Jack Trout Lends Perspective to Word of Mouth
Writing in Forbes, the legendary Jack Trout pokes a hole in the word of mouth bubble claiming its nothing new and in early days basically accomplished the same thing by tapping "early adapters" with traditional marketing to get them to talk up a product. He riffs on both the positives and the negatives of the current flavor of word of mouth and questions the relinquishing of control marketers give up if they plan to enter the word of mouth space writing, "If I go to all this trouble developing a positioning strategy for my product, I want to see that message delivered. Buzz can get your name mentioned but you can't depend on much else." Certainly the current iteration isn't completely about giving up control as it's filled with tactics and strategies to control, guide, enable and direct the seemingly uncontrollable but, Trout does have a point.
While it may sound "old school," Trout is simply advocating we be very wary about the issue of control and how much of it can be given up without completely losing control of the brand. Now, mash up and consumer-generated media fans will decry this claiming people should morph the brand into what they can better identify with but surely a line is reached at some point when loss of control spirals out of control leaving the brand high and dry. Others will counter and say that's the whole point. With increased participation in brand conversation by both consumers and marketer, everything about the brand self-corrects to the betterment of all involved.
The current concern Trout and others have with this new form of marketing has is very similar to the concerns many had and still have about the web and email as marketing channels. Just as those two channels are filled with familiar dreck called pop ups, adware and spam, word of mouth is filled with inappropriate stealth, comment/blog/forum spam, defacement and shilling. It's a slippery slope for sure - vastly different from the media world of the sixties, seventies and eighties but vastly more exciting, invigorating and, we wholeheartedly believe, vastly more effective for marketers who need to move product.