Offline and online word of mouth marketing are not the same

By Ted Wright July 11, 2019

online word of mouth marketing

By Scott Jenson

Online word of mouth online is a much different than offline. You know this, your board of directors knows this, and most certainly consumers know this. So why is there still such an emphasis on social media without an equivalent share of mind spent on offline conversations?

It’s not the wrong choice when your boss is asking for more social, more measurable impressions and click-throughs, and a better CPM. But you’re doing your brand a disservice if that’s all you’re building your strategy around.

Considering offline conversations

If I could impress one thing on any company considering a WOMM program it would be that online word of mouth marketing and offline (in-person) are definitely not the same, and should be treated as completely different avenues to tell your story.

Sure, there are similarities, and research has shown that online reviews and WOM from online friends are trusted sources of information. But beyond the ability to carry a message with exponential growth opportunity, the impact and effect of offline vs online WOM mediums are quite different.

The power of spontaneous recommendations

Consumers seek information in different ways when they’re considering a purchase, even minor commodities like toothpaste and socks. The prevalence of Amazon product reviews confirm that even a small purchase has many points of data that are collected before making a purchase. And, although you may not call a trusted family member to ask them about what socks they’re currently wearing, that family member will undoubtedly let you know about the luxuriously soft pair of alpaca socks that they purchased on a whim and are now addicted to.

Novelty is less of a positive trait for products when money is on the line, and today’s consumers are savvy enough to do their research before purchasing even the most inexpensive items. But spontaneous recommendations often drive delayed purchasing behavior, a result of trusting the messenger.

A matter of trust

The difference between online and in-person word of mouth is well documented where trust in the messenger is concerned.

Word of mouth from an offline friend is consistently rated as more trustworthy than all other forms of referral, including online WOM and advertising.

Online WOM from a trusted source is still effective, and it moves similar to offline WOM if the product proposition and reality are good enough to spark a social media post. Where social media has changed the WOM game is that there are now hordes of “influencers” paid to peddle products, and 53% of businesses use social ads, and this is muddying the online WOM waters.

When the typical social media user is inundated with sponsored posts and native ads (a typical American Facebook user clicks on 8 Facebook ads per month) this creates far too many data points from unknown sources.

Conversations cut through clutter

What can cut through this noise?

Like anything in life, a conversation with a trusted friend or family member can lead you in the right direction. You trust people that you interact with on a regular basis to give you good advice.

Statistically, offline WOM still is the most trusted form of “advertising” or referral. So the next time you find yourself considering how to most efficiently and effectively drive WOM about your product, make sure you know the differences and have a robust strategy for both the offline AND online channels.

Scott Jenson is a marketing manager for Fizz who has worked with iconic national and global brands including Coca Cola, Adult Swim, Kauai Coffee and Primo Water. A Marine Corps veteran, survivor of the music industry in the mid-2000’s, and former holder of many titles with the words “Brand,” “Strategy,” and “Marketing,” Scott holds an MBA from the University of Tampa as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from a tiny college that nobody has ever heard of.

Illustration courtesy of

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