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Interesting marketing project at Bentley College

Bentley College marketing honors looks like an interesting college project – with the following mission:

“The students in the honors seminar in marketing at Bentley College have created a multiple author blog in order to complete a class assignment as well as to introduce other marketing students to cutting-edge ideas and principles by monitoring and commenting on some of the best marketing blogs in the blogosphere.

So, each student will monitor a particular blog and post a commentary on a particular blog posting every week. A few of the Corante Marketing Hub contributors got adopted as blogs to follow, and there are already interesting commentaries on posts from those blogs – including the brandbuilder, marketing to women, diva marketing, and brand autopsy.

When Melissa reviewed a post on Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)from this blog she raised some interesting questions. Why is that when people disclose that they work for a company for which they are recommending products, the rate at which the message gets passed along is 70% higher than when the relationship is not disclosed? This is a very counter-intuitive result after all. She also says: “Francois does not offer any insight into the real significance of this finding. Rather, it just states the results of the study. It would have been helpful to see what he saw as implications from this study.” – good point!

Walter Carl, the author of the original research paper, offers some possible explanations for the results of the survey. One is that the average length of time that the agent and their conversation partner knew one another in the study was 6 years. That is a long enough period to build a lot of trust so that the conversation partner feels that the agent has his or her best interest at heart – no matter what the commercial relationship is between the agent and the company for which products are being recommended. His second reason is that credibility is either unaffected or increased by the disclosure.

While these are plausible explanations for why a commercial message would get passed along after disclosure, they are not really reasons for why the pass-along rate would increase with disclosure. If the average length of time that people knew one another was indeed six years, then perhaps one reason might be the motivation of the conversation partner to help the agent out. Just like with some of the better referral incentive programs, which work on the premise that is better to give an incentive to the person who is being referred, rather than the person who is making the referral – it plays off a basic human need to “give.” Another possible explanation, which Melissa alludes to in her post as well, is that the conversation partner sees the fact the the agent is willing to associate with the product/company as an extra endorsement for that product. If the agent is willing to get into a commercial relationship with the company that makes the product that is being endorsed, and is willing to disclose that relationship, that means that the agent must feel really good about himself or herself in the presence of that brand – and that is maybe what adds to the contagiousness.

While I am not so sure that there any major implications coming out of this study, I am concerned that marketers will screw up WOM marketing by trying to optimize it and by looking for measurable ROI’s. It is and will remain hard to measure, and just like physicist learned a long time ago – you can dramatically disrupt the environment by measuring it.

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