When you hear reference to word-of-mouth marketing do you think “oh, that is the buzz that some firms get who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and get everyone talking about their product,” like Cabbage Patch dolls in the 1980s or more recently ipods. This buzz is one aspect of word-of-mouth marketing and some companies have been able to successfully sustain that positive talk amongst their customers. Additional examples that come to mind are Saturn owners who are so excited about their car they plan their vacations around Saturn owners’ reunions, and Harley Davidson owners who not only travel extensively to owners’ reunions, but also spend large sums of money on Harley Davidson merchandise all of which serves to increase the talk between owners. While many of the word-of-mouth marketing examples are business to consumer (B2C), word-of-mouth is important in agriculture. The adoption and diffusion of hybrid corn was rapid, and word-of-mouth communication with farmers was an important factor in this adoption. The recently released results from Purdue University’s 2008 Large Commercial Producer Survey showed that farmers rate “other farmers” as the second most important information source.
Word-of-mouth marketing is so much more than just this buzz. We last visited with you on this topic in 2003 (see “Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Make the Buzz Work for You,” Feed & Grain, August/September 2003) and there has been a lot of work in the area since then.
There are many definitions out there for word-of-mouth marketing but one that we find useful is from Andy Sernovitz who defines it quite simply as “giving people reason to talk about your stuff and making it easier for that conversation to take place.” Sernovitz’s point is that people are already talking about your business and your product and service mix. Sernovitz published a book on this topic, which you may find useful — “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking,” (2006) Kaplan Publishing. In this article we will explore how you can make word-of-mouth marketing work for you by determining how to get more people talking about your business in a positive way.
Two points about word-of-mouth marketing are key for you in the feed and grain business. First, it is important to realize that people are already talking about your business. Taking direct steps to ensure that word-of-mouth marketing is working for you is really a way of taking something that is already happening and ensuring that the outcomes are positive and effective (i.e., that your customers are talking about your business in a positive manner and you are getting the greatest possible benefit from this talk). Second, in this business environment of big box retail stores, multinational banking organizations and larger and larger conglomerate corporations — word-of-mouth marketing, effectively used, can help to level the playing field. You don’t have to be big to make effective use of word-of-mouth marketing. In fact small organizations can have an advantage here because management is closer to the customers.
Putting word-of-mouth marketing into action — the Five T’s
Sernovitz suggests using the five Ts as a framework for putting word-of-mouth marketing into action. The five Ts are: Talkers, Topics, Tools, Taking Part and Tracking. We will first explain each of these five T’s and provide examples for the feed and grain business which illustrate their importance.
The “talkers” are your customers who are the most likely to talk about your business. These will be farmers who other farmers look up to — and are referred to as “Market Mavens” in the marketing literature. These may be successful producers, leaders in the community, or leaders of commodity organizations. Research has shown that these leaders are the ones who are most likely to talk to other producers through word-of-mouth and they are the people you want to focus your marketing initiative around.