Marketing people have done an outstanding job of convincing senior management:

  • We know the right people
  • We need to launch a product with a big bang
  • We need to do a 1:1 meeting with just the right editors/writers/reviewers
  • We need an editorial tour
  • We need four-five star reviews
  • We did it all for them

 We carefully spend truckloads of money to convince consumers – business and individual – that tomorrow is here…it is better…it is time to make the move…NOW!

Then we point with pride to the positive reviews, the three-four awards.

Marketing people constantly develop plans and programs all designed to convince “the market” that if they don’t get on the horse and ride they’ll be left in the dust.

Good marketing and communications people are creative and smart.

In today’s instant news, constantly connected world we all realize that for the products to succeed in the fast changing PC/CE industry we have to tap into and leverage consumer behavior.

There’s only one thing missing.

We only give lip service to our best weapon…best marketing tool…most credible tool…customers.


Can’t Get Enough – Innovators and early adopters can’t gobble up new and different technology fast enough. Fortunately there are a lot of them around the globe who are first in line to buy. They do it again and again, casting off yesterday’s products before the price tag is cold. Source – NY Times

You know the guy/gal in your neighborhood or company who is always on the bleeding edge of technology.

You know those innovators and early adopters that “everyone” turns to for information and recommendations.


Figure 1 – Big Jump – The challenge for most products, most companies is leaping across the small break in the buying cycle to reach volume sales and profits. Source – Geoffrey Moore’s “The Chasm”

If the products don’t jump Geoffrey Moore’s Chasm fast enough marketing failed so they advertise more…add features…introduce new versions…lower the prices.

The promotion options are almost limitless.


Figure 2 – Reaching the Masses – In the rush for sales volume and “acceptance,” marketers and PR people use all of the communications tools at their disposal to send out their controlled message. Unfortunately word of mouth is seldom aggressively pursued because PR people can’t control it and it lacks “sizzle.” Source – DoubleClick, ROI Research

Companies will do almost anything to get visibility for their new products. They want the press coverage, the reviewers’ praises, the analysts’ reports, all of that buzz that makes products fly out of the warehouse and off the shelves. But leveraging word-of-mouth (WOM) is hard, dirty work.

Talk to and work with the customer on a real 1:1 basis? Are you out of your mind? That requires time…requires effort…requires patience…requires painful “self analysis.”

Increasingly the post-Chasm crowd relies on word of mouth – face to face, blogs, company review sites, community interest/networking sites – for their purchasing information and ideas.


Figure 3 – Personal Recommendations — While broad searches of the Internet help people garner general information about their hobbies and their work, it is the recommendations of people you trust and feel have specific hands-on knowledge that carry the most weight in your consideration to buy. Source – GFK Roper

In today’s iNet world; word of mouth information is almost instantly available to consumers in Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas, Middle East.

With very little effort anyone, anywhere can easily tap into this trustworthy information — customer insights/opinions/recommendations.

If this resource has become so broadly consulted by prospects, it has to become an integral part of firms’ public relations strategy. It is not something that can be relegated to inexperienced or junior communications folks or shoved over to the company’s support organization.

It has to be at the forefront of activities because this is where the rubber meets the road, these are the real use reports that can make or break a company’s/product’s success!


Figure 4 – 1st Hand – When people are looking for new products, new services, new ideas they read every source and resource they can. They check the reviews of professionals they have come to trust and respect. They pour over features/capabilities charts. They turn to other users to get what they feel is an honest assessment of the product/service they are considering. Source – Avenue A/Razorfish

Unfortunately most communications people focus 80% of their efforts on high visibility reviews, big ads, glossy mailers, breathtaking email campaigns…avoiding WOM.


Oh yeah…

  • It’s time consuming
  • It requires patience…lots of patience
  • It isn’t as much fun as meeting with editors/reviewers/analysts
  • It demands that you look at the product/service from the customers’ perspective not what research showed you were the key points
  • It means you have to look at the users’ views, opinions, ideas in a non-defensive manner with an understanding that the user – the real user – might know more about what he/she wants, how he/she wants to work than engineers, programmers, designers (translation – sometimes the king may not have any cloths on or he simply has mismatched socks)
  • It requires cold, hard analysis of what was said – and not said – and delicate handling of the feedback to the people who nurtured the product from concept to introduction. Trust us…no one likes to be told their kid is ugly!

 Some firms are giving these undiluted user inputs, ideas and recommendations the attention they deserve even when it hurts…a “little.”

Dell is one of the latest to closely examine and mine these inputs and unbiased opinions for ways to improve policies, programs and products.

Michael Dell has finally gotten his head around the fact that consumers – channel partners, corporate buyers, individuals – trust the opinions of other consumers.

In less than a year the company has gone from one of the most berated firms in the computer industry to one with an excellent and open relationship with customers – large and small.

Today, individual online reviews and blogs are being posted and trusted by other consumers on a daily basis.

Getting in front of the situation isn’t just important…it’s vital!

The challenge is two-fold.

We all know that ticked off customers are the first to post their complaints and tell others. Ten to 15 years ago that wasn’t a huge problem. The dissatisfied customer would probably only complain to 10-15 people.

Today he or she posts his/her complaint and BAM! it is instantly out there for 10-50 million people to read…and pass along.

The other challenge is inspiring happy consumers to help spread the positive words…the praise…the good news.

Do it wrong and they’ll get the idea you’re trying to con them, turn them into shills.

Not good.

Do it right.

Very good.

There are millions of passionate, empowered consumers out there in special interest/user groups. These are individuals who are more than a little favorable toward brands/products that they like/use in their work, hobby, home.

These people spend hours at work and late into the evening scouring the iNet, chatting on uselists, searching web sites, devouring blogs and sharing information and ideas with people who are just as passionate about their interest area.

Some have regular meetings to exchange information and “tricks” to do things better with their products. Most special interest groups have web sites where they review products with varying degrees of expertise for anyone/everyone to read.

And read them people do!


Figure 5 – Experience Counts – When all is said and done and people have read the news, studied the companies literature, evaluated the pros/cons of the various products/ services that are available prospects turn to other people’s reviews and analysis to make their purchasing decisions. Source – Deloitte & Touché

More importantly, consumers looking for advice and assistance find these groups, these sites, these reviews extremely credible because:

  • They share something in common with the reviewer
  • The reviewer talks in usage terms the reader can identify with…where the rubber meets the road

 The problem for most marketing and communications people is that influentials are only important to them when they want to sell something.

The influentials and their sphere of influence are a pain in the behind when they:

  • Need assistance with their web sites/publications
  • Seek support for special events, educational activities
  • Are interested in guidance and ideas to develop a more organized effort to expand their membership, their numbers

 Too bad.

According to eMarketer there are about 26.8 million influencers (people who are regularly asked for advice) in the U.S. today and 58.7 million worldwide.

Most are not only first in line to buy, they actually enjoy the responsibility of providing others assistance.

When they spread the word…influencees buy.


The Wise Innovator – The really smart innovator grabs everything he/she can get his/her hands on that is new, special, unique. Then…they find someone who’ll lug their stuff around for them while they stay out of the rain.

It’s true.

It isn’t as sexy as a thoroughly researched/crafted PowerPoint presentation, well rehearsed media presentation or highly crafted news release.

You know those tools of the trade that tap into the very deepest reaches of the consumers’ behavior.

But those geeky, weird, passionate influentials do a lot better job of grabbing more customers…and keeping them longer than the presentation, the release, the “fun” press event.

Organic growth may not agree with you but don’t wait for management to ask the question…

Listen to the whisperer.

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