Word of Mouth is the key driver for business success – Dave Balter CEO of BzzAgent explains

As part of my AMA interview series, I have decided to tap into a very relevant but also a lightly-understood concept of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM). I couldn’t have found a better person to clarify this concept than Dave Balter, the Founder and CEO of Bzz Agent (one of the first WOM agencies in the Unites States), whose also the co-founder of Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

As a marketer myself, I have always found the concept of WOM somewhat vague and ambiguous. I know that many of my colleagues perceive WOM marketing as a random occasion that happens if you are lucky enough with your marketing actions such as an eccentric or a crazy viral ad clicked million times by viewers.  I was really looking forward to clarify some of these misconceptions and get some solid answers.  So, I asked Dave. You can listen to my whole interview with Dave at www.socalama.org/resources or read the discussion of the key points from that interview in the remaining of this post.

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AMA Leadership Summit 2010 Chicago, IL

Few days ago I participated in one of the premier AMA events of the year “American Marketing Association Leadership Summit ’10” which was held in Chicago, IL.  As the incoming President-Elect of SoCal AMA I was invited to this gathering by the AMA International Headquarters (IH),  and had the wonderful opportunity to network with hundreds of marketing professionals and marketing thought-leaders from across the country. It was a unique experience for me.

Since I am pretty much new to non-profit management, it was critical for me to gain more info and insights about board management, volunteer engagement, Special Interest Groups (SIGs), member acquisition and retention. I indeed did.  For the ones who don’t know or little know about AMA, American Marketing Association is the biggest professional marketing organization in the US with a member base of more than 45k.  Its main mission is to achieve thought leadership, contribute to the marketing theory and practice, and provide a platform for marketers from different industries to connect and learn from each other.

This was a 3-full day conference offering an intense learning and networking experience through breakout sessions on various topics concerning non-profits, key-note speakers, discussion panels and social mixers. Key takeaways from this conference for non-profit managers like myself were:

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look at what other professional chapters are doing and adopt best practices
  • Use social media to engage members and non-members and always use tools that you can realistically track and measure
  • Well define and articulate your value proposition and refine your strategies accordingly
  • Due to limited resources prioritize your goals for the upcoming fiscal year
  • Manage it like a business and always keep your eye on the bottom line
  • Create valuable current content people like to follow
  • Differentiate member experience from non-member experience as much as possible

Here are some pictures from the AMA Leadership Summit 2010  http://www.flickr.com/photos/kameryuksel/.

Feel free to leave your comments and/or questions.

UGG-ly Marketing. Just Brilliant.

Talk about one of the most successful brands of recent history – in my opinion, the ugly boot brand “UGG” was one of the most brilliantly positioned brands of the last decade. Just recently, I had the chance to visit an outlet center in Palm Springs and was amazed to see these long and never-ending queues outside an UGG store. Unsurprisingly, this is a very familiar picture in most of the UGG stores across the country.

Source: Flickr/thms.nl

This is indeed a marketer’s dream come true. Consumers waiting for hours to get a glimpse of what you have to offer. UGG does not even heavily advertise or use other traditional media channels, that most brands are wastefully spending millions of dollars on. Therefore, this brand represents an ideal example for marketers who are desperately trying to grab market share by running around like headless chickens, and trying out every possible marketing strategy till they get it right (if ever).

But how did UGG achieve this envious success? I think 3 strategies have played a major role:

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Lessons from Sheila Marcelo, the Founder & CEO of Care.com, on Starting Your Own Business

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to conduct a podcast interview with the Founder and CEO of Care.com, Sheila Marcelo, on behalf of American Marketing Association. I am currently serving on the Board of Directors of SoCalAMA both as an elected Board Member and VP of  Strategic Alliances and one of my main goals is to connect our members with successful business executives such as Sheila. I believe it is of incredible value to get some real insights and genuine advice from individuals who have excelled remarkably in their respective fields.

Sheila Marcelo photo

Sheila is without a doubt one of those business professionals whom you would feel privileged to listen to. She has started her company Care.com in 2006 and managed to create an exceptional business model and a multi-million dollar company in a very short time. Just a year later, her company was recognized by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business as Best New Company of the Year.  She has since become a household name having been appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show and ABC News Now where she had provided families with care planning advice.

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My first Triathlon!

Winner-momentIt is more than due for me to write about my  first triathlon experience, which took place last month in Malibu, California. I can happily and proudly let you know that I managed to complete the whole race properly and in one piece. It took me 2:52 minutes in total to swim (0:21:57), bike (1:29:02), and run (45:15:00) a grueling 1/2 mile ocean swim, 18 mile bike and 4 mile run course. Overall, the whole experience was excruciating, but I would, without a doubt, do it all over again.

Eight months ago when I decided to do this triathlon, I was not exactly aware of what I was putting myself into.  I said to myself since I can run 3-4 miles every four or five times a week, I should be able to complete a triathlon too, right? Soon, I realized that I wasn’t exactly right. Continue reading

Cause-Marketing with Honey Bees by Haagen-Dazs: Is it real or just a “buzz”?

