Back when my day job was advertising, the Holy Grail of advertising was WOM: word of mouth. If your spot or print ad could generate positive WOM (“buzz” in those days was something only insects did. By the way, this was only 8 years ago), it was golden.

I just blundered across an eMarketer report today entitled, “Word-of-Mouth Marketing:
Winning Friends and Influencing Customers” which notes that “64 million US adults regularly share advice on products or services, and over 25 million of them (26.4, to be exact. That’s 17.5% of the online population) wield their influence online.” In just four years, by 2011, eMarketer predicts that over 35 million adults — representing 20% of the internet population — will be online influencers.

Increasingly then, another facet of electronic engagement is going to be iWOM: internet word-of-mouth. Which forces the question, how do we as marketers go beyond “viral” and “buzz”, which to me have purposeful or “manufactured” implications, and get to real, positive word of mouth?

Obviously, the first way is to have a good product. As Bill Bernbach observed even before I got into the business, “The fastest way to kill a bad product is with good advertising.” People have expectations, they buy, they’re disappointed, they never buy again; and as an old Xerox study — I don’t have the reference handy as I’m writing this, but if you ask for it I’ll dig it up — points out, a satisfied customer tells an average of five people how satisfied he or she is, a disappointed one tells 15 people how much you suck.

Beyond that though, how do you maintain the integrity of “non-managed” word of mouth, and at the same time fuel the honest good words that are being spoken about you?

Something to think about, and something that’s going to be increasing not only in volume, but in the “real-time” nature of electronic engagement.