January 2007 - Per Inquiry

The Buzz on Buzz

By Rick Petry

In “The Brand Gap,” author Marty Neumeier asserts that your brand isn’t what you say it is; it’s what they say it is and given today’s Internet, they could be anyone. When you consider this in light of the principle that word-of-mouth advertising is advertising in its most powerful form, a critical question arises: What’s the buzz on your brand? Thanks to the web, getting a handle on your word-of-mouth or buzz has never been easier, yet with that advantage comes a radical implication: Anyone-be it friend or foe-has the ability to express an opinion about you or your brand.

Some marketers have been known to try and unduly influence the marketplace by planting favorable opinions. For example, when a new book is introduced to the public, often the initial reviews on Amazon.com will be glowingly positive. One reason may be that these initial postings are essentially “friends and family,”or perhaps more onerous, phony baloney nom de plumes that are the author or a hired scribe trying to promote the work by assuming a variety of false identities. Then, over time, as the product works its way into the hands of actual paying consumers, these loaded perspectives begin to get equalized by genuine marketplace opinions. In the best case, enough critical mass of opinion develops that a consumer can really discern the truth. This is the law that guides Wikipedia, a consensus-formed dictionary that relies on the greater community to winnow fact from fiction.

Such shenanigans may be endangered however, because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now mandating that when compensation is made to individuals promoting products to their peers-whether it be chat room criers or product opinion postings-that such relationships be disclosed. That principled approach is already a foundation of the way that progressive buzz marketing experts, such as Los Angeles-based Marketingworks Inc., have been engaging the marketplace.

“Disclosure is simply a question of good ethics and such ethics are good business,” says the company’s CEO, Chas. Salmore. His company not only aggregates and measures buzz for major companies, it also sends brand ambassadors into the world to generate discussion. Comments Salmore, “If the product has inherent interest to a specific group, say devotees of a particular program on Showtime that we think would be interested in a new show, there is genuine consumer value in that buzz. It is always conducted with full disclosure.”

QVC has a name for its version of buzz marketing-the network calls it the backyard fence. It is that delicious moment when eager callers phone in to extol the virtues of, say, a hand vacuum breathlessly transmitted to fellow members of the deal hunting tribe.

Now the Internet, replete with endless blogs, reviews and social networks, extends that “fence” notion with a breadth and scope that knows no boundaries and whose influence is infinite. Given this phenomenon, awareness of your own buzz is perhaps the best way to ensure that you don’t get hung out to dry on it.

Rick Petry is chairman of the ERA Board of Directors and the chief marketing officer of Downstream. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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