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Getting Your Customers to Buzz

by Mark Levit

Does your product have what it takes to build buzz that sells?  “Buzz Marketing” is the modern term for “word-of-mouth marketing.” Emanuel Rosen, author of In The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word-of-mouth Marketing, says that "getting potential clients to hype your product, then delivering on the promise" is the anatomy of buzz.  Buzz marketing has been growing in popularity over the past few years. With the recent reduction of advertising budgets, getting the customer to do your marketing for you (a.k.a. buzz marketing) is more appealing than ever.  But can it work for you?

BusinessWeek reported, when Ford wanted to position its Focus as a hip, young person’s car to compete with the Honda Civic, it didn’t initiate a costly advertising campaign to mass audiences.  It called on the power of buzz marketing to launch a campaign to key prospects.  Ford sparked the buzz by rounding up 120 influential young consumers in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.  Ford loaned each of these 120 people a Focus to drive for six months. In Miami, a Focus was loaned to a radio deejay, popular with young locals.  After seeing the cool deejay in a Ford Focus, his fans aspired to own that very same car.  The strategy proved enormously successful in generating buzz for the Focus. Ford has lots of stories like this.  In its first full year, 2000, the Focus sold 286,166 units.  And it even outsold the Civic in 2001! 

With successful affordable or low-cost buzz campaigns like Ford’s, it seems as if buzz marketing is a surefire way to go.  But advertisers must be careful when trying to generate buzz.  Once sparked, buzz is almost uncontrollable, and because word-of-mouth is the major component of buzz marketing, the message is especially difficult to control. Thus, much of buzz marketing has to be as carefully and strategically planned as a multi-million dollar mass media campaign. 

Although you can create buzz for almost any product, buzz marketing is not always the strategy upon which you should depend.  First, ask yourself whether you have a product or service that people are (or can be) awed by in some way.  That’s the best way to get people excited enough to pass on superlatives about a product or service, whether positive or negative. Its up to the marketer to determine the nature of buzz it wants to generate.  But, in order for buzz to be successful, your product or service must meet (or preferably exceed) expectations.  During the Super Bowl, AT&T wireless made apowerful attempt to create a buzz for their latest product, mLife, with its “What is mLife” campaign.  However, the campaign fell on its face because to this day, many are still uncertain of what mLife is.  It is a promise for tomorrow’s functionality. So why buy today? The product must deliver its promise.  As effective as buzz marketing is, it can’t turn a dog into a cash cow. But it can create negative buzz.

There are other strategies that can create successful buzz with little effort by the marketer.  Product sampling can build buzz.  Recently, the trend for "strong breath mints" has grown disproportionately.  Recognizing this rising trend, Listerine developed Listerine PocketPaks.  This innovative product with its unique packaging and form, delivered the familiar benefit of fresh breath.  Advertising Age acknowledged that the dissolving PocketPak’s strips were different enough to attract trial users. But once one adds "Listerine’s 100-year old brand identity—synonymous with mouthwash—to the PocketPaks name, the need for advertising to win initial trial recedes." Listerine PocketPaks became a "you have to try these" product.  PocketPaks were able to sell themselves and built a lot of buzz among those who tried it due to its uniqueness and its ability to deliver its promise. 

Product appearance can also create buzz. DaimlerChrysler’s old-fashioned yet futuristic PT Cruiser blurred the lines between a car and a truck. It inspired buzz from every demographic, from Generation Xers to baby boomers, with no clear dominant niche before its 2000 release.  DaimlerChrysler jump-started some of the pre-release buzz by placing the unique automobiles in rental-car fleets around trendy Miami Beach. Dealership owners had rarely seen so many people that interested in a vehicle that was set to sell for less than $20,000, especially since most had only seen photos of the car. DiamlerChrysler sold 141,200 units of the PT Cruiser in its first year and 214,300 in its second year due to the enormous amount of buzz the PT Cruiser generated.

Often combining (or supporting) a buzz marketing campaign with other types of marketing initiatives yields incredibly successful results.  Such was the case with Showtime’s campaign for the start of the second season of the TV drama Queer as Folk. This campaign recently won the Business 2.0 Sweet Spot Award for Best Buzz Marketing.  Jordan Berman, Showtime marketing manager, got the webmasters of more than 650 gay and lesbian websites to carry a countdown ticker for the season’s premiere.  The buzz created by this sticker was supported by a widespread offline campaign. This strategy caused more than a million people to see the ticker, and made the Queer as Folk’s second season premiere “the most heavily watched event in Showtime’s 25-year history.” However, Showtime did more than create a temporary buzz for his product. It built a buzz network through relationships that will last long after the season is over.

Creating buzz among key prospects or early adopters and letting them take on marketing responsibilities has proven to be extremely successful with extraordinary products or services.  In many cases, buzz marketing is more efficient and often more affordable than broad-based advertising.  Nevertheless, there are certain questions to be addressed and decisions to be made by the marketer in order to determine whether a buzz marketing campaign is the right approach or not. Buzz marketing is hot.  And with its successful track record of success, marketers should take it as seriously as any other marketing channel. However, due to its increasing popularity, it faces the risk of saturation—so make sure you’re among the first in your category.

Take advantage of the vast knowledge available to you at Partners & Levit. Call Mark Levit, our Managing Partner, at 212.696.1200 now.  Let him show you how Partners & Levit can help you leverage your advertising and promotions into sales!

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