Book Review: Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz

Andy Sernovitz has written a book that, quite frankly, everyone should read. I don’t care if you’re in marketing, human resources, customer service or are a C-level executive, Word of Mouth Marketing has something for you

What Sernovitz has done is break down word-of-mouth-marketing into its core components, and he’s done so in a way that doesn’t use a lot of – or any, really – industry jargon or inside jokes. What he does do is make it clear that word of mouth about your company, regardless of size, location, demographic or product offerings, is already being generated. Whether you had anything to do with that or not is almost secondary. The conversation is happening. Sernovitz makes it clear that you have two options when it comes to this pre-existing conversation. You can either join in and make sure that you’re reaping all the benefits that come with that or ignore it and not participate, in which case you will pay the costs (and they can be significant) such an aloof stance can result in.

But oh, what benefits Sernovitz dangles in front of you. Reputation management, increased buzz and other such prizes await those who know how, as he puts it, to enable the talkers, seed the conversation and otherwise encourage people to talk about the company. He’s not talking about paid or massively coordinated word-of-mouth campaigns. While there might be a place for them (I’m not a fan but some people swear by them) the tactics Sernovitz puts out there for use are low cost (often free) and are all about keeping the conversation authentic by energizing people who are already doing the talking without tainting the process with money

The tactics and suggestions Sernovitz lays out aren’t likely to be embraced by people who still believe that the professionals are the only ones who should be controlling the message, thank you very much. Nor is this something that’s going to be an easy sell to higher-ups who demand that things fit nicely int a spreadsheet or slide-deck. He does give some ways to make word-of-mouth fit into those calculations but at the end of the day WOM is still going to be fuzzier than old-media ad buying and flier printing.

While much of the book focuses on how WOM is being enabled to an unprecedented degree by the ease of online publishing, Sernovitz makes it clear that offline conversations are just as important. He gives example after example on how to identify who is or can be doing your talking for you, both in the real world as well as online.

There’s an idea that I think I first read from Joseph Jaffe that the best advertising in the world will be completely destroyed by a bad user-experience and that flashy ads can actually build up expectations that are destined to be dashed by that experience. Sernovitz takes the same attitude when he makes it clear that one of the chief ways to enable and encourage positive word-of-mouth is to train customer service staff members on ways to encourage people to spread the word themselves. As an example he cites a study that shows that people who hear about a friend’s bad experience somewhere are five times as likely to not use that company again as the person who actually had that experience. If everyone of your bad customer experiences is leading to a five-fold loss of revenue you need to start brainstorming ways right now on how to improve the interactions between the company and the customer.

Let me give you an example of how much Sernovitz gets what he’s preaching. Last week I read a post by Mack Collier where he was crowing about an advance review copy of Word of Mouth Marketing he had gotten. (What Mack was actually doing was exactly what Mack does and Andy knew he would do – talk about innovative marketing) I dropped a comment basically just busting in a friendly way on Mack for how “important” he was getting that he was getting such a treat. 20 minutes later Sernovitz IM’d me asking for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. He got that I was, as he calls it, a “talker” and that sending me a book was a small cost for the potential word of mouth it could generate.

Before I finish up, let me share one quote with you that I feel sums up Sernovitz’s arguments quite well as serves, I think, as kind of a foundation for the entire idea of genuine, consumer-driven word-of-mouth:

“Word of mouth is so effective because of the natural credibility that comes from real people with no profit or agenda tied to their recommendations. It’s those “people like us” whom we look for and listen to.”

I can’t recommend Word of Mouth Marketing enough. It’s a wonderful compilation of all the “walk with your community” and “enable the community” ideas that so many of us in the marketing and PR world have been espousing for so long. And coming from Sernovitz, who’s the president of the Word or Mouth Marketing Association, it has a level of authority that hopefully can break through the reluctance of those who don’t know how to embrace such radical – but effective – ideas.

