Better ROI or Your Money Back, Says Buzz Agency

BzzAgent Wants to Prove Word of Mouth Performs Better Than Any Other Medium

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- BzzAgent, a network of regular-Joe brand advocates, is making a big bet that word-of-mouth marketing will outperform any other discipline when it comes to ringing registers and driving advocacy for brands.
Dave Balter, founder-CEO of BzzAgent
Dave Balter, founder-CEO of BzzAgent

With its "WOM Impact Guarantee" program, which launched today and will run throughout the rest of 2008, BzzAgent is inviting any brand marketer and its agency partners to take part in a challenge in which BzzAgent and the agency partner will run competing campaigns. If BzzAgent does not top the competing agency by 20% across four metrics -- brand awareness, consumer opinion, purchase intent and actual sales -- the agency will refund the marketer the cost of its word-of-mouth campaign and measurement costs.

Word-of-mouth marketing firms of all shapes and sizes have popped up in recent years, offering alternatives to traditional advertising. The common thread among them is a belief that what customers say about a brand is more important than what the brand says about itself. Though it's a powerful argument, many marketers have been shy about diving in.

Dave Balter, founder-CEO of BzzAgent, said word-of-mouth performs better than any other medium. He's hoping this program will convert some nonbelievers.

"We know the medium has significant impact, and one way to help [hesitant] marketers dive into the pool is to guarantee it," he said. "Are we 100% sure we can outperform all other mediums by 20%? No, but we're pretty confident we can do something special here. It's time to put our money where our mouth is."

Risky bet
Mr. Balter, who expects to get 10 or 12 takers, said setting the bar at 20% also made people at the agency a little queasy, "but that's why it's worth doing."

The program requires a minimum investment of $300,000 in both word-of-mouth media and traditional media to be challenged. A third party, digital-marketing research firm Insight Express, is handling all measurement aspects. Mr. Balter said there will be two measures for success: Can BzzAgent prove word-of-mouth outperforms other disciplines, and does the program increase the number of marketers running word-of-mouth campaigns?

"Measurement is the No. 1 hurdle for the word-of-mouth industry," he said. "We're happy to have any new business that may come from this, but what we are really trying to accomplish is to get word-of-mouth to be valued on a measurement basis for marketers."

According to BzzAgent, this challenge isn't coming from a position of weakness. Joe Chernov, VP-communications, said the agency, which has nearly 280 clients, is not suffering in terms of growth. It has seen six straight quarters of growth, and 2007 was its strongest year to date, Mr. Chernov said. He added that revenue for the first quarter of 2008 was "conservatively double-digit stronger" than in the first quarter of 2007. good for all

Good for all
Paul Rand, CEO of Omnicom's Zocalo Group and a Word of Mouth Marketing Association board member, said the program is a great publicity stunt for the agency, and it would be good for all word-of-mouth practitioners if it managed to generate interest in the medium.

"In terms of a quick promotion, this is great," Mr. Rand said. "And if it raises industry awareness, that's also great. Anything that drives positive attention to the industry is good."

Jim Nail, CMO of TNS Media Intelligence and a WOMMA board member, said the program is a logical extension of how BzzAgent has been going to market: with research and white papers on the comparison of word-of-mouth campaigns to campaigns in other disciplines.

Mr. Balter knows his agency may not win every challenge, but he has no doubt the program will have a lasting impact on every marketer that takes part.

"Our success may come with a little hair on it," he said. "Our batting average may not be perfect on this, and we may miss one or two. But even if that happens, we are going to show marketers that [word-of-mouth] works."
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