The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Building a buzz is an effective—and free—way to create public awareness and support.
Posted Mon, 10/26/2009 - 13:08
Think about it. What makes you decide to try a new restaurant, see a particular movie, read a novel? Is it because you saw an ad, or because a friend-someone you trust-recommended it?
The whole advertising arena has changed. Today there are so many more choices and so much clutter. We’re no longer all watching the same TV shows. One study says the average person is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages in a day, which sounds unbelievable until you think about all the ads you see in newspapers and magazines, in the mail, on TV and radio, on billboards, and on your computer screen.
Do the ads get your attention? Do you remember them? Do you run out and buy the products? Or do you start worrying about the scary side effects of those prescription drugs? You probably "zone out" on the ad marathons, TiVo past them, or head for the kitchen. But chances are you’ll remember-and believe-what your friends tell you. There is no more powerful communication technique than the simple act of one person talking to another.
With all the newfangled technology out there, the commercial world has rediscovered the power of word-ofmouth marketing (WOMM). We think it’s time libraries did too. Note that we’re talking about not just word of mouth but word-of-mouth marketing. Many of us naturally drop the "L" word into our conversations both inside and outside the library. What we’re talking about is getting organized, focused, and consistent about what and how we communicate. If we do it right, other people will help deliver our message. It’s also called building a buzz.
We think WOMM makes sense for libraries for three very good reasons. One, because we can afford it. For the first time, the playing field is level. We can compete. We can win public awareness and support. Two, libraries have a potential sales force of millions, including our entire staffs, Friends, trustees, and satisfied customers who for the most part we have not tapped. And three, because it absolutely is the most powerful form of communication.
The two of us had been buzzing about buzz for some time when two regional library systems in Illinois, the DuPage Library System and the North Suburban Library System, applied for and received an LSTA grant to provide training, planning support, and information resources on word-ofmouth marketing. Thirty-five libraries participated, including 29 public, three academic, two school, and one special. We were hired to lead the training sessions and provide counsel on project development. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we share what we learned in a book, Building a Buzz: Libraries and Word-of-Mouth Marketing, to be published by ALA Editions this fall.
Starbucks. The Body Shop. Ebay. These are all companies that built their reputations on the strength of their product and strategic use of word-of-mouth. Satisfied customers became their sales force. Positive word-ofmouth is so simple, basic, and powerful that it’s hard to imagine any company prospering without it. And you can probably think of more than a few ventures (we won’t name them) that have suffered from negative word of mouth.
You also may have heard that some companies are paying people to do word of mouth for them. This is considered unethical in the advertising profession, and it is not the kind of word of mouth we are talking about.
Word-of-mouth marketing works best when it is genuine and reflects true passion. One of our favorite bits of wisdom about WOMM comes from Guy Kawasaki, who had the title of chief evangelist for Apple Computer. In an interview on the Creating Customer Evangelists website, he said: "Any car manufacturer should go to the Harley Davidson biker rally. They would learn a lot. It’s almost too obvious. I’d like to know: How many car manufacturers have sent their marketing staff to a HOG (Harley Owners’ Group) rally? They would learn a shitload of stuff. Pardon my French."
Why is this quote important? Because it prompts a big question. Could the people who use your library become a passionate community of champions-even if they don’t wear leather? Could library users get as wound up and committed as Harley riders? Could they have as much fun? We think it’s not only possible but essential. Word-of-mouth marketing can make it happen.
"We could see the statistics jumping."
The Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District was one of 35 Illinois libraries that participated in the Buzz Marketing Grant Project sponsored by the North Suburban Library System and DuPage Library System. For its project, the library focused on spreading the word about its online resources, with circulation staff taking a lead role. Head of Circulation Judy Wright shares her thoughts in this interview from the forthcoming book Building a Buzz: Libraries and Word-of-Mouth Marketing.
What impressed you about this project? Traditionally circulation staff isn’t involved in marketing. Very few libraries allow their circ staff to interact at that level. We were excited about trying something new.
How did your staff respond? The staff was terrific. We were excited to see them excited. Some were a little more aggressive than others, but everyone participated. Some of the people I least expected were really shining by the end. I heard them say things like, "It’s easy and fun to talk about things you know about and support."
How did you motivate them? The incentives helped make it fun, but when we gave them training on the databases, that was when it took off. Our staff felt knowledgeable and empowered once they saw how wonderful some of these databases are and how they could serve our patrons. Because they felt it was such a good product, it was easy for them to promote.