Sernovitz offers insights on how to generate word-of-mouth marketing

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Chicago—Andy Sernovitz, founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, closed the Business Marketing Association’s annual conference Friday saying that word-of-mouth marketing works best when a company’s products or services are excellent to begin with.

“Love is the most powerful force in marketing,” Sernovitz said in a speech titled “The Last Word: How Smart B-to-b Marketers Are Getting People Talking.”

“Love is earned, not bought and paid for,” he said.

Sernovitz noted that brands such as iPhone and Zappos have benefited from word-of-mouth, because the product, in the case of the iPhone, and the service, in the case of Zappos, have wowed customers.

“Your brand isn’t who you say it is, it’s what other people say it is,” Sernovitz said. “Word-of-mouth only works for good companies. No amount of money can change that.”

After describing many b-to-b products as “boring,” he said that was no excuse for shying away from word-of-mouth marketing. He gave examples of “boring” products that have taken advantage of word-of-mouth marketing. For instance, he cited the candy Skittles, which now has as its main Web site its Facebook site, with 600,000 fans.

In an earlier session Friday, Scott Davis, general manager of marketing consultancy Prophet’s Chicago office, urged marketing executives to move out of marcom and become genuine marketers, helping to drive their companies’ growth.

Drawing on the lessons covered in his book “The Shift: The Transformation of Today’s Marketers Into Tomorrow’s Growth Drivers” (John Wiley & Sons, 2009), Davis said, “Marketing [is seen as] marginal. It’s thought of as marcom. It sits at the kids’ table, not the adult’s table.” He said marketing executives will earn respect once they focus on growing their companies, not on growing the marketing budget.

Davis identified a number of shifts in marketing that savvy CMOs are using to garner a better share of control of their companies’ direction. Among the shifts he identified: that marketing executives should move from creating marketing efforts to driving business impact; that execs should move past generating incremental improvements to pervasive innovation; that executives should not simply manage marketing investment but “inspire marketing excellence”; and that they should have a “relentless customer focus.”

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