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Building effective WOM: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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It was great being at SES Toronto this year and Andrew did a fantastic job as Chair! Lots of juicy tips, tactics and strategies for building SEO through social media.

The talk I gave on Day 2 (the last speaker even!) was slightly off the beaten path from the other presentations which focused on specific tools and tactics for spreading word of mouth online. I went back to basics and spoke about the fundamentals of building true and long-term WOM, planning and ensuring you find the strategy that fits for your brand. My presentation, for those interested, can be downloaded here. My fellow speakers, Rand, Helen and Neil had some valuable tactics in their ppt’s so if you can track down copies of their decks I would recommend it!

If you were at the conference and attended either the Site Clinic session or the “Get Dugg” session, I’d love to hear your feedback… is there something you wished I had expanded on? Or scaled back?

I’m looking forward to next year already! :)

[Photo Credit: John Cohen on Flickr]

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Off to SES Toronto

I’m spending the next two days at Search Engine Strategies Toronto where I’ll be part of the “Site Clinic” panel today and the Get Dugg WOM panel. If you’re in the neighbourhood stop by and say hello! The conference appears to be rock solid this year and has something searchie-goodness for everyone.

I’m not one for live blogging, but hopefully we’ll have a few bloggers on hand to provide summaries as we go for those not attending this year.

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The vacation that built loyalty

Now that the madness of the last month has died down (the AQUOS 1080p D82 Challenge is alive and rockin’ in the green world!), I’ve been able to reflect on my trip to Cancun (yes, I offset my footprint!) and how the simple experience of a week’s vacation morphed into my complete loyalty to Club Med, and how paying attention to your customer’s needs (expressed or not) makes the biggest difference in how someone views your brand… and starts to spread word of mouth.

I’d been to Club Med Cancun two years previously when it was an adults only resort, and after the devastation of hurricane Wilma they recently re-opened as family friendly in November of 2006. Now, I’m not one to enjoy crowded swimming pools with screaming kids and waits for beach chairs or drinks, so I was a bit apprehensive when Kevin and I got on the plane. I really shouldn’t have worried. Kev and I really couldn’t believe our eyes. It felt like there were maybe 50 people at any one place at one time. The kids were off with the G.O.’s doing their own thing and when they walked through the resort they were happy, and oddly well behaved. The parents who we spoke with all said how wonderful it was for them to be on vacation, be able to relax, and not have to worry about their kids. A vacation away from the kids, with the kids. Perfect.

The beauty of a Club Med is that it allows you to choose your own experience and they do whatever it takes to facilitate it. If you want to go all out and do sports all day – the G.O. team is there. If you want to hang out on the beach with a cerveza and zen out to the ocean (Tamera), they leave you alone except to facilitate the cerveza’s. The Chef de Village, Eyal, was exemplary and ensured that the live music each night, circus acts and every thing and every one was running smoothly. It was especially nice for him to welcome and then see off the bus of rowdy Torontonians… it really is the little things that make an experience exceptional.

And what can anyone say about the local staff – the bartenders, cooks, housekeeping, gardening and security – but warm, amazing, diligent. Everyone at Club Med wanted to be there (well, as much as one would want to be at work when it’s 32 C out…) and it emanated down to the guests.

The excursions arranged through the Club are also top notch. Our trip to Coba and Tulum was led by a certified archeological tour leader who’d been in Quinta Roo for 12 years, and was punctuated by lunch at the Club Med archeological villa at Coba with the chance for a light swim. Perfect day.

The same experience with the private catamaran snorkeling trip to Isla Muejheres. The crew was superb and a ton of fun, the sun was shining and Mexico was beautiful. It emanates through every person Club Med engages.

The moral of the story – Kevin and I cannot imagine another vacation elsewhere unless we’re doing our own local adventures. We’re fans and that matters. It may cost a bit more to go to a Club Med, but, this experience is worth the cost.

The product experience lives up to the branding, and the company and employees care… and that is unfortunately exceedingly rare these days.

Air Transat on the other hand, well, I won’t ruin this post with that tale.

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Viral vs. Word of Mouth – what’s the difference?

I know I haven’t blogged in eons, but I have been supremely busy with new clients and programs at TFC and have been putting theories into action so to speak, and my blog has suffered. For that I do apologize. I hope to rectify the situation after returning from a week in the sun in early May, although I do have one other post brewing I hope to squeak out before I leave (how’s that for some mixed metaphors!). :)

All that aside, in reading Sean’s wrap-up from the CMA’s recent “From Mass to Grass Conference”, I was struck by something I’ve been noticing recently – a blurring of the lines between viral & WOM when speaking about the success of a “word of mouth” campaign. In too many instances they actually are describing a viral campaign. And there is a distinction worth noting – viral occurs when you’ve passed the tipping point; WOM gets you to the tipping point.

