Friday, April 13, 2007

Mass to Grass: Canada's Word of Mouth Marketing Conference

I had the great pleasure of attending the Canadian Marketing Association's first-ever Word of Mouth Marketing Conference in Toronto this week. It was one of those all-too-rare conferences that turned out to far exceed my expectations. Every session was interesting, but some of them were simply phenomenal.

There were a wide variety of speakers, from author Jackie Huba (author of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force and Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message) to Kyle MacDonald of One Red Paperclip fame to Eric Petersen, Director of Community Relations at Lululemon. There were also speakers from Rogers Publishing, Yahoo! Canada, Ogilvy & Mather, and Cossette Media, among many others.

I have more than a dozen pages of nearly illegible notes, but I manage to glean some interesting statistics on word of mouth marketing and social media from the various presentations. Some of the more salient ones:

  • nearly 2/3 of purchasing decisions are made based on word of mouth advertising.
  • 70% of CEOs say they will use some form of word of mouth marketing in the next year.
  • more than 48 million users in the United States have created some form of "user-generated content" (USG) on the Internet (everything from writing a blog to uploading a video to YouTube to writing a review on Although a comparable Canadian statistic isn't available, Internet penetration is higher in Canada than the US and it is known that 58% of Canadians have read or wrote a blog.
  • 87% of consumers will research a purchase online before buying offline.
  • only 1% of the population that reads a particular social media channel(forum or bulletin board or other) will participate by actively creating content for it, and only 10% of the audience with interact with that content.

The presentations covered a wide range of subjects relating to word of mouth marketing, and I only attended those sessions that had a particular focus on social media and user-generated content. Here's a few of the bits that caught my attention.

Jackie Huba said that social media allows marketers to connect with customers in new and uniquely interactive ways, and that consumer participation and involvement begets customer loyalty. She also stressed that in today's market "you are your Google results." Joe Thornley wrote a great summary her presentation over on his ProPR blog.

Doug Walker of TBWA (and founder of the World Rock Paper Scissors Society) said that the RPS society was both the dumbest idea he ever had, and the most successful. In his view, the four principles of a successful word of mouth campaign are: authority, mutation (to keep perpsectives fresh and relevant), participation and accretion (one by one, things build mass around a centre of gravity.)

Janet Kestin, Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather, is behind the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty campaign for Unilever. She talked about the Evolution video, the most successful branded viral film ever: they had so much traffic in the first 24 hours of launch that their server crashed, and had two million hits in two weeks. Within days, the mainstream media were reporting on it, and it has since been viewed by more than 600 milion people. The film alone reinvigorated the Real Beauty campaign and drove up share prices. Kestin, who admits she was a neophyte to social media at the beginning of the campaign, offers the following advice: "if you've done it, do it differently" and "fish where the fish are." She also says be open to the risk, read the wind and timing is everything, and believes that marketing in today's world means chasing interests and passion over demographics.

The last two sessions of the day had some lively interactive debating on the social media and word of mouth marketing. Some quick hits from the panel featuring David Jones of Fleishman-Hillard, Rob Cottingham of Social Signal and Steve Osgoode from HarperCollins:
  • Social media is risk. "If you don't have the stones for it, don't bother."
  • Web 1.0 was about eyeballs. Web 2.0 is about hands (as in, poised over the keyboard, typing madly.)
  • If it makes your boss squirm, you're probably on the right track.
  • It doesn't matter whether social media 'belongs' to the PR deparment, the marketing department, communications or the CEO. What's important is that somebody does it, and somebody is participating in a meaningful way. It requires internal champions.
  • The value of social media cannot be measured in ROI terms. Expectations cannot be results-driven.
  • Sell social media in your organization as something new to try, not the be-all end-all solution.
  • Some users, especially those unfamiliar with the platform, might find Second Life tedious and horribly unintuitive. What's far more important than where it is now is what it is capable of being and where it is heading (just like the Internet in 1995 compared to now.)

It was truly an excellent conference. Take a tour around the blogosphere for some other perspectives on the day's festivities: One Degree (and here, too), Scott MacDonald, and Sean from Craphammer had spoken up as of press time.