Understanding the Buzz About Buzz Marketing

It may sound like a new buzzword, but it’s really one of the oldest forms of marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re online or offline, you should never overlook buzz marketing. This article, the first of two parts, explains what buzz marketing is, helps you understand how and why it’s generated, and warns you about the possible hazards.

By now you’ve probably realized there are many forms of marketing available to business owners; both online and off-line.  Direct mail, pay-per-click, link trades, SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing), viral marketing and other terms I’m sure you’ve run across in your search to market your product or your online business.

Because this article is online, I’m going to assume that the businesses looking for help in this area which are reading this article are mostly online businesses.  So it would make more sense to have online marketing for online businesses, and offline marketing for offline businesses.  But it doesn’t always work out to be this way, nor should it have to be limited in this fashion, either.

Since I am an SEO Consultant by trade, it would seem that the scope of my work is limited to SEO or SEM.  But I have found that failing to take into account other forms of marketing carries with it a high price.  One form of marketing that one should never, ever, write off is buzz marketing.

{mospagebreak title=What is Buzz Marketing?}

Buzz marketing is word of mouth marketing.  It is a term used in the marketing industry to describe activities that companies do to generate favorable word of mouth publicity about products and services.  Buzz marketing is in essence a unique form of viral marketing, so to truly understand buzz marketing’s far reaching effects for online businesses, we need to understand viral marketing.

Viral marketing behaves just like it sounds: it’s contagious! A virus reproduces by somehow replicating itself and spreading to new hosts or cells. Viral marketing is a form of advertising that essentially propagates itself by replication, spreading, and becoming a form of branding through its familiarity. It also encourages people somehow to pass along the form of advertising to someone else, whether on purpose or unwittingly. Those who use Yahoo! mail, for example, if they send an email, are forwarding on the Yahoo advertisement at the bottom of their emails.  This is a form of viral marketing.  And very successful word of mouth advertising creates buzz, hence the name buzz marketing.

Buzz marketing is contagious, but it is usually spread with purpose.  It attempts to make each encounter with a consumer feel and appear to be a completely spontaneous and unique personal exchange of information, rather than some form of advertising.  Software on a website that encourages you to “tell a friend” or “email this page” relies upon buzz marketing.

Before media streams from the Internet, television, or even radio, people had to rely upon word of mouth advertising. There was a very popular technique used that we see in virtually every sales letter on the Internet. You’ve seen them; heck, you’ve maybe even bought something based on a particularly influential letter.  The advertiser has an AMAZING product, and is willing to let YOU in on the secret!  The advertiser reveals bits of intriguing information about a product or a service to you, gaining your confidence or interest, which makes you believe it is only available to a very precious few people in the know.  And, yes; you, too, can be one of them!

Further evidence of buzz marketing in sales letters is that they are virtually always accompanied by many testimonials from others who bought the product or the service, and how it absolutely changed their skin, their hair, their dating habits, their careers, their health, and their lives. These are people like you: everyday, ordinary moms and dads, college students, senior citizens, and business people. They get you to believe you will be missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime should you pass it up, and they are the people you can relate to in exactly the same situation and stage of life as yours.  It’s definitely hard to resist.

{mospagebreak title=Beyond the Sales Letter}

Other examples of buzz marketing have been used effectively without the pesky sales letter.  Let’s look at Google’s Gmail.  Google spent zero dollars on advertising their Gmail program. It wasn’t a program you could just sign up for, though, initially. Google provided “invitations” to an exclusive and select few, with the “power” to give out more invitations to others, who in turn received more invitations to pass along. At one time, these invitations were selling for big money on eBay! Being in the “know” was the huge draw to the Gmail program. The word spread like wild fire with no advertising dollars being spent at all, which is fairly impressive for a buzz marketing campaign in general, especially for a company we know has plenty of dough for advertising.

Even Yahoo’s Web 2.0 uses massive forms of buzz marketing in their attempts to encourage use of a new social search engine. In fact, a good percentage of the new program relies upon voting on sites from its members, and the other part is from a computer generated algorithm. Yahoo encourages its users to vote for websites that have been helpful in their search efforts, and then uses the votes of confidence to boost the SERPs (search engine results pages).

