Book Review: Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz

Andy Sernovitz has written a book that, quite frankly, everyone should read. I don’t care if you’re in marketing, human resources, customer service or are a C-level executive, Word of Mouth Marketing has something for you.

What Sernovitz has done is break down word-of-mouth-marketing into its core components, and he’s done so in a way that doesn’t use a lot of – or any really – industry jargon or inside jokes. What he does do is make it clear that word of mouth about your company, regardless of size, location, demographic or product offerings, is already being generated. Whether you had anything to do with that or not is almost secondary. The conversation is happening. Sernovitz makes it clear that you have two options when it comes to this pre-existing conversation. You can either join in and make sure that you’re reaping all the benefits that come with that or ignore it and not participate, in which case you will pay the costs (and they can be significant) such an aloof stance can result in.

But oh, what benefits Sernovitz dangles in front of you. Reputation management, increased buzz and other such prizes await those who know how, as he puts it, to enable the talkers, seed the conversation and otherwise encourage people to talk about the company. He’s not talking about paid or massively coordinated word-of-mouth campaigns. While there might be a place for them (I’m not a fan but some people swear by them) the tactics Sernovitz puts out there for use are low cost (often free) and are all about keeping the conversation authentic by energizing people who are already doing the talking without tainting the process with money.

The tactics and suggestions Sernovitz lays out aren’t likely to be embraced by people who still believe that the professionals are the only ones who should be controlling the message, thank you very much. Nor is this something that’s going to be an easy sell to higher-ups who demand that things fit nicely int a spreadsheet or slide-deck. He does give some ways to make word-of-mouth fit into those calculations but at the end of the day WOM is still going to be fuzzier than old-media ad buying and flier printing.

While much of the book focuses on how WOM is being enabled to an unprecedented degree by the ease of online publishing, Sernovitz makes it clear that offline conversations are just as important. He gives example after example on how to identify who is or can be doing your talking for you, both in the real world as well as online.

There’s an idea that I think I first read from Joseph Jaffe that the best advertising in the world will be completely destroyed by a bad user-experience and that flashy ads can actually build up expectations that are destined to be dashed by that experience. Sernovitz takes the same attitude when he makes it clear that one of the chief ways to enable and encourage positive word-of-mouth is to train customer service staff members on ways to encourage people to spread the word themselves. As an example he cites a study that shows that people who hear about a friend’s bad experience somewhere are five times as likely to not use that company again as the person who actually had that experience. If everyone of your bad customer experiences is leading to a five-fold loss of revenue you need to start brainstorming ways right now on how to improve the interactions between the company and the customer.

Let me give you an example of how much Sernovitz gets what he’s preaching. Last week I read a post by Mack Collier where he was crowing about an advance review copy of Word of Mouth Marketing he had gotten. I dropped a comment basically just busting in a friendly way on Mack for how “important” he was getting that he was getting such a treat. 20 minutes later Sernovitz IM’d me asking for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. He got that I was, as he calls it, a “talker” and that sending me a book was a small cost for the potential word of mouth it could generate.

Before I finish up let me share one quote with you that I feel sums up Sernovitz’s arguments quite well as serves, I think, as kind of a foundation for the entire idea of genuine, consumer-driven word-of-mouth:

“Word of mouth is so effective because of the natural credibility that comes from real people with no profit or agenda tied to their recommendations. It’s those “people like us” whom we look for and listen to.”

I can’t recommend Word of Mouth Marketing enough. It’s a wonderful compilation of all the “walk with your community” and “enable the community” ideas that so many of us in the marketing and PR world have been espousing for so long. And coming from Sernovitz, who’s the president of the Word or Mouth Marketing Association, it has a level of authority that hopefully can break through the reluctance of those who don’t know how to embrace such radical – but effective – ideas.

[Blanant begging: Buy Word of Mouth Marketing at Amazon and support MMM.]