The Word of Mouth Cycle

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If you follow the blog ‘industry’, you will see that AOL
bought Weblogs for $25M and News Corp bought social networking property MySpace
(and its company) for $580M.

Wendy Davis posted from MediaPost an interest comment about
this development: “…it’s not clear that blogs and other consumer-generated
sites will retain their character when they’re no longer independent, but
instead part of the media machine they once spurned.”

Translation: will the blogs lose their character, which is
the reason people read them?

This reminds me of several parallel situations that relate
to word of mouth:

  • It’s like when cutting edge bands get buzz…but lose favor with their
    fanatical fans when they ‘go mainstream’.
  • Or that unique restaurant that was a 2 hour drive opens up
    their first chain 15 minutes away…and it’s no longer interesting.
  • Or when any blogger or consumer talks about a product…until
    they realize everyone is talking about it.

There is a progression where influencers stop influencing
once there’s no one left to influence. Or, when brand, group, or product no
longer is unique and/or ‘ownable’ to the early influencers.

It’s sort of like gossip. It’s not fun to gossip if it’s
possible everyone knows. And it’s really fun to gossip when it’s ‘juicy’ stuff…a
huge story! (Personally I refrain from gossip…but it is tempting!)

Such seems to be the case with word of mouth for a product
or other subject. Influencers, who are sort of hunter / gatherers, ferret out
the latest product or news. When it’s really good, or something worth their
passion, they share it with others. The more excellent products and/or in a higher passion category…the higher frequency and reach of word of mouth.

Along the way, the next group of people tells someone (you
can call them early majority if you’d like) and they tell the mainstream, and
so on. By this time, the influencers have moved on. It’s no longer interesting.

As a diagram it looks like this:

 

In the beginning, there are few people talking (low
distribution). The sources are few but the passion (frequency and reach) is
high. As time goes on – and I’m not sure if there’s a chasm here – distribution
gets to a point the influencers no longer carry an interest. This could be due
to the ‘old gossip’ factor or that the way they saw the subject in the
beginning is different than the way they see it now that’s it’s shared with the
mainstream (or worse, late majority and laggards!). The product or subject has
become homogenized.

There are several reasons for the homogenization along the
way – not the least of which is commoditization of the product (see Tony Roma’s
"Marginzlizing Quality" article
).

What’s a company, person, organization to do? Reinvent. You
can reinvent product, you can reinvent image, you can reinvent interaction and
process. Reinvent something that is visible, tangible and interesting to the
customer. Think of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow concept – and apply that not just to
product, but to the way you do business.

 

Case in point: Madonna.

Not my favorite singer, but she figured out the secret formula
to longevity. Her fans, or new fans, ‘found her’ each time she reinvented
herself…restarting the interest and word of mouth cycle.

 

Case in point: Cereals



One of my favorites, Lucky Charms. Not unlike most cereals or
grocery products, they modify with bigger, smaller, free, ingredients, etc. to
make it new again! How many Doritos are out there? Not that Lucky Charms has
enough passion for WOM…but the point for demand and resisting homogenization is
still relevant.

This principle is relevant to everything. Companies,
products, relationships, hobbies, advertising, work out routine, job, personal ‘brand’,
etc. People crave things that are new and excellent. That’s what people what
people want to experience. And it’s what they want to talk about. So then, change
needs to occur to benefit from the word of mouth cycle. The tricky part is deciding what to change to what!

 

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