[this post originally appeared on the PARTNERS+simons blog]
There's no question that word of mouth marketing (WOM) is a hot topic these days; it's a $40 million-$60 million industry according to AdAge and numerous marketers are trying to get in on the action.
While the concept of word of mouth has been around for ages (for as long as people could communicate!), it remains a difficult thing to create. However, today's technology advancements make it easier to organize, manage and measure WOM activities better than ever before. That's why local WOM/buzz marketing shop BzzAgent has seen a rapid uptake in its services since its inception three years ago. In fact, with 200,000 agents and 150,000 clients the firm has generated about 200 million word of mouth communications across 250 programs.
In order to do a little bzzing of its own, BzzAgent recently held a workshop for Agency folks to get their MBAs...or, Masters in Bzz Administration. Held at the Nine Zero Hotel, the full-day event included an overview of BzzAgent's services, case studies of past campaigns, a presentation by Northeastern University professor Dr. Walter Carl, and an open conversation with a panel of real BzzAgents...volunteer members of the "hive" that agree to participate in various WOM marketing programs and report back on their experiences.
BzzAgent's approach is simple: allow "everyday people" to experience your product; allow them to form their own opinions and share them; and ask them to report back so that you can understand their likes and dislikes. Along the way, participating Agents are likely to talk about (or 'bzz') your product to multiple other people in their personal networks, meaning you get the benefit of word of mouth (hopefully positive!) as well as feedback from a much larger pool than the original group of Agents. The idea is to provide an immersive brand experience (through samples, coupons, etc.), because a credible product recommendation is more likely to come from first-hand knowledge and experience of that product.
BzzAgent has been coordinating such campaigns for some time now, recruiting participants, creating marketing collateral, executing campaigns and measuring results - all in house. But now they are seeking to grow their WOM network by reaching out to Agencies as well as marketers. Until now, WOM has had no media home: unlike traditional media and online advertsing which have well-established processes for buying and placing media, there was no formal channel or approach for distributing word of mouth (or consumer generated media) campaigns. Thus, BzzAgent is offering up its "people media platform" to Agencies that would like to harness the power of WOM and add another option to their client's media mix.
Here's how it works: Agencies define their target audience and tap into BzzAgent's database of program participants (which have fairly robust profiles thanks to ongoing surveying in the "hive"). Campaigns may also include an advertiser's house list, if available; participants from this list are recruited via email or direct mail. The Agency is responsible for defining the Agent experience component (the "BzzKit" which would explain the product/service and offer up free samples, coupons or rebates), and BzzAgent manages the technical infrastructure, agent interactions and data analysis. Campaigns typically run for 12 weeks using a slotting schedule similar to booking a tv spot. It's a relatively turn-key solution for executing a WOM campaign. There's even a private label option that offers a fully customizable brand experience.
Want to read more about WOM? Niesen BuzzMetrics has some great whitepapers on the subject, as does the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. In addition, Walter J. Carl, Ph.D from Northeastern University's Department of Communication Studies has been posting observations from his WOM communication studies on his blog.
DISCLAIMER: In the spirit of full transparency (which is part of the BzzAgent Code of Conduct), I am a registered BzzAgent and have been for about 3 years. It's funny that I now find myself bzzing BzzAgent itself, but please note that no one put me up to this...I sincerely find what they're doing interesting, and wanted to share it with the marketing community at large :)