 6 characteristics of network hubs - active, connected, travel a lot, info curious, vocal and exposed to interests, there recalled..by memory, I have also added to your list over time with two others "passion for the category" and "sway over other people" -do they make worthy contenders to expand your attribute list?
ER: These are interesting ones. On the passion for the category, I agree that there is quite a bit of fluidity of network hubs based on their interests or passions. Category knowledge and enthusiasm is a big factor in who will get behind something. Sometimes hubs are in the right place at the right time. On the sway over other people, "hubs" by definition talk to more people. So there is an element of frequency. Their credibility perhaps as well is based on some of the other characteristics. I think how we have dealt with sway is to view it not as a characteristic but as an outcome, did their buzz actually spread.
BC: In your chapter 9 "It's a Small World, So What?" You have 10 principles outlined that drive buzz - any ones particularly interesting for today's economy?
ER - Two areas of study that I would love to look at more. The first is what I call implicit vs. explicit buzz. The social web allows me to support and implicitly recommend a brand without making a lot of effort. So what is the value of being on a My Space page for Adidas vs. having that conversation in real life. Does never ending friending online in social networks take away from buzz or make it easier to travel through weak ties? The other area I'm interested in is when the web allows the "wrong people" to take control of your buzz, perhaps it jumps across a category and they start wearing your stuff and not project the brand values and the whole idea of how to avoid it or work with that.
BC: The social web has produced a practitioner set that tends to sing from the same song sheet - be open and transparent vs. some buzz adherents who suggest keeping stuff somewhat secretive and creating social currency by seeding people - which bandwagon are you on?
EC: A lot of our beliefs about the world of buzz have been handed down from the world of entertainment or software, which likes the secrets (Easter Eggs) and seed strategy (sneak previews) and have people get pent up excited about a launch. Xbox, the iPod - these are hot and have high expectations. I think the rules are different for these brands vs. an average product like a CPG good. An average product and average companies don't create excitement for themselves easily. I believe for these goods, involving people openly and early is a better idea. One perfect example of not keeping things close to your chest, is the strategy used by Doritos, Nationwide and Chevrolet to promote their products aggressively before the Super Bowl, which according to Jim Nail turned into the best approach for stimulating post-game discussion.
BC: What's the biggest sin in practice by buzz marketers?
ER: Trying to apply this stuff without anything interesting to talk about. Marketers need to find an interesting or useful angle to talk about their stuff that actually helps people. Otherwise it doesn't matter what your approach is.
BC: Congrats on the book launch again, look forward to seeing more buzz about your buzz.
ER: Thank you for your time, I will be up in Toronto for a Search Engine Strategies conference in June. Hope to see you then. Don't worry about that noise, my dog is barking at my pool guy, I must go. See you soon and let's stay connected.