In a definition provided by Whatis.com, they say that although buzz marketing is not new, it is clear that Internet technology has drastically changed the way it’s being used. Campaigns are now being perpetrated in chat rooms, in email, on discussion boards, and even in peer to peer downloads, where “marketing representatives assume an identity appropriate to their target audience and pitch their product”; people who are just like you and me, or someone we could certainly relate to. 

“And as technology continues to facilitate the delivery of an electronic buzz marketing message…and software applications make message deliveries easier to quantify, some advertising experts predict that electronic buzz marketing techniques will become a standard component in all cross-media advertising campaigns. Others warn that abuse of this potentially powerful electronic marketing technique will be its downfall.”

There will always be critics, of course.  Last year, 46 percent of marketers said they had no intentions of using RSS in any of their marketing campaigns.  This year, that number has fallen to a mere 12% of marketers, according to Jupiter Research. Buzz marketing is the absolute oldest form of marketing, and while its delivery may have drastically changed since the Neolithic Era (that’s the Stone Age to those of us who are not paleontologists), word of mouth marketing will always be the absolute most trusted form of advertisement, because usually the person saying it has a high form of credibility.  After all, if your mom or your best friend said it, why shouldn’t you believe them?

{mospagebreak title=Drawbacks of Buzz Marketing} 

There are some drawbacks to buzz marketing too. Ever heard the saying, “A happy customer tells a friend; an unhappy one tells ten”? While I’m not sure that this is a precise fact, there is something to this statement that does ring true because humans as a species tend to remember the negatives far easier than the positives. 

Without going too much into the scientific reasoning behind this, I do want to point out why this is. Generally, when you’re happy, you may or not be filled with endorphins. But when you’re angry or upset, the body is flooded with adrenalin, which enables the body to fight. The fight reaction in us is one of the natural instincts we had as prehistoric beasts, and enabled us to survive. While I don’t claim to understand all of the science there, all I know is what I see in myself or others around me.

When I’m angry, for example, it’s harder to go to bed and relax, but it is much easier to take an action against something.  When I am happy, I am relaxed, and I can sleep like a cat at noon, and find myself putting off the negative things.  Needless to say, angry customers have far more energy to say disrespectful things about your product or service than a happy or satisfied customer has to solicit business for you from their friends. That is, unless, you truly have a product that has saved their life or changed their life so drastically that it produces feelings that far outweigh the energy from angry hormones.

Buzz marketing has been referred to as evangelism.  Evangelism, while technically the zealous ability to spread the gospel and convert followers, can still apply to marketing. When a person is so excited about a particular thing, they can’t help but talk about it. This is the idea behind evangelism and buzz marketing alike.  You want people to be excited about what you have to offer, and tell their friends about you and your stuff. You literally have people taking the message to the streets and spreading the good news. 

Up and coming artists and musicians promote their new CDs with “Street Teams.”  It’s these Street Teams who do much of the word of mouth promotions for not just music, but for snack foods, teen magazines, hair care products and anything else you can think of. You know that lady in the supermarket who gave you the little food sample last Saturday? She’s probably not on a Street Team, but you should consider her part of the wave of buzz marketing.

Buzz marketing is also important to propagate branding. Branding anymore seems only to apply to huge names in advertising, like car companies, athletic shoes, or sodas. But this is not necessarily the case. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” Every company strives for branding.  Key elements to creating a brand are familiarity, repeat business, and uniqueness.  (I’ll talk about creating effective strategies for branding in the next article.)

BusinessWeek Magazine calls this the Summer of Buzz. “This is the new world of buzz marketing, where brand come-ons sometimes are veiled to the point of opacity and where it is the consumers themselves who are lured into doing the heavy lifting of spreading the message. Sure, generating great buzz for their products has been the holy grail in marketing circles since P.T. Barnum learned to work a crowd. But the art of generating word-of-mouth has grown far more sophisticated since the early days of simple publicity stunts. Marketers are learning to turn their brands into carefully guarded secrets that are revealed to a knowing few in each community, who in turn tell a few more, who tell a few more, and so on.”

In the next article, I will focus on specific ways you can promote the buzz over your service, product, or website using the Internet, and how you can implement these things without needing to invest a small fortune in advertising. Because let’s face it; you just don’t have that kind of money, do you? Once you’ve successfully created your brand, then you can afford to spend the big bucks.

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