Word of mouth marketing failures: The two fatal flaws

By Ted Wright March 4, 2019

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By Ted Wright

Many companies try to create word of mouth marketing efforts on their own, and they should. As I describe in my book, Fizz, with focus, discipline and a little practice, a word of mouth marketing strategy is within reach of almost any business willing to commit to the effort.

But when WOMM fails, there are usually two factors behind the problem.

WOMM takes leadership

The first fatal flaw behind a word of mouth marketing bust is usually over-promising and under-delivering to senior management. You have to lead your management through the pluses and the minuses while being equally “real” about both. This takes putting yourself out there and leading. Here’s the upside, when you are successful those same bosses, they remember it was you who found this opportunity and made it happen.

Word of mouth marketing is hard work and it’s not always glamorous. It can be intoxicating to think of marketing as the glory days when you could just write somebody a check, get a creative treatment, fly to an exotic location for filming, and a few months later you’re watching a commercial on TV. That’s cool. That’s sexy.

And … those days are coming to a close.

Word of mouth marketing is hard work and it’s an everyday human-driven activity. It’s not necessarily an all-day thing, but it does require consistency and discipline to constantly create these effective face-to-face conversations that lead to action. When you start, you may not even recognize how much work it is going to be, and it takes practice to be proficient.

It also requires patience, and that’s hard for most executives to accept. You’ll want it to move faster, but fast and WOMM do not go together. If you try to force it, and speed it up, you strip all the organic and authentic out of it and that is a recipe for failure.

Measurement of WOMM looks different

It’s not that WOMM measurement is hard. The issue is that the best way to measure WOMM is different from the way you’re measuring other traditional marketing initiatives.

All measurement is based on data but the way you discover and collect data with WOMM is quite different and it will be unfamiliar to many marketers.

The most difficult challenge – for all marketing, really – is proving that any gain in sales is really attributable to your marketing and not some other outside influence. In WOMM, that requires A/B testing to try to tease out the impact of the marketing effort. It’s not as easy as collecting “likes” on a social media dashboard.

Because WOMM requires a different view of measurement, it’s easy for people who resist change to throw darts and challenge the results.

Measuring interactions

The most effective conversations are true, real, and organic. That’s why they are believed. But those conversation have to follow a natural schedule, not a quarterly sales plan.

So how are you going to measure those human interactions? At Fizz, we think in terms of building precursors of measurement. For example, one of the precursors is measuring how many times potential customers contact our market managers directly or our office here in Atlanta and ask a question about a conversation we initiated – “Hey, we saw this marketing thing that you did and I belong to this group. We’d love to hear more about this.”

That is basically the holy grail of marketing. That’s a potential consumer who is so interested they want to know more, they want to spread the word. When they’re that curious, they’re going to buy something, or at least try it.

Another example of a precursor is a jump in web traffic that correlates to the WOMM activity in the field.

When you see signals like that, it is a precursor to a jump in sales.

Ted Wright

Ted Wright is the founder of Fizz, the world’s leading word of mouth marketing (WOMM) agency. Ted is also an acclaimed WOMM keynote speaker and the author of Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth.

Illustration marked safe for re-use by Unsplash.com


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