Book Review: Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz

Andy Sernovitz has written a book that, quite frankly, everyone should read. I don’t care if you’re in marketing, human resources, customer service or are a C-level executive, Word of Mouth Marketing has something for you.

What Sernovitz has done is break down word-of-mouth-marketing into its core components, and he’s done so in a way that doesn’t use a lot of – or any really – industry jargon or inside jokes. What he does do is make it clear that word of mouth about your company, regardless of size, location, demographic or product offerings, is already being generated. Whether you had anything to do with that or not is almost secondary. The conversation is happening. Sernovitz makes it clear that you have two options when it comes to this pre-existing conversation. You can either join in and make sure that you’re reaping all the benefits that come with that or ignore it and not participate, in which case you will pay the costs (and they can be significant) such an aloof stance can result in.

But oh, what benefits Sernovitz dangles in front of you. Reputation management, increased buzz and other such prizes await those who know how, as he puts it, to enable the talkers, seed the conversation and otherwise encourage people to talk about the company. He’s not talking about paid or massively coordinated word-of-mouth campaigns. While there might be a place for them (I’m not a fan but some people swear by them) the tactics Sernovitz puts out there for use are low cost (often free) and are all about keeping the conversation authentic by energizing people who are already doing the talking without tainting the process with money.

The tactics and suggestions Sernovitz lays out aren’t likely to be embraced by people who still believe that the professionals are the only ones who should be controlling the message, thank you very much. Nor is this something that’s going to be an easy sell to higher-ups who demand that things fit nicely int a spreadsheet or slide-deck. He does give some ways to make word-of-mouth fit into those calculations but at the end of the day WOM is still going to be fuzzier than old-media ad buying and flier printing.

While much of the book focuses on how WOM is being enabled to an unprecedented degree by the ease of online publishing, Sernovitz makes it clear that offline conversations are just as important. He gives example after example on how to identify who is or can be doing your talking for you, both in the real world as well as online.

There’s an idea that I think I first read from Joseph Jaffe that the best advertising in the world will be completely destroyed by a bad user-experience and that flashy ads can actually build up expectations that are destined to be dashed by that experience. Sernovitz takes the same attitude when he makes it clear that one of the chief ways to enable and encourage positive word-of-mouth is to train customer service staff members on ways to encourage people to spread the word themselves. As an example he cites a study that shows that people who hear about a friend’s bad experience somewhere are five times as likely to not use that company again as the person who actually had that experience. If everyone of your bad customer experiences is leading to a five-fold loss of revenue you need to start brainstorming ways right now on how to improve the interactions between the company and the customer.

Let me give you an example of how much Sernovitz gets what he’s preaching. Last week I read a post by Mack Collier where he was crowing about an advance review copy of Word of Mouth Marketing he had gotten. I dropped a comment basically just busting in a friendly way on Mack for how “important” he was getting that he was getting such a treat. 20 minutes later Sernovitz IM’d me asking for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. He got that I was, as he calls it, a “talker” and that sending me a book was a small cost for the potential word of mouth it could generate.

Before I finish up let me share one quote with you that I feel sums up Sernovitz’s arguments quite well as serves, I think, as kind of a foundation for the entire idea of genuine, consumer-driven word-of-mouth:

“Word of mouth is so effective because of the natural credibility that comes from real people with no profit or agenda tied to their recommendations. It’s those “people like us” whom we look for and listen to.”

I can’t recommend Word of Mouth Marketing enough. It’s a wonderful compilation of all the “walk with your community” and “enable the community” ideas that so many of us in the marketing and PR world have been espousing for so long. And coming from Sernovitz, who’s the president of the Word or Mouth Marketing Association, it has a level of authority that hopefully can break through the reluctance of those who don’t know how to embrace such radical – but effective – ideas.

[Blanant begging: Buy Word of Mouth Marketing at Amazon and support MMM.]

LOTD: October 31st Part Deux

This’ll teach Tom to post a Links of the Day at 8AM Central time.

