Insights on Marketing & Technology

Word of mouth is the only brand engagement which actually works

- The most trusted source of information about your company comes, not from you, but from your highly satisfied customer, says Rob Fuggetta, CEO at Zuberance and author of the new book “Brand Advocates” in this interview with Market Community

  • By: Karsten Bengtsson
  • Published: 31-01-2014

The first 10 times I call Rob Fuggetta, there is no answer. He doesn’t pick up. Every time I try, his cell phone transfers the call to his answering machine, which keeps repeating that the voicemail of Rob Fuggetta is full. I, once again, check that I’m calling at the time, we agreed on. Yes, 11 am.
Finally, on the 11th try, he is picking up. It turns out that he has just landed in Orange County in Los Angeles.
- Well, I’m here with a college of mine and we’re now trying to locate Hertz to pick up a rental car. We have to be in San Diego later this afternoon for the American Marketing Associations conference. I’m giving a talk there.
- So is this a bad time, should I call you back later?
- No, no. Now is fine. We just can’t seem to find Hertz Car Rental.
- So, in your new book “Brand Advocates” you talk about how companies should build an army of trusted advocates in order to created engagement around their brand? Why it that?
- That is because paid advertising doesn’t work anymore. Did you know, that you are more likely to have twins, than to have someone buying from you through a banner ad? Paid advertising is simply not working. Then, you might ask, why are companies still buying these ads? It’s because there has been created a whole industry around it. But it really doesn’t work.
- But brand engagement through word of mouth marketing is working?
- Yes, word of mouth is, and has always been, the most trusted marketing you can get. Up to 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations, but only 24% trust online ads. A recommendation from a trusted friend conveying a relevant message is up to 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase compared to other recommendations. 25% to 40% of all traffic and lead generations comes from word of mouth. Shoppers prefer retail web sites that feature online ratings and reviews over ones that don’t. And … hold on for one moment, we seem be lost. Can I call you back?
- Sure.

Fake reviews
I spend the time waiting for Fuggetta to call me back by reading the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. The front story in the business section is about how companies are cheating online, when it comes to ratings, reviews and other word of mouth marketing methods. Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, has investigated 19 companies for posting deceptive reviews on their websites. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement - but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making the practice of fake reviews even more deceiving,” says Eric T. Schneiderman to the reporter. His investigation has revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe has produced buckets of praise for places they had never seen, in countries where they had never been.
When Rob Fuggetta is back on the phone, I point to this critic of his word of mouth marketing philosophy.
- Yes, I read that story as well. But first of all, sites like Yelp and others are doing an increasingly better job of blocking fake or paid-for reviews. In many cases, you have to be a trusted person on these sites, to state our option at all. And that is important. Schemes that are generating referrals by paying or incentivizing people are not true advocacy. True advocacy cannot be paid for or manufactured, but only earned. What is why it is called “earned media”.
To this date my own company, Zuberance, has generated 30 million brand and product recommendations and no advocate has ever received anything in exchange for their recommendations, says Fuggetta.

A marketing force
- And what kind of industries is best suited to use brand advocates?
- We have about 100 brands that are on the Zuberance advocate platform. And interestingly enough, about half of them are B2B companies, and half are B2C. But interestingly enough, like I said, about half of our customers are actually B2B companies. And in somewhat you might consider to be very low passion categories.
Some of our B2B customers include companies like Intuit, Symantec, NetApp and Citrix. And these are categories that you would think that there’s not a lot of passion around, but what we’re finding is that among all of B2B companies, actually a significant percentages of their customers are highly likely to recommend them. But many B2B companies just aren’t doing anything with these advocates.

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Eva Ejdorf Brøsted likes this.

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