is there a market for word-of-mouth marketing?My answer? Sort of.
What I mean by the question is, will businesses pay a marketing company to initiate a "buzz" campaign on their behalf, in hope of starting the whispers among friends? Of course they will. BzzAgent (whose home page isn't working as of this writing, link is to blog) has built an enterprize around the belief that they will, in spades. Will it work? Sometimes, perhaps.
The key to word-of-mouth marketing and its awesome power, is that it's nothing more that fans of a company or product that spread the good word, because they truly believe in what they are promoting. If these people can be trusted by their audience, then the story gathers momentum and results in a spike in business for the company in question. The word of a marketer is of little value in those conversations. Buzz Canuck's post on this very subject highlights how and when it happens, and how much control marketing initiatives have over the process (hint: not much). But how does one harness that power, or better yet, how do you start that kind of viral discussion among your prospective customers?
I'm repeating myself, quoting Seth and paraphrasing Ryan when I say that there is only one answer. By being remarkable. And that means only one thing: that someone deems you worthy of making a remark about. The power to be remarkable is in the hands of the business, and not a marketing company. Because being remarkable can't be defined in any simple form; it can hardly even be predicted. But like all marketing, with the right idea and some adventurous test-and-measure execution, it is certainly possible.
I've been thinking on this very puzzle for some time, as the future of Tell Ten Friends will most likely be heavily involved in word-of-mouth campaigns and ideas. But just like a business can't survive with word-of-mouth marketing alone (at least, not often) neither can a marketing company expect to make a go of trading on word-of-mouth as its only product.
What is the value of an idea?
It's impossible to quantify. But, in the true spirit of being remarkable, a marketing company could (hypothetically) use word-of-mouth ideas as a calling card, even a loss-leader (I shudder as I type those words) and still profit from handling all of the peripheral online and traditional marketing initiatives for the client.
That's the way I see it at the moment. I'll be looking deeper into the viability of word-of-mouth as a revenue model in the coming months, but If I had to wager I'd say I'll keep coming to the same conclusion: That popular opinion might be something that can be persuaded, but not bought and sold.
At least, not successfully.