Word of mouth may be one of the more informal elements of the marketing mix, but it's by no means less effective.

In fact, if your company is releasing a new product or service, no formal marketing method meant to increase its exposure can match the power of people talking to each other about it.

When it comes to Internet marketing, one of the ways to kick-start this process is to get your piece of news mentioned on possibly the most effective online mouthpiece around: the industry blog.

When I talk about industry blogs, I don't mean your own company's blog. Without a doubt, your own company's blog (if you have one) is important in communicating with your existing customers or convincing those close to completing the buying cycle to become customers. But in terms of attracting new sales prospects, a qualified referral from an unbiased source can do wonders.

As opposed to a company press release or your own blog, an industry blog talks from the perspective of a respected third party that has nothing to gain from your product's doing well—other than offering something useful to its audience.

Moreover, people are becoming increasingly immune to marketing talk. These days, most of us are able to sense company-driven trumpet blowing a mile away, and we discount the flowery adjectives accordingly.

In contrast, company news mentioned by a leading industry blog will be objective—and from a trusted source—so it's more likely that people would listen.

A popular industry blog is extremely powerful in terms of audience reach and influence, because the authors are usually industry leaders, or "sneezers." In his book Ideavirus, marketing guru Seth Godin defines a "sneezer" as the early adopter in a peer group—people who are likely to brave the unknown and adopt a new trend or fad first.

Because sneezers are by nature respected by their peers, the trends they set are likely to be followed by the rest of the group. In effect, they sneeze the "ideavirus" to their peer group at lightning speed, through their blogs—and the trend becomes popular.

The power of industry-related bloggers was recognized in Google's marketing strategy behind the release of Gmail, its Web-based free email product. Instead of making Gmail freely available straightaway, Google made the first 1,000 accounts "invitation only."

These first few accounts were issued to movers and shakers, among them several high-profile bloggers in the search engine marketing industry. Google knew that bloggers would sneeze the product to their readers. After all, they're respected in their industry and have an extremely effective mouthpiece for talking about the product.

Of course, it's all very well to highlight the benefits of being mentioned in an industry blog. But how do you get in there in the first place?

That's where the hard work comes in. The key is to make your product or service inherently useful, unique, interesting or presented in a controversial way—in other words, it must be "bloggable." Here's how:

  • Make sure your product is good. If your product is mediocre, or boring, or adds no value, people won't talk about it.

  • Apply your marketing mix with vigor. Once you've made sure that your product is truly original or better than your competitors', use conventional marketing tactics to reach your target market. Whether it's a formal viral campaign, or a well-researched pay per click campaign on search engines, use whatever you can to maximize its initial exposure.

  • Create a great campaign. Create unique advertising with a viral quality. Crispin Porter & Bogusky's Subservient Chicken microsite, created for Burger King, had 1.5 million visitors in its first month of going live. The campaign was controversial, original and talked about on blogs across the board—which meant the word spread quickly.

  • And don't forget unconventional channels. Industry forums are likely to be frequented by your target market, so posting about your new product in a beta release forum area can be really worthwhile. Write articles about your product or news and distribute to sites that bloggers will read.

Work hard at exposing your news through traditional marketing channels. If it's done well, and your product is worth talking about, being mentioned in a blog will be a natural result.

Then sit back and wait for the sneezers to spread the news.

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Catherine Parker is a search engine marketer and copywriter for Quirk (www.quirk.co.za), a full service e-marketing agency based in Cape Town, South Africa.