Three diverse companies that have had long-term and short-term success with word of mouth marketing are Jones Soda, Sprint/Nextel and Stormhoek Vinyards (a South African winery).   Below is my summary of how they applied word of mouth marketing to grow.  Maybe there are some parallel lessons for your company.

 

 

Jones Soda (their complete story is here) began as a beverage distributor in the late 1980s and by 1996 had established its own unique brand, in an industry full of Coke-and-Pepsi behemoths.  In the words of the founder and CEO Peter van Stolk, “The big guys spill more soda in a day than we sell.”   Jones Soda built their popular brand from the ground up, getting to know their customers (teens and young adults) and selling soda at Xtreme sports events, tattoo parlors and independent music stores. They created passionate fans—even using customers’ own photos on their unique soda bottle labels.  Jones Soda is now available at national retailers such as Panera, Barnes & Noble, and Target and has expanded into a successful online music store, MyJonesMusic.com. And it all started with word-of-mouth, grassroots marketing.

 

 

 

Sprint/Nextel recently launched the Sprint Ambassador program.  The company leveraged the blogosphere by offering a free phone and six months service to about 400 bloggers. The result was 389,000 hits on Google, said David Dickey, Sprint online and interactive advertising manager.  “We have more than dipped our toes in the space now,” he said, according to www.DMNews.com  Sprint experienced the risk of the lack of control that is typical in word-of-mouth marketing.

 

 

Mr. Dickey said that the effort generated both positive and negative feedback on the brand. Sprint’s experience demonstrates that businesses must prepare themselves for anything and define specific success metrics before beginning word of mouth marketing. Word of mouth requires that marketers and business owners keep a close watch on what is said about their brand and how the conversation impacts the specific initiative.  

Stormhoek Vineyards is a South African winery that wanted to increase sales of their wines in England and France. They knew that had to do something to make them stand out in a cluttered market. So last year they turned to Hugh Macleod, a well-known European blogger and artist known for cartoons that are drawn on the back of business cards.

Macleod set up a program where he offered a free bottle of Stormhoek wine to the first 100 bloggers each in England and France who contacted him. In order to receive a free bottle the bloggers had to be of legal drinking age, been actively blogging for at least three months and live in either England or France. They were not required to talk about the wine.

What happened was that they did, indeed, talk about the wine and as a result created enormous buzz in the industry. All the talk stimulated sales and the result was that Stormhoek doubled its sales within a year. They have embraced blogging and WOM. If you follow the link to their site you’ll see that it is not a traditional web site but in blog format. Total cost, $400 of blogging software and whatever they paid Macleod. We are sure it was significantly less than the ad budgets ofNapa
Valley vintners who attempt to grow market share.
  

Here is a blog post   from a U.K. blogger talking about Stormhoek’s rapid, international growth stimulated in large part from their use of blogs & established bloggers.    

Lessons learned:

1. Use blogging to reach your market and grow your business.

2. Reach out (respectfully) to bloggers with good followings in your target market.  Make a create offer to get them engaged with your products or service.

3. Take action based on the feedback from the blogosphere.  It is gold.   It is some of the most cost-effective market research you will ever obtain.

                                                   

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