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Real-World Education for Modern Marketers

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by Kristine Kirby Webster  |  
August 12, 2003

Flashback warning: How many of you remember the Faberge Organics shampoo commercial that was all over the place in the late 70s? The one where a woman tells two friends about the shampoo, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on…?

Decades later, this commercial still demonstrates cleanly and quickly the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

Flash forward: What if brands could figure out how to proactively harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing? What if—instead of badmouthing by consumers—we could harness the power of the consumer's word in brandmouthing?

Think about it. Brands such as Apple, Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Prкt A Manger were built on the power of word-of-mouth referrals. No large advertising budgets there!

The brands relied on the consumers who experienced the brand to go forth and preach and convert the masses. And based on the track record of those companies, I would say they did so quite successfully.

Starbucks spent only $10 million on brand recognition, according to Chuck Donofrio of Carton-Donofrio. The UK Internet bank First Direct is said to have had more than 80% of its customers come from referrals.

In this place in time, where consumers are overwhelmed with ad messages and life in general, the advice from family and friends probably holds great sway over the choices others make when it comes to cars, computers, oil-change shops and many other product choices.

Legendary business guru Peter Drucker says that a company has only two basic purposes in the marketplace: innovation and marketing. And Mr. Drucker holds that real marketing is actually very rare.

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at

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