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Word of Mouth: Stunts vs. Substance

image All word of mouth starts with this: Give people a reason to talk about your stuff.

Sometimes that can be a silly gimmick.  Seth Godin writes about Starbucks driving cars around D.C. with fake coffee cups stuck to the top. (Washington Post story with video.) Most viral videos fall into this category.

Stunts work when they are a) genuinely fun and b) backed up by a company with substance.  Use them to generate burst of conversation or awareness, highlight something new, or just to get attention.

But all the gimmicks in the world aren’t going to make lasting impact if the whole company isn’t worth talking about.  Some of the greatest word of mouth successes are silly stunts, but so are most of the biggest failures.

Substance is better.  People talk about you when you become a truly remarkable company.  Remarkableness comes from fantastic products, fanatic service, and a fundamentally positive attitude.  This is hard to do – but it’s the goal to strive for.

While you’re on your way to being that remarkable company, go for a mix of stunts and substance.  But don’t mistake one for the other. A video contest is a stunt. A fan club is substance.

Fun gimmicks start conversations, fundamentals keep them going.

Update: John Bell adds some interesting thoughts about how lighter WOM stunts are easier for most marketers to adopt, and a good way for brands to get started.

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Word of mouth spreads in families

My entire family has the same camera: the Casio EX-S600. It takes amazing photos and all the videos interviews on this blog.

What’s interesting is how the word of mouth spread around. 

  1. My dad is a professional photographer. He (literally) has 100 cameras and uses a Nikon D80.  But this is the camera he keeps in his pocket.
  2. My brother-in-law carries it for snapshots.
  3. It was the combination of these two very-different sources that pushed me to buy it.
  4. Now that I walk around with it, I can see how the word of mouth spreads.  Folks in my office are buying in, people that I interview are buying it, other relatives are buying it.


  1. It’s often not a single recommendation that causes a purchase. It’s multiple exposures from different credible sources.
  2. Study yourself.  The best way to get good at word of mouth marketing is to watch how word of mouth influences you.

P.S. Here’s a random guy from Casio who was demo-ing the cameras at eBay Live. He is thinking "who is this idiot that’s taking my picture."

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