Monday, September 26, 2005

Word of mouth as a reality, not a strategy

Nick Wreden of Fusion Brand made a debatable statement on the state of word of mouth by writing that the often-used marketing buzzword "underscores the fact that today it is customers, not companies, who define brands." Here's the quote in context:

"I still see advertising agency sites talking about “positioning.” If you understand nothing else, understand this: “positioning” is dead. In fact, word-of-mouth has been one of the nails in the coffin of the 30-year-old theory, first developed in a world when advertising on one of three channels could establish a brand. Today, word-of-mouth underscores the fact that today it is customers, not companies, who define brands. This definition is not based on corporate-driven “positioning,” or even by advertising, but rather by the emotional, experiential and economic value that brands deliver. "

I believe the idea that customers define brands doesn't mean companies - or even marketers - should cancel all strategic brainstorms, but should instead think of WOM as a marketplace reality rather than a strategy-driven outcome. Instead of spending time developing marketing tactics to ignite WOM, companies should ensure the brand's story, product, service and reputation are in tact and worth talking about.

Through my lens, Wreden's idea doesn't mean brand reputation and the market conversation that surrounds it are out of the company's hands. The idea rightly shifts attention away from the company and toward the consumer.

At the least, Wreden's got me thinking of consumer-defined brands. As I pull examples from the files in my mind, those consumer-defined brands are highly successful and inherently innovative.


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