Unleashing the Power in the Voice of a Stranger

in the news: marketing strategy

power in the voice of a strangerI was just falling asleep the other night when my daughter called all excited. Her friend in LA had called to say she recognized my voice from an interview on NPR.

Like most people, I felt a little thrill at experiencing part of my 15 minutes of fame after an interview that had taken place nearly 8 months before it ever aired. In the interview, Kenny Malone, a reporter for the Miami Herald and American Public Radio, asked me about how small businesses experience gains using social media. While the interview was much longer, the element he picked up for the piece deals with the power in the voice of a stranger — which is what greases the wheels of social media and generates results.

Here’s my interview for Kenny Malone on Marketplace from American Public Radio that aired on NPR stations across the country last week.

Power in the voice of a stranger

We call this word of mouth and marketers have always known the power in the voice of a stranger, friend, or acquaintance. According to Nielsen, 93% of consumers believe friends and family over any form of advertising. That’s because advertising has a vested interest in the brand, while friends and family are more objective and have nothing to gain from recommending a certain brand.

Here’s an excerpt from a story on Forbes (emphasis in the original). The author recounts several times she took recommendations from friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers for advice on everything from doctors to restaurants.

Word of Mouth is the most powerful form of marketing there is. Angie’s List is essentially word of mouth on steroids.[Tweet “Angie’s List is essentially word of mouth on steroids.”]

You don’t have to know someone to get a recommendation. The recommenders just have to be genuine and specific about why they like (or hate, too, now that I think about it) something they’ll tell you about.

Social media and texting have resulted in a cascade of electronic Word of Mouth that can reach vast audiences immediately.

There is no copy you could write that will ever be as compelling as something authentic your customers say.

power in the voice of a strangerAccording to Marketing News, published by the American Marketing Association (AMA), consumers have conversations about brands every day and more than 2/3 of them involve a recommendation to buy or avoid certain brands. In my experience, you’re more likely to hear talk about brands to avoid than recommended brands unless you ask for a specific recommendation.

That’s because poor customer experiences are more salient than satisfying ones. And, possibly the most salient brand experiences involve customer delight — when a brand far exceeds expectations. This leads to recommendations for brands to underpromise when it comes to performance to enable them to exceed expectations.

I frequent a salon that epitomizes the notion of exceeding expectations on a consistent basis. Their published prices are inflated and, at the end of your service, the owner tells you in a conspiratorial voice that she’s giving you a 20% discount. This works until you overhear her saying this to a number of other customers.

Managing the power in the voice of a stranger

According to a study in the Journal of Marketing Research, a prestigious academic journal published by the AMA, only about 10% of online conversations involve product recommendations and those recommendations involve primarily entertainment, technology, and automotive categories, rather than food, household products, and beverages. I totally disagree, especially with the food category because I frequently see posts involving recipes and images of meals or photos from a restaurant where the name of the restaurant is listed. So, I’ll let you be the judge of how accurate this study is with respect to your own timeline.

I often hear my competitors proposing viral marketing campaigns to potential clients.

That’s just hogwash. No one can predict with any accuracy which messages will go viral. In fact, Microsoft found that around 1% of messages go viral — a very small fraction, indeed. Instead, the secret to social media marketing is developing large communities inhabited not by influencers, but individuals who have an average propensity to share your message.

Systematic analysis can help match messages to actions to increase the frequency of viral messaging.

In a debate over the viability of word of mouth over traditional media, Shawn P. O’Connor told Bloomberg Business:

While traditional advertising such as TV spots and newspaper ads, as well as digital marketing such as sponsored links on Google, can build brand awareness, they increasingly do not resonate with target audiences. This is especially true among the 18-29 demographic, a group that’s notoriously suspicious of advertising and well aware of the proliferation of fake positive (and negative) reviews.

While there’s no single formula for word-of-mouth success, I’ve found it often starts with creating a culture that encourages your clients to consider themselves valued partners in your business. Word-of-mouth referrals stem naturally from an unparalleled customer experience that fosters clients’ identification with your brand.

His opponent, Thomas H. Davenport, also believes in the power in the voice of a stranger but believes word of mouth isn’t enough — by itself. He believes marketers should include traditional media in their efforts to support their brand, while still encouraging word of mouth.

Inc cites 3 tools for increasing the power in the voice of a stranger — each involves encouraging that voice to speak by creating talkable stories about your brand.

Make it relevant. Your stories should connect with your target audience in some way.

Make it interesting. People like to be “in the know” and they’re motivated to share stories that show they’re an insider or the first to have a story. Taylor Swift is a master at this. She shares cuts from her albums with her Facebook fans before the album release. Folks interested in her music now have an incentive to fan her page, listen to the cuts, and share their enthusiasm for her music with their friends and families.

Make it authentic. No one wants to share stories that sound made up. They also don’t share stories that don’t fit what they already believe about your brand.

To this, I’ll add a fourth element, pull in emotions. Consumers are both more likely to remember and share your stories when they tug at their emotional heartstrings.

The role of search in the power in the voice of a stranger

A study by Keller Fay for Google found that online activities, including both social media and search, are a major driver of offline conversations — in person and on the phone — as well as online conversations. Conversations about content discovered through search and on social networks are considered equally credible, but conversations resulting from search are more influential on the likelihood to purchase by a small amount (54% search; 46% social).

If you’re interested, here’s a short (and very cute) video products to highlight the results of the study:

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