What creates a “buzz” for a product? How do certain small companies become popular within months after toiling in relative obscurity? What gets millions of people talking and spreading the news about a new fad that is labeled as a “must have”?
I’d say the most prominent heroes in America today are no longer the powerful politicians or the superstar professional athletes. America has a love affair with the entrepreneur. The genius that allows people to launch a product or idea that spreads like wildfire and makes a celebrity out of those involved.
Instagram went from a seed of an idea into a 1 billion dollar acquisition in the span of 18 months. How does that happen? Sure, the products often meet a need or fill a unique niche, but there are marketing devices fueling these trends.
Word of mouth, or buzz, marketing often plays a role in creating this phenomenon of fast growing companies and must have products. Young (2010) observes that today’s advertising industry is one characterized by increasing accountability and transparency. Firms are not only looking for effective advertising, they want efficient advertising: more bang for the buck. When a simple ad, tweet, image, or video can incite a wave of conversation and interest the return on investment improves exponentially.
I’m a sales professional in health care and there is an old axiom in sales: “most selling takes place when the sales rep is not present.” Advertisers realize that consumers are not as receptive to direct advertising. The best person to influence a consumer is another consumer.
Buzz marketing is an attractive strategy for several reasons. Consumers are filtering and blocking ads at an alarming rate (Young, 2010) because they are increasingly impatient and less receptive to direct advertising. Word can spread much more quickly in the 21st century because of the social media and technology as referenced by Young (2010) when mentioning Obama’s “Hope” campaign in 2008. Word-of-mouth is the ultimate “soft sell” (Barry, 2010) because the firm is removed from the conversation entirely when consumer-to-consumer communication is the vehicle.
One method of spreading the word, or beginning a trend, is highlighted by Malcolm Gladwell (2000) in The Tipping Point. Gladwell (2000) asserts that trends are often sparked by connectors, those who have large networks and wield considerable influence. In the past few years firms have been using these connectors to begin aggressive buzz campaigns.
Who are the most common used connectors? Yes, you guessed it: Celebrities. Michelle Obama’s fashion sense has been the spark that has launched the careers of up and coming designers. “Obama’s wardrobe created $2.7 billion in value for 29 brands worn over the course of 189 public appearances from November 2008 to December 2009 (Ciccone, 2011).”
Celebrities aren’t the only connectors. Tech start ups have been enlisting college students as brand ambassadors to start word of mouth campaigns on college campuses (Rosman, 2012). In both instances, a strong buzz is created with minimal cost to the firm or brand. Obama doesn’t charge a fee from designers and college students often are willing to work for free for a chance to put “Brand Ambassador” on their resume.
As social media and technology increases the strength and size of networks, word-of-mouth campaigns will continue to be an efficient and effective advertising strategy.
Barry, P. (2008). The advertising concept book: A complete guide to creative ideas, strategies, and campaigns. New York: Thames & Hudson.
Ciccone, A. (2011, December 9). Michelle Obama fashion choices: A boon to some small designers. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/michelle-obama-fashion_n_1123723.html.
Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.
Rosman, K. (2012, April 4). Big Marketers on Campus. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303816504577321594090033560.html.
Young, A. (2010). Brand media strategy: Integrated communications planning in the digital era. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.