There are a lot of terms in this new world of marketing that I really hate. I’ve written before about how I believe that nothing is really “viral.” I work in an industry where I get calls out of the blue asking me how much it would cost for us to do a viral video for brand X. Or how can we stop the “blog chatter” around some bad news (this is usually involving a blog with millions of readers). Or how do we generate some early “buzz” around an announcement that no one really cares about.
Ben McConnell tackled the issue of word-of-mouth vs buzz quite adeptly in a recent blog post. He defined “word-of-mouth” as follows:
Word of mouth is a byproduct of a remarkable culture. It’s how companies like 37 Signals, Discovery Education, and The Container Store grow and flourish. Their companies are organized around a well-defined purpose and strong values, which may not be for everyone, but they’re important enough to a significant group of people.
Subsequently, he describes “buzz” quite differently:
Buzz is the result of word-of-mouth marketing. Its results are typically short-term. Gimmicks are common, and examples abound.
I would take it one step further.
Word-of-mouth is an actual marketing behavior, like executing a call to action. It’s a marketing conversion that can be measured.
Buzz is the perception of word-of-mouth activity. You can manufacture buzz, much like McConnell shows in his post, but it doesn’t have to be real. While buzz can be the result of widespread word-of-mouth activity, it can also be created in a void by PR and advertising. How often does a film having “Oscar buzz” actually result in an Oscar? There’s often no delivering on the buzz promise, which is a pretty good sign that it’s been manufactured.
It will be a good day for all marketers when terms like “viral” and “buzz” are put to bed and we can finally focus on measurable behaviors that actually support quality brand values.