Saturday, February 6, 2010

Buzz, Viral Marketing, and Word-of-Mouth: what’s the difference?

Word-of-Mouth Marketing consists of a number of different forms of communication: buzz marketing, viral marketing, influencer marketing, street marketing, user generated content and so on. These new approaches can quite often be confused due to their complementary attributes, but in the end are quite different from each other.

Prior to the explanation it must be noted that the efficiency of these new techniques remains for the most part undisputed. Consum-actors are now not only marketing targets, but also potential information relay hubs for your communication actions.

First there is Word-of-Mouth. This form of communication between two people (about brands, products and services, among other things) is obviously not new. What has changed however, is the power, the range and the speed at which word-of-mouth grows in our new online media landscape. This activity mainly takes place via social media, blogs and video platforms… Any available information on the internet, whether it be in the form of image, text or video can be instantaneously reacted upon and propagated around the world in a matter of seconds. Formerly, word-of-mouth was restricted to a certain number of family members, neighbors and colleagues (within a specific social setting). Today, any internet user can profit from certain incredibly powerful communications tools that did not exist in the past.

In recent years, more and more brands have become aware of the power of this phenomenon. The first experiments with word-of-mouth marketing conducted by Hotmail, Budweiser and/or the Blair Witch Project, have now evolved into constructive advertisements. These experiments have lead to a greater awareness; in web 2.0, Youtube users have become a media in themselves! A brief explanation of these marketing approaches can be seen below.

Viral Marketing is one of them. Viral communication is about facilitating the transmission of a message from one person to another. The name “Viral Marketing” very basically comes from the concept. The idea is that it works like a cold, “infecting” one person who in turn spreads the infection to another; thus creating an exponential dynamic.

In order for it to achieve its goals, and not interrupt people like traditional advertising does (where the audience is forcibly exposed to an advertising message), you offer internet users content that is so original, amusing, surprising, inspiring and interesting that they not only enjoy it but want to pass it on to others. A module that is too overtly commercial or conventional will most likely not catch.

Humor, sex and provocation are often ingredients of success, and viral marketing can incorporate all of them (depending on the target, the message and the objective). In B2B for example the publication of a downloadable white paper is a very good example of viral marketing. The personalization of a message (by adding one’s name or photo to a game or video), the incentive (a symbolic or real reward that can be gained in a game for example) and intuitive uses are key elements of success within this type of campaign.

Formats: viral video, e-mail, downloadable module, widget, white paper study, Facebook application, audio and video podcast…
Examples: The personalization of the homepage for La Tribune de Genève, Dove and its film “Evolution”, the “NicoMarket” viral videos against smoking, UPS and its widgets, the job website Moovement and its personalizable module “Manager of the Year”, the videos on rugby and existentialism by Coq Sportif , the viral virtual garden by Roxy perfume, or the game “AxeBusters”.

The wheels of viral Marketing

Buzz Marketing is another technique used to generate word-of-mouth. The idea in this instance is to spread information to the consumer via an event, an action in a spectacular, surprising and memorable way that is associated to a brand… A successful buzz marketing action generates word-of-mouth and media coverage. The important thing here is to create a reaction that attracts attention, be it risky, controversial or provocative.

Media coverage (via a PR action) is an essential part of a campaign, it makes sure that your range goes well beyond those who were directly exposed to the original action. You have to facilitate the indirect experience of the action via videos broadcast by the media and video sharing platforms… (the action has to be sufficiently visible and accessible).

This type of action requires a considerable logistic preparation and legal know-how in order to overcome regulations and obtain the necessary authorizations (unless you are prepared to risk paying fines), which can often be complicated and time-consuming. You also have to anticipate that some people or administrations might view these “creative measures” as a forcible invasion of their environment … so be careful with, and prepared for, negative reactions…

Formats: exceptional event or measure, street marketing, guerilla marketing, ambient marketing, ambush marketing…
Examples: The latest WWF campaign against deforestation, the street marketing campaign for “Batman Begins”, the vertical rugby match by Société Générale, Jeep and its SUV parking lots , VW Eos and its “solar” billboards, the bank ING and its provocative saga of clothing for the very rich or the “DIM DIM Girls” squatting the ranks at the rugby world cup.

Then there is Influencer Marketing, which is made up of seeding (creating word-of-mouth by letting opinion leaders test products) and community management. The objective is to generate word-of-mouth by involving (online and offline) opinion leaders (bloggers, influential consumers, VIPs, stars) by motivating them to relay a message to their audience(s). This can be done by giving them the opportunity to test products, participate in exclusive events and/or gather in special places such as a blog, a forum, a social network,etc…

This approach requires time and a certain sensitivity but can be hugely profitable in the long run. By exchanging opinions with your consumers and answering their questions, you create customer loyalty and enable their step by step transformation into brand supporters. This transformation will allow you to enhance your recommendation rate and your brands overall notoriety. Unfortunately, brands do not always possess sufficient human and/or financial resources to develop ’involved’ relationships on an every day basis over a long period of time. Influentials need to be handled with care and in contrast to publicity they cannot be bought… A clumsy, overtly commercial approach will in the best case scenario disinterest them, and at worst cause negative buzz (it is therefore important to not try and manipulate them, lie or deceive them in any way).

Formats: Seeding campaign working with influential bloggers organised by BuzzParadise …, sponsored posts and media sales 2.0, creation of brand blogs and social networks, VIP events
Examples: Distribution of new products to female bloggers by Dim Osmose, the social network of the brand MMMKenzoki, the “Running Club” of New Balance or the blog “Renault F1”, …

Finally, we come to Consumer Generated Media, also called User Generated Media. This type of action consists of letting the audience participate in the communication of a brand (and in some situations the co-creation of a product or an offer). A certain number of brands have thus urged internet users to post videos and photos in order to participate in a competition or a collaborative module (, Gmail, or Joga Bonito for Nike). Some even go as far as to “ask” internet users to invent the screenplay (Honda for “Superball”) or even create a future spot or billboard (Sony via “Current TV”, or SFR via “BlogBang”).

Although this type of campaign is similar to the new phenomenon of “consumer 2.0” or “consum-actor”, it sometimes falls short or fails. This is most often due to a lack of quality and participation, as this type of action demands internet user’s time. We will certainly have to wait a while until a larger group of people have mastered the tools and necessary expertise to create an effective spot… The number of talented people that possess these skills are unlimited… Unfortunately, not everyone can be a creative genius like Hitchcock ;)

Formats: contributive video or photo competition, collaborative module, co-creation
Examples: EBay and its latest campaign, Diesel’s perfume and its co-creation module of customized products or the collaborative video for Gmail (more than 5,000,000 views and more than 1,000 contributed videos).

All these approaches differ slightly from each other in their different strategies (even though they all pertain to the same goal). They can be used independently, complement each other, or even be combined with more traditional communication actions (TV spots, online advertising banners, billboards, press, radio, etc…). In that case we would speak of Integrated Communication or 360° Marketing…



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