The positive effects of Word of Mouth references in customer acquisition (btw I hate that term) are very well documented. Often I see the term “peer to peer” marketing being used in the same context interchangeably, however not being a marketing professional I am not sure if there is a difference or if they are really synonymous. Wikipedia defines WoM Marketing as
Word-of-mouth marketing, which encompasses a variety of subcategories, including buzz, blog, viral, grassroots, cause influencers and social media marketing, as well as ambassador programs, work with consumer-generated media and more, can be highly valued by product marketers. Because of the personal nature of the communications between individuals, it is believed that product information communicated in this way has an added layer of credibility. Research points to individuals being more inclined to believe WOMM than more formal forms of promotion methods; the receiver of word-of-mouth referrals tends to believe that the communicator is speaking honestly and is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (i.e. they are not receiving an incentive for their referrals).
Customer Reviews, describing personal experiences, opinions and recommendations of individual customers, are one of the best examples of WOMM. Amazon pioneered the approach and now there are many retailers like NewEgg, Best Buy and others, with technologies from BazaarVoice and PowerReviews that collect, manage and publish Customer Reviews. I have both contributed and used them as guidance for my purchases for many years, and even though I understand that the reviews sometimes tell more about the reviewer than the product reviewed, I still find them the best tool for reduction of purchasing decision uncertainty. I know some tech pros and gadget mavens, who’s advice is sought and respected by many, to use customer reviews as an important part of their product evaluation process.
Consumers have no squabbles over paying for independent advice and recommendation, often called unbiased which is incorrect as such a thing does not exist IMHO. The Consumer Report was a very successful example and provided great service to generations of shoppers who subscribed to their magazine and its online version, however their model has difficulties to cover an ever expanding breadth of the products offered, and it does not really deal with customer experiences. The point however is that their approach is not misleading – you, the customer, pay them to learn their opinion and recommendation and thus the only incentive is to provide you with good and honest information.
I want to make very clear that I am not attacking profit motives or the marketing profession. I love profits when they are honestly earned by providing quality customer experiences, and I love marketing that helps me find providers of such experiences. The problems arise when some people or companies decide to focus on deception instead. Many years ago, one of my good friends shared with me her great admiration for Amway products. I was very grateful for her zeal to “help” me find a good product, until I realized the concealed motivation. Needless to say, we are no longer good friends, just acquaintances and I would never buy anything associated with the Amway brand. That is not to say that Word Of Mouth Marketing cannot be incentivised, just that marketers have to understand that it could become a double-edged sword and can easily create unintended adverse consequences. It also creates a challenge for us, at Amplified Analytics, to develop an effective approach to weigh authenticity of reviews we analyze for producing Product Reputation metrics.