Gotta love the 70's crocheted dresses

When I was little, back in a time when mums’ still crocheted dresses, and we could still buy cigarette shaped lollies called “Fags”… at least once a year we’d be bundled off to a Tupperware party. There the mums gathered around fold- out tables and marvelled at a bunch of versatile plastic containers. Tupperware was everywhere, and in every home, it was a force to be reckoned with. And it’s clear what they knew then, we are being reminded of now; word of mouth marketing is a most powerful brand communications tool. But it’s also hard to manage; it’s in the hands, or rather the mouths of the consumer andmost importantly you have to earn it- your product/ communication/service delivery/experience better be damn good or word of mouth works equally effectively the other way.So what did Tupperware have right and what are we going back to?

The majority of purchase decisions are influenced in some way by word of mouth recommendation:

  • McKinseys report that 2 in 3 purchase decisions are primarily influenced by WOM.

  • The London School of Economics report that a 7% lift in positive word of mouth will generate a 1% increase in business growth.

  • NOP World in 2005 stated that 91% of people are likely to try a new product or service if it is personally recommended to them.

  • Simple right? Wrong.


“The first thing to remember is that studies are now showing that the most influential word of mouth recommendation is offline.”

In the UK Word of Mouth consultancy Keller Fay found 90% of brand based WOM occurs off-line, especially face to face. So whilst its tempting to think that viral & digital social media is the only way – we need to think more about WHAT will make consumers talk positively to their friends and within their communities on or off-line.

“Tupperware didn’t try and create a community first, they tapped into naturally occurring ones where trust was high and recommendation was currency; as a result their excellent product and enjoyable experiences cultivated a community of Tupperware fans.”

The lesson here is that naturally occurring communities work best. Brands will do better when they can add value to an existing community rather than spend large amounts of money trying to create one. The best place to look for communities is around interests and passions occurring naturally on and off-line but rarely around brands (with a few exceptions like car and motorbike brands).

  • While Carlton Draught sponsors big- time AFL, Boags Draught is active at the grassroots level adding value to the local footy community.

  • Coke’s Energy drink BURN launched with 3 different stories for 3 different youth communities using 65 community channels.

Brand Communities on Facebook are great, they are a version of the old ‘Loyalty Programme’ just without the snail mail. Indeed recent US research from DDB suggests that “over 90% of Facebook users that have chosen to follow brands can be considered genuine advocates”  but just because you’ve got fans doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll talk about you.The same study found that ”even enthusiasts  grow impatient with dull,irrelevant content”. There needs to be a catalyst for discussion; usually that means involving fans in some kind of quest, competition, chance for their 15 Megs of fame or allowing them to be ‘in the know’. Involvement is critical to creating brands worth talking about.

Starbucks invite consumer co-creation & innovation.
  • Co-creation: is a great way to involve consumers in something they’re passionate about. Arguably Starbucks is one of the most successful in creating an on-line community through involvement. They claim to have 6 million fans and the magic of their involvement is in asking for product suggestions/improvements and acting on them. Tupperware is onto this one too.

  • Rate and commentate: For consumers who don’t want to go to the effort of creating something, ‘rating’ comes a close second. Everyone loves to give feedback – rating & commentating systems are an easy way to invite involvement and sponsor sharing. A recent promotion from Just Car Insurance tapped into the community of car enthusiasts and involved them in ‘pimping a car’ – a nice demonstration of involvement through co-creation, rating and commentating.

  • Brush with Fame: Ask consumers to upload pictures or videos of themselves and “Abracadabra” you have involvement. But with the glut of these type of promotions out there is it only a matter of time consumers get fatigued with the formula?


Its never been more important to engage the emotions.

In reality consumers AREN’T sitting around waiting to hear from you;they are being bombarded with around 35000 messages a day, its stressful!. With so much information and messaging around – we gravitate to things that make us feel good, so its important that messages are re-framed as entertainment. People don’t mind a joke, an interesting story, the drama of a soap opera, a gorilla playing a drums, the ability to make their own messages on a chocolate bar wrapper or just something unexpected – it makes a pleasant pit stop in their day,lifts their emotions and potentially gives them something to talk about with your brand at the centre of the discussion.

All of these creative opportunities aren’t possible unless we get the brand story straight. While the connections, channels and ways consumers engage with brands have come full circle, the principles of brand haven’t changed. Brands still need to stand for something, have a purpose, a passion and a point of view.

Brand disciplines are borne from within and need to be aligned to the brand truth, otherwise everything else is, at best, creating amusing awareness and at worst a waste of money, time and energy. More to come on this.