Word-of-mouth supergeniuses

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I walked away from the 2009 Word of Mouth Supergenius event with many ideas and impressions, a fraction of which made their way to my Twitter stream in real-time.  The event, hosted by Gaspedal, brought together leading word-of-mouth practitioners who shared tips for marketers seeking to build their brands in authentic ways.  Some take-aways:

  • Coca-Cola empowers its employees and associates to become brand ambassadors through social media instead of trying to control them.  Adam Brown, Coca-Cola’s group director for digital communications, discussed how Coca-Cola is revising and disseminating its own guidelines, not just for employees but for bottlers.  It’s encouraging to see a major brand like Coca-Cola realizing the power of its own employees and business partners to create word of mouth.
  • Starbucks isn’t afraid to fight back when unfairly attacked by rumors that spread via word of mouth, as discussed by Matthew Guiste, Starbucks digital strategist.  When Starbucks notices a nasty rumor like the false story about its attitude toward military personnel, the company uses word-of-mouth tools like Facebook to push back — and hard.  The brand is not afraid of looking like a “corporate big brother.”  And when Starbucks fans notice Starbucks speaking up, they join in to defend the company.  I found Matthew’s points to be inspiring to any major brand in the public light.  If your critics are using word-of-mouth unfairly to attack, it’s OK to fight back.
  • Too many brands worry about transparency.  Brands should not participate in word of mouth to be transparent.  They should use word of mouth to build credibility, with transparency being a means to doing that.  Transparency was one of the many topics discussed during a free-wheeling discussion hosted by Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation.
  • I also appreciated what Mitch had to say about “in praise of slow.”  The digital world is fast-moving, obviously.  But it takes time — and a lot of patience — to build a true community especially through word of mouth.  Mitch challenged bloggers in the audience to focus on creating meaningful content over a period of time instead of worrying about how frequently blog posts are written.
  • Buzz does not create evangelists; evangelists create buzz.  And the key to inspiring evangelists is creating a great experience, a key take-away from a discussion by John Moore.

Creating experiences, not one-way messages, resonates with my employer Razorfish.  We’ve placed a heavy emphasis on helping clients like Mercedes-Benz USA bring their brands to life through compelling experiences, mostly in the digital world.  In 2010, you can expect to hear more from Razorfish about the importance of experiences that build businesses — in commentary from executives like our chairman Clark Kokich, in thought leadership, and, of course, in the work we do for clients, to name a few ways.   Meantime there are many lessons to be learned from the supergeniuses who spoke on December 16.

11 thoughts on “Word-of-mouth supergeniuses

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  4. David, we didn\’t meet at #Supergenius, but we shared an elevator for about 35 seconds. I didn\’t want to interrupt your conversation. Fantastic recap and insights. I particularly like this:

    \”Too many brands worry about transparency. Brands should not participate in word of mouth to be transparent. They should use word of mouth to build credibility, with transparency being a means of doing that.\”

    It goes without saying, but when something like \”transparency\” becomes a buzzword, it\’s easy for people to start losing their sense of perspective.

    I enjoyed this post a lot. Cheers,

    Olivier Blanchard

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  6. Thanks for the summary David. These are great points to keep in mind as we look ahead to 2010. I especially liked the \’in praise of slow\’ point. It takes time to build community and trust, but the rewards are much greater than if we take shortcuts for the sake of getting big numbers.

    The real value is in the long-term relationships that we build authentically. After all, numbers don\’t mean anything if a brand has a problem or is under attack as in the Starbucks example above, but strong relationships based on trust and respect can definitely deflect negative chatter.

    Love your thinking – keep doing great work. 🙂


  7. Thanks so much, Olivier. In fact, I have grown weary of the buzz around \”transparency.\” Augie Ray wrote an interesting piece on his blog (http://www.experiencetheblog.com) about being transparent versus being genuine. In reply to his post, I commented that I think \”transparency\” too often is an excuse for those too lazy to exercise discretion.

  8. Great points, Brandon! It does not take much time to create an impression (whether positive or negative), but building a relationship is quite a different story. I don\’t think Starbucks would have seen so many fans come to its rescue had those nasty rumors appeared before the company had built up a base of loyalists, which takes time and sustained effort, both online and offline.

  9. Great post.

    Being a fan of John Moore\’s I loved that you ended with his insights.

    One thing I noticed here is that each of these examples are global brands with a global audience of millions, billions for Coke.

    The foundation for their success with these social media programs was built on the experiences of their products. Over decades or longer.

    Lacking a great product, delivered consistently, over inspires customers to as you wrote come to \”Starbucks rescue\” and share their stories of ownership and using the product.

    These social media campaigns were in essence a celebration of all the hard work over the generations to create a brand consistently. And now they have a place to gather, affordably, easily and support..celebrate that brand in turn.

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