Word-of-mouth marketing is king. It beats any TV spot, yellow page, blog post, or even in-your-face advertisement. Even Forrester thinks so. And word-of-mouth marketing is one of the purest forms of social media there is. Here’s an example that explains to you what I mean.
I’ve been expanding my tastes over the past few years. Previously, I used to drink one of maybe four or five kinds of beers (stay with me). I like those beers, they tasted good… what more could I ask for? Then I started going to liquor stores with enormous beer selections. “Wow”, I said. There’s a lot to choose. Now, instead of feeling almost adventurous, I felt more tethered to my tried-and-true selections. “Don’t stray!” I thought. The reason? If I pick up a six pack for the weekend or a few other beers for entertaining some friends, what if those beers aren’t any good? What if they just taste bad, or are sipped and abandoned? I didn’t want to take that chance. While in the store, I didn’t really have access to lots of research. Sure, I could ask the beer manager, but I’d also be thinking that maybe he’s taking me for a ride and trying to upsell me. So, I had no readily available credible source.
One day, I’m picking up beer with a friend of mine who is a walking zymurgy encyclopedia (look it up; you’ll impress some friends). He just knows almost everything there is, has a near photographic memory for it, and can deliver information in a way that makes you want to consume it. So, he’s great for a trip to a beer store. At any rate, we’re looking at selections for a gathering with our wives and other friends. He picks up a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale. I look at him, a bit skeptical. “Cans, huh?” I ask. I’m thinking, I was in undergrad years ago. I’ve drank beer out of cans since, sure, but usually tailgating or something like that. It’s not beneath me, but there’s usually a time and a place, and this was neither. He said, “Trust me – this isn’t like regular canned beer. It’s probably the best canned beer you’ve ever had in your life.” Whoa – stop the presses. Re-read that line. Do you understand how bold of a claim that is? So I say, “OK – I trust you, but I’m skeptical.” Fast forward to the party; beers are on ice; I mosey on over to the coolers. It’s decision time. I try one. He is right. It is the best canned beer I’ve ever had. It’s so good, I pour it into a glass. It’s drinking better than some of the expensive bottled beers we purchased (some of which I can’t even read the labels since I don’t even know the language in which they are written).
Where am I going with this? I’ve walked by those cans of beer for more than a year at that liquor store, and never considered them. I saw them, sure, but didn’t think much. What if I had seen a sign? I probably would’ve ignored it. Except on this occasion, I had my own ‘personal testament’. I had my own expert opinion, and an opinion I trusted. If he was wrong, then I would let him hear about it. He goes home with a five-pack. I never buy that beer again. But, if he’s right (and he was), it’s a win-win. He feels a bit altruistic for sharing a new brew type with me. I’m excited because there are now more options from which I can pick (and, this is canned beer, so it’s good for going to other people’s places).
Not exactly the kind of questions you get when someone isn’t interested.
A few weeks ago, one of my buddies, who is a die-hard American lager drinker (Bud, PBR*, Miller) was at one of our events. He went to get a beer and watching his face was classic. He saw all kinds of bottles with labels he didn’t know, way more hops than he wanted, and so on. The coolers shut, and he started to look elsewhere to see if he might find a warm Bud Light holding a door open or something. I said, “Try the Dale’s Pale Ale”. I knew it has way more hops than he likes, but it’s in a can (a form factor that’s actually working positively in this scenario). He reluctantly said OK. Later on that same day, my zymurgy (you looked it up, didn’t you?) friend sees the Dale’s Pale Ale can in his hand, and gets all wide-eyed. “Are you drinking a Dale’s?!” “It’s all I could find!” my Bud-lovin’ friend replied, almost defensively. Zymurgy replies, “No, no – that’s cool! Do you like it?” “Yeah” he says. “It’s not as bad as I thought it might be.” OK, so maybe this isn’t a ringing endorsement. But he could have tried one of the bottles of beer that he knew wasn’t his favorite, and be content (though not happy), or go with an unknown, but based on a personal recommendation.
And to wrap up the anecdote, I had a few Dale’s in my fridge the following day. My brother-in-law stops over for a bit, and I offer him a beer. As I hand him one, he raises his eyebrows. He knows I typically drink bottled beer, and has come to, in some ways, expect that I have only bottles on hand. I say, “Try it.” He does, and when I ask him what he thinks, he replies, “It’s actually pretty good.” The use of the word ‘actually’ is great in that context, since he was clearly expecting the opposite.
The point of all the Dale’s talk is that through word-of-mouth marketing, my zymurgy friend (if this were a 25-cent word, I could almost buy a cup of coffee now!) introduced me to it. In turn, I introduced three other people to it (actually more, but I chose three for this post), and I know two of those people are going to buy it. Those two people are outgoing and social, and will probably end up with similar experiences, as they share the good will of the Dale’s Pale Ale experience.
More importantly, people will be more inclined to believe – and act on – word-of-mouth marketing, rather than a TV spot, a print ad, or a shelf-talker in a liquor store. This isn’t to say that these tools should be abandoned, but it certainly helps to understand the influence that word-of-mouth marketing has.
* Don’t get me wrong – I like PBR and even Miller Highlife. You just have to have the right time and place for it.
p.s.: The title of this post is a play on the classic Miller Lite commercials. The tag line for Miller Lite back in the day was “Tastes great, less filling”, and would often feature two sides arguing over which aspect of the beer is better. The You Tube link embedded shows a great example. The title of the post suggests that word-of-mouth marketing can still affect the masses, and in fact be more effective (more filling) than some of the other lightweight methods.