Haagen-DazslovesHoneyBees_logoHaagen-Dazs has been widely credited for transforming the ice cream business from a commodity product for children to a premium product for adults. Their delicious flavors sold in small packages goes beyond just any ice cream, but provide a short-lived pleasure and happiness for consumers. I don’t know how many times after a hard long day, I found myself scooping the whole pack followed by usual dietary regrets. But this is not the topic of my post today. I would like to talk about their first cause-marketing effort: “Haagen-Dazs loves Honey Bees”.

Their cause marketing effort kicked off with a designated website at www.helpthehoneybees.com and a viral bee boy dance crew video on YouTube  aims to get attention on the problem of vanishing honey bees in the US. According to the information provided, honey bees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of all the foods we eat, including many of the natural ingredients used in ice creams. The bad news is that over the last three years more than one in three honey bee colonies has died nationwide. Chief reason is identified as Colony Collapse Disorder, in other words, bees abandoning their colonies in search of pollen elsewhere and never returning back, most probably dying on the fields.

If honey bees die, simply put, our food supply is in serious danger! From a humanitarian perspective there is no doubt that this problem should be addressed and resources should be allocated to mitigate the damage. All causes are equally important. There is really no such thing as big or a small cause. Meanwhile, from a marketing perspective it is worth to discuss the selection of the cause and how it relates to the overall brand strategy. As it relates to this specific example, lets breakdown the fundamentals of cause-marketing success and discuss the extent to which the honey bee saving mission is performing at each level.

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Creative Process: Try it for yourself!

Most recently, one of my friends, who is an exceptional instructor and also the President of American Marketing Association (SoCal), asked my help for a visual identity project for a brand-new academic program at the College of the Canyons. I accepted it right away. In addition to my professional roles, I also love to channel my experience and energy to volunteer projects concerning educational institutions and non-for-profits and contribute in some minor way to their missions. Moreover, this project specifically excited me because the program’s mission was very unique and unprecedented. I was honored to have a small part in it.

The program, entitled “Arts and Business Learning Community” at the College of the Canyons, is going to be an interdisciplinary program targeting both Business and Fine & Performing Arts students. Curriculum will be designed to teach business students different art forms in a way that will foster their creativity, at the same time will teach students of Arts (acting, dancing, painting etc…) the fundamentals of business. This program is addressing a crucial and yet an unmet need for both areas: for business people learning to be more creative and for artists understanding the business of the arts performed. There is no other similar program in California, offering this type of an educational bundle and bringing together two distinct but actually quite complementary disciplines.

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Marketing to Moms: Lets look at some hard data!

mom-sonMoms have always been at the center stage of many marketing efforts. Smartly so, because they are the ones who do the shopping and are the main decision makers for many low-involvement products related to food, home and personal care. Even for high-involvement products such as electronics and cars, research shows that their involvement and influence is significant. According to Marketing to Moms Coalition, 85% of household spending is controlled by moms and they are worth more than $2.1 trillion to American brands today. Despite their significant importance to companies, 70% of moms state that marketers do not understand their needs and fail to connect with them (Marketing to Moms Coalition). This finding is rather surprising for me because I know that, many companies have substantial and successful experience in targeting moms over many years. What has really changed? It looks like moms are changing and marketers are not following as rapidly.

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Creativity in Advertisement: Why doesn’t work?

comics2Zyman (2004) found out that 84% of award-winning advertisements incorporated entertainment, humor, satire, slapstick etc. to their ads. Nevertheless, only 22% made a call to action. Meaning resulted in increased sales. At the end of the day, we all know the purpose of advertisement is to sell. If we can not manage to increase sales why do we advertise then? As Bhargava (2006, p.163) is suggesting “in most cases, if you manage to entertain your audience but do not generate a benefit for your brand then you have essentially engaged in public service, not a marketing campaign.”

Creativity factor in broadcast media is important to break through the commercial clutter and grab the consumers’ attention. Especially if you think of the fact that, actual message exposure is 25 to 50 percent of program exposure. Brands are competing to get a share of the viewers’ already very limited time and attention. Under these circumstances, everyone feels the pressure for creating ads that are attention-grabbing and memorable. But there is a fine line here. Most of the time, we are missing the point. The whole point of advertisement is to get measurable results. Obviously, this means prompt increase in sales or enhanced brand awareness, which will lead to increased sales.

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Re-capturing the essence of marketing with David Ogilvy

As a marketer, I have been trying to come up with a definition of marketing, which would encapsulate its essence, but at the same time would clearly demonstrate why I personally have chosen and love marketing as a profession. When I look at various descriptions of marketing, what I see are many plain and uninspiring definitions for a field that is, on the contrary, very creative and inspiring. One such example is the frequently-used American Marketing Association‘s definition of marketing. According to AMA, “marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” (AMA, 2007).

I do understand the needs to define marketing in a plain,  standard format. First, it is important to lay a basic foundation that can be built upon. Second, it is very difficult to come up with a definition that would be considered inspirational by everyone.  However, I would like to use this opportunity to articulate my own thoughts on the role of marketing and quote or cite Mr. Ogilvy in support of my arguments. Mr. Ogilvy’s video that I embedded here, is a great educational source for marketers and advertisers. It is a long conversation, almost an hour, but it clearly represents Ogilvy’s genius and his straightforward approach to marketing and advertising. I would highly recommend this video to anyone in this business. I know it is little old but there are timeless lessons to be learned.

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