Why word of mouth matters

There are many aspects to the marketing mix, with “paid, owned and earned” being the three key pillars as illustrated by Jeremiah Owyang and the team at Altimeter Group. Which of these is the most trusted? Earned media – or word-of-mouth – wins by a wide margin in general and with women in particular. Not only is it the most trusted, but word-of-mouth also can drive measurable ROI.

Photos by 30 Lines

But how does one “create” word-of-mouth by design, rather than by accident? (We’ve all heard the apocryphal stories of the CMO who instructs his team to “make a viral video,” right?) Research by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick found that things that were passed along via word-of-mouth had particular traits in common. These traits are:

• Simple: Easy to remember, easy to share
• Unexpected: Something out of the ordinary or surprising
• Concrete: Visual, visceral and tangible
• Credible: From a trusted source
• Emotional: Taps into human emotion
• Stories: Stories, rather than tomes

(You can get a one-pager of this model from the Heath brothers here.)

Why do people share?

The fact that people *do* share is itself an area worthy of conversation. Why bother? With all of the other demands on our time, why bother to post to Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or a blog? Research from the New York Times indicates that the key reasons are:

• To bring valuable and entertaining content to others
• To define ourselves to others
• To grow and nourish our relationships
• Self-fulfilment
• To get the word out about causes and brands

So what about you? Why do you share online, or with friends around the water cooler?