Word-of-Mouth Marketing Summit 2011: Day 1

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The ‘Word of Mouth Marketing summit 2011‘ kicked of yesterday in Las Vegas. I’m participating for het third time and the start of the congress was a very promising one straight away: a good keynote and interesting cases by nice companies. My first observation is that this congress focuses more on the core of word-of-mouth marketing and less on word-of-mouth campaigns. After all good word-of-mouth can only flourish when clients have a positive experience with your products and services, which is an evolution I encourage wholeheartedly. This is how I experienced the first day of the annual Womma Summit 2011.

What determines good WOM

Rod Brooks, the current WOMMA president, was full of energy from the start. He shared a video explaining the basics of word-of-mouth. There are 5 criteria a brand should meet in order to be a conversation-worthy brand:

  • Credible: a brand needs to be credible and authentic
  • Respectful: a brand needs to be transparent and credible
  • Social: a brand’s stories must be easy to share
  • Measurable: turn word-of-mouth into a success indicator of your company and make WOM measurable
  • Repeatable: this is not a one-off campaign, but a continuous brand experience

This message set the tone. Word-of-mouth is not about campaigns, it is the consequence of a company culture where the client really is the centre of the universe and the centre of the attention. The way to go is to make a brand conversation-worthy internally in the first place; after that you no longer need to artificially polish on the outside. Unfortunately most marketers tend to brighten up the outside first while neglecting the internal perspective.


The first day’s first keynote speaker was Sally Hogshead, author of ‘How to fascinate’. Her presentation was super and very inspiring. The story starts from the hypothesis that every company, every person, can and should be fascinating. The fight for attention is so hard that being ‘boring’ is not an option. Fascinating brands have the luxury to make more money and obtain customers with more engagement. Being fascinating has nothing to do with charisma. We all have it in us. But unfortunately most people seem to have lost it. ‘You don’t learn how to be fascinating; you unlearn how to be boring’. In her presentation Hogshead talks about 7 ways to get to fascination:

  • Power: people like to follow a natural leader
  • Passion: a person’s aura, warmth, body language can be fascinating
  • Mystique: by not telling certain things and by creating mystery, people and brands become fascinating
  • Prestige: ambitious, focused people and companies are fascinating. This entails respect, which means they can ask more money.
  • Alarm: a feeling of urgency can have a fascinating effect, which entails the need to act rapidly
  • Rebellion: creativity leads to fascination. People are fascinated by business being done differently than what is routine
  • Trust: this approach is the result of a long-term engagement. A consistent pattern ensures trust and can entail fascination.

As a brand you are in control: it’s up to you whether you share something with the market in a boring or rather in a fascinating way. The aim is not to be fascinating once in a certain campaign. Fascination should be extended all the way to the organisation’s heart.

Content marketing

“If you have a lot of fans and you spread boring messages, you are doing damage to your brand. ‘Stand out or don’t bother,’ says Sally Hogshead. After her opening keynote I followed a panel conversation on content strategy. Content marketing is a hot topic, and rightly so. Content marketing is not about the frequency of content updates, but about the strategy behind them.

Jonathan Byerly, Chief content strategists at Dell, then took the stage. In the past, so Byerly said, Dell’s marketing approach was mainly aimed at talking about product characteristics and prices. In order to implement content marketing well, one needs to dissociate from this traditional marketing approach. Originally Dell based its content strategy on the customer’s purchase cycles. Which information are they looking for in which stage and how can we act upon that with good, converting content?
Dell’s next and far bigger challenge was to develop content which influences people before the purchase stage; so they listed all possible problems and questions customers have. Based on this overview they came up with a ‘content journey’. Dell looks for the appropriate content for each possible question. This content is made available via various online channels, ensuring that Dell surfaces quicker in Google searches by potential customers. That is how they help people in a pre-purchase stage. If they proceed to a purchase, the chance increases that they will buy at Dell.

At Dell, they create 30% of the content themselves and the other 70% originates from other sources. You needn’t create all content yourself to make your brand position stronger, Byerly stated. Dell hires copywriters who write the ‘owned content’ messages. These writers do not have any technical knowledge, which is intentional: there are technical experts for every type of content at Dell available. At the end of his session Byerly handed out some very specific tips about content marketing:

  • Make sure the content process is well organized; this is the basis of being successful at working with content
  • This is not just about your own website; it’s about mapping an entire online eco system. Understand how people search and what your best chances are at getting your content to your target group
  • Be an advisor, train people and build confidence. This confidence is at the origin of your future turnover
  • Invest in ‘personal brands’ of collaborators who are working with content. The stronger the collaborators’ personal brand, the better this is for Dell. Collaborators make the company more human and more accessible
  • The content design must be excellent. Without a good design the content will not be spread by the target group

Employees build the foundation of good word-of-mouth

The next session of the first day was about the role of employees in a word-of-mouth strategy. The session introduces 2 people: Dan Jessopp, head of people strategy at Groupon and Graham Kahr, social engagement scientist at Zappos. I think it’s brilliant that people of a HR-team do a presentation at a marketing congress. If a company wants to be successful at implementing WOM, this cannot happen without involving the HR-department. The Zappos story is known by all here I guess. A shoe seller dissociated himself via the company culture and thus became super successful. Groupon was created only 3 years ago, but lives an extremely successful start-up.

This session talked about company culture: unfortunately culture is associated too often with “having fun†at work. This assumption makes large and more conservative companies believe that a solid company structure cannot be realized in their organisation. Culture is about company values. These values are carried out by collaborators in everything they do. It is striking that people hired at Zappos needn’t learn the values. They are only hired if they already have the values in them. Therefore Zappos looks for the real personality of a new employee while recruiting. After proving technically capable of doing the job, applicants are invited to participate in social activities with the team they will become a part of. This may be a team lunch, or going to a bar and having a few beers.

Fascinating day

The word I heard most frequently during the first day undoubtedly was ‘fascinating’. It feels good that word-of-mouth is considered more and more frequently on a more strategic level. Companies become more and more aware of the fact that positive word-of-mouth is the consequence of treating customers respectfully. WOM is not something you can start up yourself or participate in. Word-of-mouth is the reflection of your company’s functioning. Word-of-mouth is every company’s mirror. It’s a good thing to take a good look at it every day…

Tomorrow: a summary of day 2 from the Las Vegas summit! To follow live, read my tweets on @steven_insites.

womma infographic day 1: word of mouth marketing offline and online