Why word-of-mouth is so much more powerful than traditional advertising

We had quite a bit of commentary on a recent blog concerning celebrity spokespeople, with lots of Jetblue smart opinions on both sides of the debate. Personally, I think most celebrity endorsements don’t make much sense from an ROI standpoint. I’m a big, big believer in word-of-mouth as being the single most cost effective way to reach consumers in an increasingly fractured and disintermediated marketplace (with good old public relations running a strong number two).

I recently came across a great example of smart, cost effective word-of-mouth marketing with JetBlue’s new campaign. While it does include some traditional radio and TV spots, it really "takes off" by coupling the ads with word-of-mouth tactics. So, while the TV spots tell personal "war stories" of happy JetBlue customers, the word-of-mouth campaign takes it to cruising altitude by inviting other customers to e-mail their favorite JetBlue "experiences" to a microsite (with the potential of seeing their stories translated into commercials). But, wait, there’s more. JetBlue is also building "story booths" in 18 major airports. At the futuristic-looking booths, a virtual JetBlue crew member will guide passengers as they enter their stories. There will also be simple postcards handed out and mailed to JetBlue customers asking them to share their experience stories.

How cool and how smart is all that? More to the point, how much more engaging is this strategy than, say, paying some bogus Hollywood celebrity millions of dollars to say he or she likes JetBlue? Ho hum. So, here’s a message from the cockpit to my traditional advertising and celebrity spokesperson "passengers," fasten those seat belts tight around your waists, be sure your tray tables are up and your seat backs are in the locked position. You’ll be experiencing quite a bit of turbulence in years to come as word-of-mouth continues to outsmart and outperform your traditional approaches.

11 thoughts on “Why word-of-mouth is so much more powerful than traditional advertising

  1. One thing I have thought about is why don’t tech companies sponser the boomer market learning computer skills courses. I know in the UK Age concern are doing somethng like that and the take up has been good. WHat a great way for grandparents to communicate with their grand children. They are the growing part of the population with money to burn and yet many are still afraid of the technology. Apple could give a free shuffle to those who complete the courses for example. My mum is 75 and has just learnt how to use a computer that I got her – she had always wanted to but fear had stopped her. Fear of appearing old and “stupid”. Maybe a tech company should employ older customer service people who are more attune with the demands of people who are not as computer literate?

  2. What a great point, Anne. I know my wife absolutely hates her home computer and is constantly complaining about the spam, freezing, delays, etc. She says she’d visit my blog and others daily if it wasn’t for the hassles with the technology. I think the answer to your question is a simple matter of free market factors. Until tech companies start losing business because of these problems, they won’t pay much attention to fixing them.

  3. What amazes me is that blogging etc uses technology and yet in terms of customer services and word of mouth marketing they probably get the worst press. One reason why blogging,podcasting is still not at the fore front of the general public minds is the utter frustration many people feel trying to deal with computer, internet problems etc. When will the technology companies get to grips with the service angle?

  4. rep-
    i think you missed my point. i agreed with you that word of mouth is a great tool. however, it’s not all things to all people like we used to say. sure, cablevision can try and fix all their issues and line up some believeres, but for them, one ad saying whatever they want is a lot easier. does it work? i’m not sure but i guess the fact that the dolan’s also own half of the NY sports world speaks for itself. i personally hate cablevision, but they still have lots of customers…

  5. I disagree with your analysis, I-man. Word-of-mouth has been proven time and again to be the single most effective way to sell a product or service. Why? Because it’s based on trust. You tend to “believe” someone who tells you about their great experience as opposed to reading, listening or viewing some self-serving ad or commercial. The companies you mention would be well advised to fix their customer service issues, line up a few “believers” and initiate a word-of-mouth effort supported by PR and, maybe, advertising to overcome their negative image. Advertising won’t be believed by anyone in those instances.

  6. Excellent example of a great company using word-of-mouth and doing it right. But as Stacy pointed out, this only works b/c JetBlue has the muscle to back up the talk. JetBlue is one of a handful of companies I can think of that can actually use this approach. As Stacy mentioned, you won’t see Verizon or Cablevision etc do that b/c there is little positive to say. How many companies can actually rely upon their great service and reputation to carry them- not many. If would be difficult to argue that word-of-mouth is the single most effective medium, but only for a handful of companies. The rest of em need to create their own message and spin it exactly the way they want.

  7. I believe the real interesting component of this campaign is taking advantage of the bricks & mortar locations (story telling booths in 18 airports) to integrate with the online experience. I think it will create a stronger brand anchor in the minds of the customer than just a pure online interaction.
    More in my blog posting

  8. All the airplane references make me want to lose your luggage, but it’s an excellent point. Thing is, for some clients we struggle with this kind of campaign versus the traditional celeb crap because media, especially local media, continue to cover the latter over the former. They are truly the least imaginative in the equation. But clients still want to see ink.

  9. While I agree word-of-mouth is an effective method of building brand affinity and influencing consumer perception, I would raise two fundamental concerns that seem tied to all marketing initiatives – measurement and control.
    I suppose there are various ways to measure word-of-mouth depending on the elements of the campaign, but is there a universally accepted method?
    Also, should Jet Blue be concerned that they can’t ultimately control the message since the story booths share content directly from the consumer? Are they editing out all constructive criticism and negative commentary? It would be compelling to see what steps Jet Blue takes to address negative feedback.
    I do believe it could be a risky proposition if a company solely relies on consumers shaping and molding its brand.

  10. One of the best things about JetBlue is that it basks in positive word-of-mouth endorsements because it has the service to back it up. I think JetBlue is a good example of “walking the walk and talking the talk.” The reason this campaign works so well is because there are so many happy customers. Its service is probably the best of the domestic carriers, and customers prefer to watch TV and travel on newer plans (i.e. comfier seats). Now if only we could start an equally-effective negative campaign with as much impact for Time Warner or Verizon…we all have a horror story or two there. I’d love to see word-of-mouth or a consumer group’s PR campaign force a company into better service for the money (have you looked at your digital cable bill lately for the amount of technical errors you get?!).
    And, to answer Jimmy’s question: JetBlue still offers its snacks as a complementary service. The best part is that we’re not just talking peanuts—you can chose from Terra Blue chips, cookies, Munchie Mix, etc. I think JetBlue should hire me for one of its ads

  11. I agree with the word-of-mouth approach. What’s the old saying? A happy customer will share his/her expierence with 5 people, and an upset one will tell 10 of their friends about their turbulent expierence…forgive me for not knowing it exactly.
    Off topic, but still a concern to this traveler: has JetBlue begun to charge passengers for peanuts and sodas?