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Understanding Advertising in Terms of Its WOM Unit Impact

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NEW YORK ( -- Do your brand managers know how many WOM Units they’re getting out of next year’s media plan?
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association has published a new book on the jargon of its craft.

Latest jargon
If not, don’t fret. It just means they’ve so far missed out on the latest in marketing jargon, a new set of terms designed to help brand managers, PR pros and other buzzmeisters navigate the world of viral marketing. Put forth by the trade organization Word of Mouth Marketing Association, or WOMMA, the terminology is meant to help those who craft campaigns designed to drum up water-cooler chatter talk about their work in terms of dollars and cents.

“As soon as you agree on how to talk about a new business, the market tends to take off,” said Andy Sernovitz, WOMMA’s CEO. “People were waiting for nouns.”

While viral marketing has been around for years, it has benefited from both a recent wave of publicity that crested in a New York Times Magazine article and the simple fact that marketers are ever looking for ways to stretch ad and PR budgets to improve return on investment. Things like ROI and measurement are topics this week in Chicago at a WOMMA-organized conference about measuring word-of-mouth.

New WOMMA book
To coincide with the event, WOMMA released, as part of a 226-page book, a terminological framework for discussing the trade. Put simply, it’s a way of describing the processes by which viral ideas spread that WOMMA hopes will become standard.

At the center of this new framework is the WOM Unit. That’s a media-neutral way of referring to a consumer comment. As the book has it, “If a company purchases an ad, it’s an ad. If people talk about the ad, it’s a WOM Unit.” WOMMA provides a host of ways to describe a particular WOM Unit -- whether it’s on message or timely, positive or negative. It also includes “depth” -- which evaluates the “richness” or amount of information available in a WOM Unit, “assuming that these aspects increase message persuasiveness.” That means, a video e-mail would be deeper than, say, a text message.

While some of the terms are a bit esoteric-sounding, many are downright commonsensical. For instance, to denote the action by which a consumer passes along a WOM Unit, WOMMA went with the term “action.” That consumer will henceforth be known as a “participant.” “When standards are good, they’re simple,” Mr. Sernovitz said, “maybe even painfully obvious.” He said that in many cases the terms were already in common use.

Copyrighting words
Despite that desire for simplicity, the six-month or so process was a times a bit hairy. The ever-expanding universe of marketing thinkers is, if nothing else, prone to seize on unsuspecting words and corral them into legally-protected concepts. The trend has turned the average Webster’s dictionary into a minefield of potential copyright violations.

Not only were good descriptors like “influencers” long gone, so too were even more everyday words, Mr. Sernovitz said. The word “comment,” for instance, was originally considered as a contender to describe what the WOM Unit now does. That was all scuttled, however, when it became clear it was copyrighted by the author Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz.

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