The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing
How to Trigger Exponential Sales Through Runaway Word of Mouth
Author: George Silverman
Pub Date: April 2011
Print Edition: $17.95
Print ISBN: 9780814416686
Page Count: 272
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814416693
Buy the book:
Why This Book—and Word-of-Mouth
Marketing Today—Is Different
My interest in marketing started one day in my father’s drug
store. I watched a Camel cigarette salesman repeatedly
approach customers who had just bought a pack of the largest
competing brand, Chesterfi eld. He had pushed a Camel and a
Chesterfi eld cigarette through two holes in a 3" × 5" index card, so
that the customers couldn’t see the cigarettes’ brand names. He
asked them to take a few puff s of each and tell him which they
liked better. Most of the Chesterfi eld smokers said that they preferred
the taste of the one that turned out to be a Camel. He showed
them that they had chosen a diff erent brand, Camel, over their
regular brand. Th ey were shocked, much to my amusement. It
looked to me, at about the age of 12, like a pretty good joke on
them. But then came my turn to be shocked. He off ered to exchange
the cigarettes they had just bought for his brand, whose taste they
had just proven they preferred.
Most of them stuck with their regular brand!
I saw another salesman do a similar thing with Breyers ice cream.
Same results. Even though they preferred Breyers, they walked out with
their regular brand. “Why?” I wondered.
At the same time, I was learning to practice the art of slight of hand. As
I mastered more and more sophisticated magic tricks, I realized that people
saw what they wanted to see, no matter what the evidence said. Why?
I was hooked.
I became a psychologist and professional-level magician and concentrated
on understanding the secrets of why people made the choices
they made—brand choices, beliefs, spouses, jobs, strategies—anything
that involved decisions. Even my magic revolved around the choices
people make about what to believe.
In 1971, I invented the telephone focus group, which became my
laboratory for understanding and experimenting with the decisionmaking
process. Th is is the work that led me to a systematic approach to
stimulating word of mouth as is detailed in this book.
I came to understand when and why people changed brands and
why they clung desperately to their Chesterfi elds.
It took about 40 years and more than 8,000 focus groups, word-ofmouth
teleconferences, and experts sessions, as well as the design of
countless word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, to accumulate the
knowledge that’s distilled in the following pages.
Not all of my clients will be happy that I’m divulging the secrets
behind their record-breaking sales gains—without, of course, giving
away any of their proprietary information. To all of my clients who recognized
early on how important it was to harness word of mouth, let me
extend a big thank you (even if you still won’t permit me to talk about
some details you know I’m dying to talk about).
In the fi rst edition, published in 2001, I predicted the birth of the
Word-of-Mouth Marketing industry. It’s happened, supported by
WOMMA (the Word of Mouth Marketing Association). When I stood
in front of the overfl ow crowd of 450 or so people who attended the fi rst
WOMMA conference four years later in March 2005 (about 50 were
originally expected), I was so choked up that I had to stand there, take it
all in, and compose myself before I could speak. I was overwhelmed by
the thought that aft er decades of trying to convince people of the importance
of word of mouth, this was the fi rst audience I had ever stood
before that was made up of people who actually thought that word-ofmouth
marketing was important enough to attend a conference about!
Th is made all the eff ort worthwhile.
I’m extremely grateful for the recognition, even though I’d prefer if
they had called me the “Father,” rather than the “Grandfather,” of wordof-
Before we get started, here are a few defi nitions that will help avoid
repetition, confusion, and convoluted sentences. I learned the importance
of defi ning my terms as explicitly as possible a long time ago from
Ayn Rand, who once asked me to clearly defi ne something that I told
her confused me. I was shocked, “How can I be clear if I’m confused?”
She said, “You can always be clear, even about your confusion. Try.” I
immediately answered my own question and resolved to never allow
confusion to be an excuse for indulging in the vague approximations
that are oft en such a tempting substitute for the eff ort of thinking.
A teacher once observed a child having trouble zipping up his jacket.
She said, “Th e secret is to put the straight part all the way in, hold it
down with one hand, and pull on the tab with the other hand.”
Th e child asked, “Why is that a secret?” By “secrets,” I mean key
principles, not things people don’t want you to know.
Th e central purpose of this book is to lay out the secrets—key principles—
of word-of-mouth marketing, as distinct from all the details of
the techniques, and to organize them into a systematic approach.
“Let’s Go Up a Level of Abstraction”
Th is is one of my favorite phrases. It omits the distracting details, so we
can focus on what’s important. Th us, we do not get bogged down in the
details, or the latest Bright, Shiny Object (BSO) that catches our attention.
I love “stupid” questions. Th roughout this book, I’ll be continually asking
Stupid questions are inquiries whose answers seem so obvious that
people are reluctant to ask them. Th ey are concerned that they will be
seen as dumb. However, I fi nd that stupid questions oft en take us to
another level of understanding by forcing us to rethink what is “obvious,”
but untrue. I would name the ability to ask stupid questions as the
secret to my success. Perhaps my tombstone should be engraved, “He
asked wonderfully stupid questions.”
So we’ll ask such wonderfully stupid questions as:
• “What’s word of mouth, really?”
• “Does it actually spread like a virus?”
• “How has the marketplace changed? Is the change something
deeper and more important than the Internet?”
• “Why do people listen to their friends?”
• “Why do people trust their friends?”
• “What’s trust, at its root, and how do we get some of that?”
• “What gives word of mouth its power?”
Customer = Prospect unless Customer ≠ Prospect
To avoid awkward language, “customers” usually means “suspects,”
“prospects,” and “customers,” as there is usually not a meaningful diff erence.
When the diff erence is signifi cant, I’ll be scrupulous about distinguishing
them. So, although sometimes it’s important to distinguish
suspects, prospects, triers, buyers, adopters, users, promoters, and evangelists,
other times, “customers” or “users” will denote all of the above.
“Buy” = “Buy into” = “Adopt” = “Believe”
“Sell” = “Convince” = “Persuade”
I’ll usually write, “buy,” even when money is not involved. Th ere’s always
a price to pay.
Product = Service = Idea = Methodology
Most of the time, I use the word “product” to mean anything you are “selling,”
that is, anything you are trying to get people to adopt, buy, or buy
into. So, if I write, “selling them your product,” when you are trying to get
people to adopt an idea, it means, “get them to buy into your idea.” If you
are providing a service, it means, “getting them to buy your service.”
Word-of-Mouth Marketing Is NOT Word-of-Mouth
Pet Peeve: Please don’t ever, ever, ever speak of “Word-of-Mouth Advertising.”
Ever. It’s a contradiction in terms that signals you’re an amateur.
Word of mouth is communication that’s independent, unbiased, and
lacking in vested interest. Advertising is the exact opposite. To put the
terms together reveals either sloppiness of thinking or a wanton disregard
for clarity. Oft en both.
Th e phrase is “Word-of-Mouth Marketing.”
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