I just finished an energizing two-day event with my employer which featured most of the leading marketing/communications agencies in the world sharing their insights about how to drive positive word-of-mouth in the digital world. I can’t really get into any details or names to retain the confidentiality of the meeting – which was aimed at the global marketing team – but I thought it would be useful to share some of my observations. [Full disclosure: I helped organize the session.]

First, though there is still great variance between companies and agencies with regard to their awareness and adoption of Web 2.0 technology, there seems to be consensus among marcom professionals that the digital world opens up incredible new possibilities for marketers. Sounds like a truism, but it’s good to see that fewer professionals are fighting the tide and trying to avoid the inevitable reality of change.

Second, companies need to focus on their “happy” customers as much or more than they do on the naysayers and complainers. Too many companies make it difficult to be a fan and fail to fully leverage their greatest potential advocates.

Third, to be successful companies need to integrate word-of-mouth or digital tactics into their broader marketing and advertising programs – which can include traditional paid-media. One-off tricks or disparate, unlinked efforts will not succeed in tangible change in consumer opinions.

Fourth, companies that are serious about jumping into word-of-mouth need to have a global perspective. Customers will obviously have different habits, interests and preferences depending on their location, but it was clear to me that agencies from various parts of the world also bring their distinctive expertise and viewpoints. Just one example – the highly advanced state of mobile marketing on cellphones in parts of Europe and Asia.

Finally, it’s as important as ever to develop relevant metrics and analystics to help define and track success. While many observers acknowledge some of this work requires a leap of faith – trying to find the perfect ROI justification is likely a kiss of death – measurement is critical if these efforts are to gain traction and attract serious marketing funds.  

Judging from what I heard, two other areas that will have a strong impact on future developments in this area include: ubiquitous mobility and evolving search technology.  In both cases, marketers are faced with expanding opportunities (hello iPhone) but also increasing complexity.

All in all, a very interesting and thought-provoking exercise. Things seem just a bit different now that I’m back at my desk – and that’s likely a good thing.

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