Create Buzz with Connectors

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.

References

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.

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4 Responses to Create Buzz with Connectors

  1. Casey, you’ve written about something close to my heart. I love discussing the importance and relevance of viral marketing, buzz, and word of mouth. I prefer to group all of them under one umbrella, viral marketing. Due to viral marketing, organizations have been able to reevaluate traditional marketing protocol and enhance consumer attraction and interaction with countless alternatives. Viral marketing campaigns have led to cheaper routes of advertising and communication between organizations and consumers.

    I encourage you to read about Hotmail’s participation in revamping viral marketing in the last two decades. Hotmail was one of the first email service providers. They spread by including a note at the bottom of every email stating that they offer free accounts. As a result, people who received emails from current Hotmail users saw the note and created a new account.

    Moreover, organizations seemingly empower consumers by giving options for sharing through platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to name a few. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter allow organizations to gather important information about users and target viral marketing strategies towards specific genders, ages, and other demographics.

    The Internet creates an environment for viral marketing to thrive. Consumer reach expands as organizations expand geographically. Thus, it’s funny you used Michelle Obama’s wardrobe as an example. Consequently, through social media and viral marketing, President Obama’s PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, was able to engage potential voters to donate over half a billion dollars online and helped generate nearly 13 million email addresses (Vargas, 2008). The collection of email addresses, in addition to Facebook and YouTube, was helpful because they increased donations and engagement.

    References

    Vargas, J. A. (2008, November 20). Obama raised a half billion online.
    The Washington Post. Retrieved from
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2008/11/20/obama_raised_half_a_bil
    lion_on.html

  2. David Tinsley says:

    Casey – Would you say that buzz marketing could also be a function of stealth marketing? Instead of customer-facing, well-know connectors as you as discussed, I think that buzz can be created with a different set of connectors, on an entirely different kind of level.

    The types of stealth marketing that I am most familiar with, and most likely exposed to most often is probably in the technology sector. The buzz for products, software, new services, apps, etc., is created by using the connectors you speak of in endorsement marketing. In the technology channels, these connectors a a bit less obvious. You could say they were almost, seamless, invisible, or “stealth” in nature. The connectors for tech marketing and communication might involve subject/product experts, tech bloggers, Twitter feeds, tech websites or even technology-focused physical (as opposed to digital) publications.

    From my own personal experience working in the technology sector, and being a heavy technology consumer, I would say one of the keys to a successful marketing campaign is the ability to create this buzz, or “talk on the street,” if you will. As I used in a recent example, Apple does not participate directly in social media marketing, nor does the company have to initiate complex messages and strategies in traditional media, as well as the interactive channels. Of course, we have to recognize that the brand in this case carries a great deal of self-perpetuating buzz due to the connection with that brand and with the products. It has been commonly accepted that Apple, along with other tech-driven companies, have used well-placed, well-cultivated “friendlies” in the tech editorial community to place bits of provocative information about upcoming product launches.

    These writers, bloggers, and website tech experts that have built the reputation of being trusted non-company information sources, will then write a Tweet, blog posting, or an article with well-formed speculation about exciting things to come. As you have talked about professional endorsers, along with brand ambassadors, these respected tech writers will become the connectors that brands can implicitly count on to create the desired buzz or conversations within the online platforms. It is most likely a very effective use of social media, without a company having to place its brand and product reputations on the line themselves. You could almost use the term “hacks” in describing these connectors. I think that would be too strong of a term. After all, the professional reputations of the writers and bloggers are on the line as well. Their actions could easily be interpreted as a sell-out, but I would argue that maybe there is an underlying understanding that this exchange of information occurs, and is accepted for what it is. Well-sourced hype and information that will create buzz, and therefore demand for the products.

  3. Ariel Callahan says:

    Casey-

    You and David both mentioned different types of connectors in building buzz and they are all excellent examples. It got me thinking about another type of connector that is more on the “stealth” side, as David would say, and that is the entrepreneur or the charismatic leader in an organization. I use the term stealth because we might not often think of the CEO as the main brand ambassador. But when you think about it, how else could start-ups gain the attention, loyalty and more importantly the money from those lynch pins that can take their company or product to the next level?

    A leader who is committed to an integrated approach in building brand awareness can be an organization’s most valuable resource in certain situations. We only have to look at Steve Jobs and even Mark Zuckerberg as recent examples of leaders who serve as important connectors between their company brand and the outside world. Jobs effectively became the living embodiment of the Apple brand or maybe it can be said he molded Apple into his image? For many of us it’s hard not to associate Apple with Steve Jobs and certainly after his death the new CEO, Tim Cook, will have work hard to create his own unique buzz by leading the Apple brand or he will forever live in Jobs’ shadow (Letzing, 2012)

    On the opposite end of the spectrum a leader’s own personal brand can become a bad thing in creating buzz. Take for example the recent Facebook’s IPO woes, which have been characterized in the media as partly the result of Zuckerberg’s inexperience and naiveté in running such a behemoth organization in a relatively unknown landscape. This recent quote from Vivek Wadhwa’s article in The Washington Post expresses how Zuckerberg’s behavior and lack of formal education may be holding the company back, “he would surely have developed better social skills and not have exhibited seemingly awkward behavior during the IPO roadshow – behavior such as hiding out in a bathroom, forcing the audience to wait or taking the stage wearing a hoodie,”(2012). How interesting to me that Zuckerberg’s inexperience and casual demeanor (read: hoodie) where some of the very characteristics that initially won Silicon Valley and investors over.

    Whatever kind of buzz a leader creates for their brand, be it their own personal brand or the brand of a company, by being out in the public eye and speaking on behalf of that brand it makes them a connector. I cannot read the name Jack Welch and not think GE, likewise with Bill Gates and Microsoft. We as humans like to make connections and association in our minds, this why celebrity and expert endorsements tend to have such a strong sway in persuasion techniques. Figures we like because of their celebrity persona or their high level of knowledge and expertise sway our opinions, and in a way a company’s CEO can be both of those things and more. It is crucial in these transparent times that organizations look at all potential connectors for their brand in order to build long-term brand value.

    Sources:

    Letzing, J. (2012, May 29) Apple CEO seek to put personal mark on company. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120529-715673.html

    Wadhwa, V. (2012, May 29). Would the Facebook IPO have bombed if Mark Zuckerberg had an MBA?
The Washington Post. Retrieved from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-innovations/would-the- facebook-ipo-have-bombed-if-mark-zuckerberg-had-an- mba/2012/05/29/gJQA7d74yU_story.html

  4. Cathryn Lottier says:

    Casey,

    You have brought up some great points in your blog entry. Your post reminded me of the current biggest (and in my opinion, most fascinating) entrepreneurial family, the Kardashians. Do not get me wrong, I am not a fan in the Kardashians in typical sense (i.e., I will actually go out of my way not to buy a magazine if they are on the cover); however, I find the fact that they are celebrities merely from being…celebrities… incredibly interesting. No one in the family has any talent in the traditional sense (cannot sing, act, play sports, etc.), but they have somehow captured the attention of the world by making themselves transparent and accessible. With that attention, they have promoted themselves and various products successfully. The Kardashians endorse everything from diet pills to adult diapers and everything in between. They have launched clothing lines at Bebe and Sears, jewelry online, OPI nail polish lines, QuickTrim weight loss systems, and the list goes on. By creating a brand and making themselves a household name, they are milking every second of their fifteen minutes of fame…and then some.