Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
August 10, 2009

Thinking About Sustainable WOM — Revisited!

When terms get used and abused to the extent they lose some meaning, it forces me to reevaluate how I define the word. For example, SUSTAINABLE. Over the last couple months I’ve seen marketers throw around this word in ways I don’t feel are appropriate.

To think sustainable, I think you have to start with a point of view, a goal that is not related to the transaction, but to conversation. Rage Against the Haze was successful during unfunded times due to empowered, educated teens who really believed in their voice. We knew that RAGE funding was not guaranteed; we would be lucky to have funds for two years in a row. We used to say our goal was that if Brains on Fire got hit by a bus, RAGE would continue on tomorrow.

IMO many marketers shout sustainability but they really are still talking tactics. The beauty about true, deep insight is it begins relationships internally and externally. These conversations lead to conversations out of the original circle, which is a nice side effect. Compare this to the problems we see happening out there right now. People are using influencer models¹ that continue no conversation online or offline. It’s just people clicking buttons on a survey.

And now they have a problem of expectations. A super fan is a super fan because of the experience they have with a brand. And when a Ocommunity¹ created by a company doesn’t match the real experience, then there is a huge disconnect and that super fan could care less about that community.

I believe this is key to building sustainable WOM movements. Sustainability comes down to the marketer and brand not having to keep interrupting the customers to get the message out. This comes from building relationships, building venues for the conversations and empowering the community. The true test comes when a brand has a hiccup.

Sustainability is real when the community (or in the case of RAGE and the Fiskateers) can continue without having to stimulate conversation and the overall movement with continued funding to stimulate conversation. RAGE has had funding hiccups from year two to present. The Fiskateers actually had funds cut in the first three months but still over performed and sustained
itself quickly.

By Geno Church, chief inspiration officer, Brains on Fire, develops word of mouth, buzz, viral and evangelism strategies for the agency’s clients. In his 13+ years with Brains On Fire, Geno has helped build word-of-mouth into the identities of brands including Fiskars Brands, the American Booksellers Association, National Family Partnership and Rage Against the Haze (South Carolina’s youth-led anti-tobacco movement).

Join Geno, along with Spike Jones, for their co-presentations, “How to Grow Word-of-Mouth Movements: People Are the Killer App” and “How Sustainable Word-of-Mouth Marketing Can Help Boost Your Bottom Line: Strategies on How to Identify Buzz-building Opportunities for Your Brand.”

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