I hate to be blunt about this, but if you’ve purchased TV ads and billboards and are blaring your URL to the world, it doesn’t qualify as word of mouth. It can definitely qualify as viral if enough people dig what you’ve produced online and send the link to their friends, tag it, or post about it on their blog. But it’s mass audience, not influencers and organic.

The essence of WOM is that it spreads organically; you are earning the publicity, not paying for it. If your microsite URL is on TV you’re the one spreading the word, not your customers.

If we’re talking to our client’s about generating word of mouth, we should also be making the distinction between getting the WOM via advertising vs. getting it because their customers were evangelizing to their friends.

[Update - June 15, 2007] I’m adding this as an update here to Sean’s post on his blog as I don’t feel like signing up for a typepad account in order to comment… btw Sean, my comments are fixed, it was a database issue (spam will take over the internet before we know it!).

I don’t have a ton to say except that I don’t believe I said above that WOM couldn’t be orchestrated, I just obviously have a fundamental disagreement with Sean as to what constitutes true word of mouth. Semantics do matter if you’re working towards long-term and big picture goals. I’ll reiterate my thoughts – if you are using mass advertising to drive people to your website and then push or cajole them to spread the word, that’s not meaningful word of mouth that builds true influential brand evangelists and contributes to long-term customer loyalty (the fundamentals of a WOM program). It’s an ad campaign with an online driver… same as it was in 1999, 2002 or 2005.

Word of mouth happens when people are compelled to share their positive (or negative) experiences with your brand or product within their circle of influence. Word of mouth can be orchestrated, but it has to come from a position of equality and respect… not blaring an ad on TV. Mass isn’t sexy – exclusivity is (as I pointed out in my WOM presentation at SES, available here). Viral isn’t a bad thing by any means, it’s just different.

[photo credit: moose477 on Flickr]

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The changing anatomy of my online behaviour

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve noticed something about my online habits – they were being driven by primarily offline stimuli or personal silos. This was a significant enough change from the norm for me since, oh, 1995 when I got my first Internet connection. In the past 11 years I’ve surfed the web… clicking on banners, feeling lucky on Google, spending hours comparing prices or looking at vacation locations, Asking Jeeves, clicking on links in emails, blogrolls, message boards, or content on my merry way around the web. In a way I let the medium guide my behaviour and direction of my habits. I passively consumed the content and allowed my experience to be guided by the various entities I encountered.

The last two weeks (at least that’s when I started paying more serious attention) have been, well, a tad different. I’ve been busy catching up at work, I’ve been busy trying to read my RSS feeds & emails, and I’ve been out networking and strategizing in real life. This has left little time for any kind of surfing that wasn’t directly related to my immediate, or short-term needs. I clicked through to the articles that interested me from my email newsletters and bookmarked the ones to come back to. On occasion I followed a link from one of my RSS feeds to another site. Except… for the three TV commercials I saw while taking a break which prompted me to write down the URL’s (yes, with pen & paper!) and visit the websites. The commercials grabbed my attention because they were well executed, catchy, and had a memorable URL. And one prompted me to go out and buy the product (okay, fine, it’s the Trivial Pursuit Totally 80’s board game, I couldn’t resist even if the website was umm, not robust…).

Then there were the four conversations I had offline, that referenced something I googled when I got home (yes Google, I actually googled on Google), and explored in more depth. Two were brand related and confirm the power of WOM, and two were marketing related and confirm that content is king and SEO is more than a nice-to-have.

My web experience morphed into a self-directed one driven by stimuli that was important enough for me to take time to pay attention to and engage with.

As we continue to get more time crunched and content saturated how difficult will it be for companies to get themselves positively featured in my self-directed experience? The goal of social media and engagement is to ensure that happens, but as we’ve talked about at the various industry meet-ups and events, the conversation exists both offline and on and changes daily. A big challenge moving forward will be the ability to successfully integrate the conversations and messages online & offline, while continuing to provide real value for the customer. Focusing on one or the other (and being a medium evangelist vs. a customer evangelist) is counterintuitive to human interaction and behaviour.

[photo credit: olivander on Flickr]

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