WOMMA’s Suzanne Fanning: “Likes” Are Not Enough

In order for your products to succeed, you need to convince loyal customers to spread the word about your brand. Developing an organic and transparent relationship with customers is no easy task. That’s where the expertise of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) comes in.

WOMMA provides marketers, brand advocates, and business leaders with a valuable resource for staying on top of emerging marketing trends. They also serve as an advocate of ethical behavior in advertising and social media practices and are currently working with the FTC to define ethical behavior in online media.

Word of mouth, whether it’s customer reviews or social media sharing, is an essential part of doing business. We recently caught up with Suzanne Fanning, the president of WOMMA, to get her take on the power of word of mouth marketing (WOMM) and how it can be used to create more effective content.

Want People to Talk about Your Products? Inspire Them

Content Ping: How does WOMM differ from traditional advertising and marketing modes?

Suzanne FanningSuzanne Fanning: I would say that WOMM is not necessarily a different option, but rather the end goal of all marketing efforts. Wherever you choose to put your energy and your budget, you need to figure out how to get people talking about it or it will be a failure. We focus on how to get the most of every dollar spent by figuring out clever ways to build those talkable elements into every aspect of marketing from the very beginning.

Content Ping: Why is it important for brands to consider word of mouth as a marketing approach? How does it fit into social commerce?

Suzanne Fanning: Social commerce is word of mouth. We know that people trust strangers on the Internet more than they trust advertising. You’ve got to find ways to make people so passionate about your product or service that they are moved to share their feelings or experience with others. The beauty of it is that a happy consumer can market for you better than the most expensive ad campaign. Big cleverness can really beat out a big budget these days.

Meaningful word of mouth recommendations happen when customers are heard and inspired to talk about your brand.

Content Ping: Speaking of budgets, how do you help brands measure their returns on social media campaigns or other projects, like creating better product content?

Suzanne Fanning: That’s usually the number one question I get asked—how do I measure ROI for campaigns? How do I justify a program and provide numbers? It’s easy to get “analysis paralysis” when dealing with metrics.

To address the challenge of measuring returns, we’re working on an ROI guidebook to help brands accurately calculate the benefits of various online WOMM programs. The official release for the guidebook is August 16 and it’ll be available through our website.

Content Ping: What does it mean to be a “talkable brand”? Can you give us an example of a company that has successfully grown into a talkable brand and what they’ve done to get there?

Suzanne Fanning: You can’t just tell people to talk about you. You have to do something worth talking about to inspire them to talk.

  • Sometimes it is a huge campaign.
  • Sometimes it is as simple as a good customer service experience.
  • Sometimes it is a company admitting it is wrong and doing something to make it right.

One of my favorite talkable brand examples is what Marine Maher did with U by Kotex. I also love some of the recent work by Dominos, General Mills, Kraft, Toyota, and Zappos. The key to success in this area is really listening to and empowering consumers.

Successful product content is ultimately about the consumer’s needs. What problems does the product help solve?

Content Ping: Consumer reviews have been a hot topic on our blog recently. What’s a WOMM approach to dealing with negative reviews?

Suzanne Fanning: We believe in total transparency. The best way to earn the respect and loyalty of your consumers is to deal with negative reviews by openly addressing the issues and rectifying situations—not to try to cover things up in any way. A company that makes things right (and acknowledges when they are wrong) is worth talking about.

Content Ping: What advice would you give brands about their product description pages? What can they do to make sure their pages encourage word of mouth recommendations?

Suzanne Fanning: I have found that it’s easier to drive emotion when companies talk about how the product solves the consumer’s problems—not just the technical aspects of the product. Too often, product managers are the ones who write the product copy and they are very focused on specs—BIG MISS! It’s not really about the product—it’s about the consumer.

Lead with a consumer’s voice, not the company’s brand.

Content Ping: What’s in the future for WOMMA? How do you see word of mouth marketing programs growing and changing in the next few years?

Suzanne Fanning: We are going to see an even bigger shift towards word of mouth. Companies are realizing that it is crucial to their success. We have seen a focus on social media and getting fans, but social media is just a vehicle to get word of mouth—it’s not the end game. Now that they have fans, what do they do to engage them, organize them and get them talking? We’ll also see a shift towards actual experience and face-to-face communication versus just social media.

Content Ping: Can you talk more about that shift toward offline communication?

Suzanne Fanning: Social media is sexy, but it’s ultimately just a tool and not the best way to get quality fans. Brands need to find ways to become more connected with the passions of their customers, which means they should get out there and take part in the things their fans care about. Let’s take Nike, for example. What if they had a Facebook contest for a free iPad? What does an iPad really have to do with shoes? Instead they should be at marathons connecting with runners who are true advocates of their products. They currently have a program to help fans get discovered by scouts—that’s something their customers are excited about.

I recently read a quote that sums up the consumer-centered approach well: “Lead with a consumer’s voice, not the company’s brand.”

Content Ping: Any last words about WOMM for our readers?

Suzanne Fanning: Companies that realize the value of building an incredible word of mouth program across the board are the ones who will ultimately win. “Likes” are not enough. It’s time to get the LOVE of those fans, and that’s what word of mouth marketing is all about.

Suzanne Fanning
Suzanne was an early believer in the power of word of mouth marketing. The short list of all the excellent things WOMM helped her do includes quadrupling website traffic, tripling POP and online sales, increasing blogosphere chatter by 600 percent, and significantly increasing net favorability–all within a one-year period. She even found ways to involve fans in new product development, customer service, ads, and in-store events.

She joined the WOMMA team because she is a believer in the incredible power of the brand/consumer connection.

Let's work together.