Is Word of Mouth Marketing On the Way Out?

With the recent acquisition of several marketing agencies by large corporations, there is speculation regarding the viability of word of mouth marketing and face-to-face conversations. Brand advocates, used by companies and marketing agencies, are in demand. Word of mouth marketing used to be just that: You talk with friends and family about the products and services you use or are given to try out. What brand advocates have to say about those products is crucial. Great products and their buzz will spread like wildfire, increasing the chances of more consumers spending money on that particular item or brand. However, now companies are pushing brand advocates to use social media to get the buzz going. Is word of mouth marketing on its way out?

As a media company, we’re interested in how people have conversations. How do folks find out about events, goods, and services? How do people know what’s going on in the world? What brands are the best, and which companies should we support? While we posit that word of mouth marketing and “old-fashioned” face-to-face conversations are here to stay, it seems that big retailers, marketing agencies, and advertising companies are pushing hard to expand their presence into the social media realm – on the backs of consumers. We definitely have mixed feelings about this.

That said, we agree that social media is a great way to communicate. The efficiency of reaching your target market through social media is unparalleled in terms of cost, speed, and utility. I recall the pre-internet days and how hard we, as marketing teams, worked to get the word out. How did we do it? We talked to our prospects and clients, schmoozed in person (a lot), and used snail mail for direct mail campaigns and pushes.

Today, companies are born on shoestring budgets. One of the things technology has done is level the playing field. Marketing can be done at a low cost, and social media programs are free. As long as your target market can be found online, you’ve got an eager audience.

Marketing agencies and companies are smart. Why not have those loyal brand advocates do the work? It’s FREE. Especially when consumers are using their social media accounts and blogs to spread the word. At the end of the day, it’s a great thing to have a large group purchasing everything you have to offer and speaking positively about your brand. And if those brand advocates choose to blog, “like” you on Facebook, and follow your Twitter account, all the better. Everyone is happy!

The flip side? What I hate seeing is companies pushing brand advocates (who are rewarded by special programs) to use online media to reach more customers. Reading others’ reviews about products used to be a way to measure the success of a brand. In the last two years, we have been extremely wary about what we read online, and take many reviews with a grain of salt. Although the government insists on disclosure from brand advocates, we know those advocates aren’t always honest, even when they disclosure they received a product to review. We also know that many are reviewing products and not disclosing their relationships with companies. False, paid reviews are all too common in the writing world, unfortunately.

We’re afforded luxuries with social media. Let’s not get too caught up in the moment, however. If marketing companies push their brand advocates, forcing them to use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets for marketing, rewarding only the “best” brand advocates, where does that leave the rest of us? What kind of marketing buzz is this creating, and isn’t this simply a case of dealing with a new kind of advertising? Something that may look trustworthy, but at the bottom of it all, is really nothing more than paid advertising? An online infomercial?

What is a brand advocate? Is a brand advocate someone who talks about the services and products they’ve tried, but gets nothing in return? Or is a brand advocate someone who’s connected to a marketing agency or corporation…someone who receives free products and services to use and talk about? This brand advocate gets a lot in return – free swag, points through a marketing system, etc. Is this really someone you can trust to tell the truth, knowing the brand advocate gets freebies plus company rewards for talking about their experiences?

Will the good, old brand advocates who aren’t rewarded with samples and points still communicate their preferences face-to- face? We think so. And we also think that those who talk about the brands they love, the folks who readily give their hard-earned cash for products and services they believe in, will always be the kind of brand advocates other consumers will trust, and the kind of brand advocates smart companies will want on their side.

Just for the record: I’m biased because I am not a freebie grabber or someone who yearns for free things to try out simply to have swag. If I like a product/service, you know I like it because it works for me. I’m proud to pay for the brands I dig! Retail prices don’t scare me. If I like a product, I’ll continue to buy it. If not, I’ll stop. No strings attached.

What do you think?

About Laura Townshend 91 Articles
Laura's a native Texan. Besides loving Texas and horses, she's a marketing consultant, writer, and blogger who lives in the western Hill Country of Central Texas with her husband, their daughter, and a bunch of dogs and cats. Reach her at

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