  • JotSpot, one of the more popular entry-level web-based wiki apps out there, is now part of the Google empire. Am I the only one who didn’t see that coming at all?
  • Peter Shankman recounts an exchange with a reporter that proves the most valuable asset you can have as a PR representative is a product that generates genuine excitement.
  • Some corporate executives still need to stop worrying and love consumer-generated content for what it is.
  • Were the flurry of corporate deals just before Google bought YouTube part of a plan by the record labels to get out of paying artists for the works put on the video sharing sites?
  • Susan Merritt points out another example of a mainstream newspaper that seems to have not attributed at best and lifted directly from at worst a story that originally broke on BoingBoing. (Warning: The site Susan links to is NSFW)
  • CitizenBay is a very cool idea that brings social bookmarking to local news, complete with RSS feed.
  • Josh Hallett posts the answers he provided to a college student seeking opinions on blogging and such.
  • John Cass turns to the community to get some feedback as he writes his book. Go help the man out.
  • Conde Nast is buying Reddit, the popular social-bookmarking site.
  • LOTD: October 31

    • Nike is dropping some serious coin [pronounced: kwan] on the new Nike Air Zoom Lebron IV, including being the only sponsor for Wednesday’s 6pm SportsCenter on ESPN, plus a ton of marketing and advertising online.
    • Missed posting this link last week about how November spells more WiFi on ferries in Washington state. Wait, they have WiFi on the ferry? Hello, New York Waterway?
    • Okay, so it’s not really new mediaish, but it’s interesting anyway. Weblogs, Inc. and Netscape pal C.K. Sample and his wife Kristin have a cute little new puppy, and the video to prove it.
    • Comcast gets smart and will finally deploy TiVo, getting those of us who have used the higher-quality product the ability to not have to deal with garbage anymore.
    • Yahoo! and Nissan are playing nicey nicey when it comes to live music online
    • Good luck keeping your copyrighted music up on MySpace

    LOTD: October 30th

    • EQO Communications is going to allow users of BlackBerrys and other mobile devices to access Skype and multi-platform IM clients. (via fellow MWW Group-er Brian Williams)
    • Don’t ask Acer senior VP Jim Wong to pen any testimonials for Windows Vista. He says the basic version is essentially useless and will force people to upgrade for any of the cool new features, costs that PC builders will have to absorb.
    • I have to agree with Steve Hall and Eric Eggertson. Everyone seems to be beating up on the crayon team over their debut in Second Life when I suspect the real problems people have are with other corporations. These guys get social media and I’m sure they’ll do good work, so let’s cut them some slack.
    • Nothing like a little controversy to drum up interest in a couple movies that otherwise would have been small-time releases otherwise.
    • Lifehacker has some cool tips on how to use public Bloglines profiles to find relevant feeds.
    • Jackie Huba is looking for help remembering a specific blog that she came across but now can’t find. The blog features pictures of a guy opening up new tech gadgets like PDAs and such.

    Quick Takes: 10/27/06

    Argh. Lots of good stuff and little time to keep up with it all.

    • The trailer for Copying Beethoven is really cool. Ed Harris and Diane Kruger look like they turn in great performances.
    • So is the trailer for Notes on a Scandal, starring Kate Blanchett and Dame Judy Dench. This one actually has me really excited.
    • Laura Blum catches some really inappropriate advertising for Catch A Fire, which had a banner ad placed right by a headline story on the California wildfires.
    • Reports are saying that the next trailer for The Transformers will be another teaser-esque one and should hit sometime this holiday season.
    • This online ad for Running With Scissors is refreshingly finger-butt image free and instead shows us the actors involved.
    • Kim Voynar weighs in on the controversy surrounding the spiking of the Dixie Chicks documentary ads.
    • Craig points to the new trailer for Smokin’ Aces, which looks like a lot of fun.
    • This Meet the Robinson’s poster isn’t bad – it’s certainly bright and eye-catching – but could it be any more evocative of The Incredibles? Ultimately I think it tries to put too many people on the one-sheet and just leads to confusion.