When the Wrong Mouth Speaks

Remember when social media meant talking with people online? Then when businesses began catching on, the early days of social media marketing revolved around relationship building via grassroots communications or word of mouth marketing. Well, a lot has changed since the mid 2000s. These days the wrong mouth is speaking way too much.

We have a problem, Houston. Marketers just want to broadcast, produce content, and position themselves as influencers in their business. But real interaction seems to escape most companies.

Talking with people connotates two or more people communicating in a dialog. But in today’s most common approach to social media marketing, brands deploy content to spark engagement. Now, while this tactic could be a great conversation starter, most brands deploy content becomes a vehicle to position one’s brand or self as excellent.

This is fine to some extent. Afterall, positioning and branding are worthy business outcomes.

The online medium demands more.

Consider going to a dinner party. Say your host is extremely well known. What would you think of that host if they prattled off the whole time and talked over every single guest?

You’d probably think they are a terrible bore.

Then there are the always publishing inbound marketers. These content creators have become lazy and are focused on a singular outcome: Inbound leads. Content, while certainly a powerful tool to aid nurturing, has a higher purpose in my mind, which is to serve stakeholders, start conversations, and ignite word of mouth.

The mouth you want speaking is that of the other person(s) at the party, not just the host. Even that is generous. Most marketers are not the hosts, rather they intrude with the rare exception of opt-in followers.

Inbound versus WOMM


Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) revolves around the premise of other people talking about you. Success in this aspect of marketing, means that stakeholders talk more about the brand than corporate communications does. WOMM triggers a combination of media and community (on and offline) commentary about a brand and its offerings.

I think smart marketers — inbound, PR, email — all get this. Yet, today’s tactical discussions revolve around content for content’s sake. Is it any wonder that we have content shock conversations occuring?

Every study that comes out on trust always shows that earned media produces a stronger brand impact. That’s why companies who are looking to build awareness and use branded content as their primary means of promotion (sorry about that Facebook business page, folks) may face serious challenges with customers.

Inneffective tactic selection may have deeper impact than brand awareness. Branded content delivers less sales lift than earned media, says Digiday. Their commentary is based on a Nielson study (pictured below).


Digiday goes on to say expert content fairs 88% better than branded content, and 50% better than user-generated content for “lift” or influence on sale. So people trust media more than they trust their peers, which in turn they trust more than brands. Brands come in last.

A Marketing Strategist Uses Tools within an Ecosystem

I have some doubts about the Nielsen study, but I agree with branded content taking last place on trust. Sure you can point to individual content marketing successes where customers go crazy, from Coke to the ever present Red Bull.

Exceptional case studies don’t constitute the mean performance. They only provide hope to those that aren’t there yet. Yet many marketers don’t see the incredible amounts of research (e.g. listening and studying) that top brands invested in serving customers with the right content, which in turn creates fantastic word of mouth.

Their content is useful. It fits within larger ecosystem of serving stakeholders with value that meets a brand promise.

One of the reasons I like Edelman’s approach to trust is the firm’s understanding of stakeholder ecosystems. Look at this chart.


You can see all the ways a business touches people, and how it needs to communicate to build trust. You can argue the fine points, but I do think the chart captures the need for a business to look at its approach. A business operates in the customer’s ecosystem.

Never in the chart do you see the words “produces content” even though Edelmnan is a leader in native advertising and content production. That’s because content is a tool. It helps brands to engage. Content lets a company serve its stakeholders. For some brands — like those top performers — content becomes a product in its own right meant to please customers.

An approach like this helps brands create WOMM, third party validation of its efforts, and yes, referrals. The marketing strategist uses content and other tactics like customer service, direct interation, product marketing, media relations, speaking, etc. etc. to achieve an ideal state of building brand, generating leads and retaining customers.

When content is the alpha and omega of marketing, you end up with one mouth talking. It’s the wrong mouth from a strategic perspective. As a result, alone as the primary marketing tactic it fails to achieve large stakeholder and brand needs.

What do you think?

Featured image by D4Dee.

Going Beyond Transactions to Learn More

Sales, marketing, branding and ROI drive much of today’s conversation about how to use social, content marketing and interactive. Yet it’s a missed opportunity when companies and nonprofits don’t use their sites to learn more about their stakeholders.

Surveying customers, harnessing data, and determining topical interests can help organizations better understand their customers, serve them with better information, and in turn, increase many desired marketing key performance indicators. Lower cost technologies make learning easier today, whether that’s using interstitial survey technologies, CRM tracking tools, or analytics.

I talked recently with Everyday Health VP of Market Research Carolina Petrini about how they are using Crowd Science to learn more about their stakeholders. They wanted to go beyond knowing that their readers were predominantly women to:
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Tattooing My Body “LIVESTRONG” for Cancer Research

Updated 3/14 at 10:30 a.m.: WE MADE IT! We have raised $5125. Thank you to the more than 100 donors!

Livestrong for banners.jpg

As some of you know, I have a close relative came down with cancer last year (he chooses to remain unnamed, but his cancer is now in remission). It turns out that my Cousin Paula (photo below) also came down with breast cancer last year, too (also in remission). That’s why I have decided to donate a little piece of my body to fundraise for cancer research with the Lance Armstrong Foundation.


If I successfully raise $5,000 by midnight on Sunday, I will literally get the LIVESTRONG brand tattooed on my body in Austin at SxSW on Monday. Here’s the donation page, please contribute today. Further, changeblogger and friend John Haydon has committed to getting his own tattoo if we reach $6500 in donations!

It's Done!

Last year’s SxSW tattoo

livestrong.jpg Before you laugh too much (OK, go ahead), I just want explain a little bit. The family cancers caused me to become interested in related charities. . There was a possibility of a three year old toddler without a parent, and how we were all going to help out the surviving parent. After my cousin Paula was diagnosed for breast cancer (early stage), she could not get health care coverage for three months. I believe we can change this.

And yes, I am no stranger to tattoos. This would be my seventh, and yes, I can live with LIVESTRONG on my body. I don’t think this is everyone’s cup of tea (see related post)…

So on to SxSW. And with your help, a nice contribution for cancer research and a new tattoo.

P.S. Check out this blog post about the LIVESTRONG brand, where I discussed people tattooing LIVESTRONG on their bodies!