Word-of-mouth, or WOM, has become the buzzword in many marketing and advertising circles. WOMMA (the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association) defines WOM as "the act of individuals providing marketing information to other people."

Whether you are working in the B2C or B2B space, having your customers tell their friends, family and work colleagues about your product or service is what we all hope to achieve (and translate) into new leads, new customers, increased sales and improved brand awareness.

Organic WOM

iPod, Jones Soda, Starbucks—WOM endorsement for these products spread like wildfire across the US and the globe, achieving brand success and bottom-line results for each of their corporations. Then and today, little if any advertising is done for Jones Soda and Starbucks. It's not necessary: Their customers pledge their loyalty daily as they order their favorite latte or submit their suggestions for a new soda name and flavor.

While iPod certainly has great advertising, its loyal followers were hooked on the product first—the advertising became the manifestation of iPod's audience's reaction to a great product. One can almost feel the customer experience coming alive in their commercials.

What drove the powerful organic WOM in these brands so quickly? Each of the companies delivered a superior product and customer experience. Each company's leadership had a vision that penetrated their entire organization. These ingredients led to high volumes of organic WOM activity. This type of market buzz can't be orchestrated, and it can't be faked—true organic WOM requires vision, leadership, product superiority, creativity, a sense of timing and, yes, even a little bit of luck.

But what about the rest of us? Can we leverage WOM or build more awareness and create positive referrals for our product and services? The answer, of course, is yes; and you can increase your success rate using WOM techniques if you design your programs with women in mind.

A Natural Fit for Women

In the early 1960s, pre MRI and PET brain scans, social and political pressure groups persuaded both men and women to buck their biological legacies. With the knowledge they had at their disposal, their arguments were well founded for their time. However, since the early 1990s, research studies conducted by leading psychologists, biologists, neuroscientists, paleontologists and ethnologist have clearly shown that there are in fact brain differences between men and women. These differences do impact each gender's preferred way of communicating, learning and socialization.

Interaction, Community and Collaboration

In the days of the caveman, a woman's role was that of nurturing, caring and working together with other women in her tribe to keep the fires burning while her husband hunted for food. The hunt often left her alone for days at a time. Out of necessity, women grouped, huddled, collaborated and supported each other to assure their survival (as well as their children's).

Today, you see this same desire to group manifested in the millions of social, recreational, religious and career clubs that women create, participate in and sustain. This need to group has evolved into a preference for grouping. The net result is a wider social network.

Sensory Overload

Without exception, each of the senses—vision, smell, taste, hearing and touch—in women are more highly evolved than men's senses. Female vision allows for great detail perception and a wider peripheral vision arc. Together, these visual strengths allow women to see the entire picture at a glance.

Women's skin is 10 times more sensitive to touch than men's, and her sense of smell—the greatest emotive sense we have—is superior in each of the four major tastes: sweet, salt, sour and bitter. This sensory overload creates highly emotional bonds within our memories. If the experience has been good, we will automatically call upon all our senses when we remember an event. If it the event is bad... well, let's just say we don't forget about it—at a very visceral level.

Firing on Both Cylinders

In both men and women, the right and left sides of the brain are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers. Those of you who remember your anatomy classes from high school, know that this bundle is called the corpus callosum. Women have 30% more of these fibers than men. As a result, they have a greater ability to multi-track, making quick judgments and decisions utilizing a greater range of sensory input. Women's intuition has its genesis in this dual-brain capacity. Couple it with our enhanced sensory acuity, and it is very easy to see why interactive, sensory-loaded activity creates such a lasting hold on our beliefs and perceptions.

Speech and Language

Women have speech- and language-specific areas on both sides of our brain. For males, speech and language are not specific brain skills, and they primarily operate on the left side of the brain. Because of this "non-compartmentalizing" of women's brains, talking is necessary for processing information. Her brain is prewired to use speech as is a primary form of expression.

Emotion and the Brain

MRI scans of both men and women have successfully located the area of the brain that is responsible for emotion. In men, emotion is located in two areas of the right side of their brain. Located in only one side, men's emotions can operate separately from the other brain functions. Women's emotions are located in both hemispheres of the brain, making her more able to "switch her emotions on" while her brain performs other functions. Ask any brand steward, and they will tell you the key to building brands is getting to the emotions... building associative memories.

Building Female WOM

For marketers, there are many strategies that are considered part of WOM. A close look at the underlying principal in each approach shows how their effectiveness can be increased if targeted toward and designed for the women's market.

Buzz Marketing

A buzz is a highly intense and interactive form of word-of-mouth. WOM is essentially a linear process with information passing from one individual to another, then to another, etc. In successful buzz marketing, information moves in a matrix pattern rather than a linear one—seeming to explode in all directions with everyone talking about the topic.

Logic tells us that the more personal connections, the more successful buzz can be.Women are the queens of building, growing and sustaining personal connections through ongoing communication. Additionally, the nonlinear aspect of buzz is a perfect fit for women's multitasking and multi-processing brain.

Viral Marketing

Viral marketing refers to techniques that exploit pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in awareness, through processes similar to the spread of an epidemic—hence the coined term. In viral marketing, word-of-mouth is delivered and enhanced online, leveraging the network effect of the Internet. The result is a huge reach to a large number of people quickly. In 2002, women became the majority of Internet users. According to a recent eMarketer study, women continue dominating the use of the Internet in increasing numbers. Their adoption rate for blogs is quickly surpassing male bloggers (some research studies indicate women have already reached majority blogger status). Add a woman's community building skills to these facts, and one can see why she's a natural for all viral building tactics.

Guerilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing covers a wide range of activities, each with a common link: use of nontraditional channels to get a message to a targeted group. It's marketing that takes place "in the field," whether that's the real world or an online community. To work effectively, it must have community or build community and infiltrate the community. Interactive, spontaneous, fun, playful... all elements of this technique speak to women's sensibilities. Depending on the product being pushed, women's communities and their propensity to build and quickly form communities of like interest for support, education and socializing make her a critical factor in successful guerilla marketing efforts.

Unpaid Media

A close sister to PR, this could include things such as human-interest stories about your product or service that the press picks up, customer testimonials, quotes and success stories that are written about a person. The fact that your company's product or service just happens to be used by her and mentioned in her story is a bonus!

Women are storytellers. They scrapbook and archive family photographs, they tell their network of friends when things happen, both good and bad. Importantly, we don't just pass along a sentence or two, we write at great length and provide content to support our stories. Women could be viewed as your virtual PR, happy-customer testimonial presales force.

Consumer Generated Media

Consumer Generated Media (CMG) is a term coined by Pete Blackshaw of Intelliseek. Pete's definition refers to "high-impact media created by consumers, typically informed by relevant experience and commonly archived online for ready consumption by other consumers and key influencers (media, analysts, regulators). CGM typically manifests itself via blogs, boards, forums, online reviews, and direct company feedback."

Creative, right-brain driven CGM is the consumer voice being seen and heard. To see how women are fairing in this area, a look at Jones Soda's label submissions or Converse tennis shoes animated commercial submissions. Women are embracing any and all vehicles that give voice to her concerns, opinions and vision.

A Word of Caution

There's a difference between using women to spread WOM and implementing WOM marketing strategies with women. The techniques fit the womens market well; how you implement your strategies and integrate them into your total marketing mix, how you co-create with women to fit her needs, will gain you her trust AND an entry into her world.

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Terri Whitesel is the founder and chief translator of Interpret-Her, LLC. Reach her at terri@interpret-her.com.