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How to Manage and Measure the Word of Mouth Revolution

by Justin Kirby  |  
February 28, 2006

Every marketer has by now heard the terms viral, buzz, and word of mouth. Some will even have noted terms such as brand advocacy, advergames, blog marketing, influencer panels, and consumer empowerment... seeping into the industry's vocabulary.

Collectively, the latest shift in thinking in the world of marketing has been termed "connected marketing." But what exactly is connected marketing, and why are advertisers so interested in it? More importantly, how can marketers manage and measure it?

This Thing Called Connected Marketing

What is happening now in viral, buzz, and word of mouth marketing is similar to the early days of the Web: Marketers and practitioners are trying new approaches, reviving and evolving old ones, and bandying about catchy terms without always understanding what they mean.

It is like the classic Indian parable about an elephant and six blind men: One blind man touches the trunk and thinks he has bumped into a snake, the other the tail and thinks it is a donkey, the other its leg and thinks he has bumped into a tree trunk, and so on. No one can see the wood for the trees until the zookeeper comes along and presents the wider perspective, the collective view of what is an elephant.

The problem is that there is no common agreement of definitions for the terms viral, buzz, and word of mouth marketing.

In general, viral marketing is often the label of choice for campaigns harnessing online word of mouth connections; word of mouth marketing for campaigns using traditional or offline word of mouth connections; and buzz marketing for campaigns that harness both, often in combination with traditional news media coverage.

But these definitions are not set in stone—and perhaps never can be. For example, if you look at the German market, "viral marketing" has become the accepted term, because "word of mouth marketing" translates as "mund propaganda" (literally "mouth propaganda") and propaganda has negative connotations.

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Justin Kirby is managing director of Digital Media Communications ( and the author, with Paul Marsden, of Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution. Stéphane Allard also contributed to this article.

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