The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing

The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing

by Emanuel Rosen

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A new edition of the definitive handbook on word-of-mouth marketing, completely revised and updated for today’s online world

With two-thirds new material and scores of current examples from today’s most successful companies, The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited takes readers inside the world of word-of-mouth marketing and explains how and why it works.

Based on over one hundred new interviews with thought leaders, marketing executives, researchers, and consumers, The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited shows how to:

* Generate genuine buzz both online and off.

* Encourage people to talk about your products and services—and help spread the word among their friends, colleagues, and communities.

* Adapt traditional word-of-mouth strategies in today’s era of Facebook, YouTube, and consumer-generated media.

Smart, surprising, and filled with cutting-edge strategies and insights, The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited is essential for anyone who wants to get attention for a product, message, or idea in today’s message-cluttered world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385528337
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/24/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

EMANUEL ROSEN was vice president of marketing for Niles Software, the maker of EndNote, for nine years. He lives in Menlo Park, California.

Read an Excerpt


During the first few days of October 2004, Amy Rathke told everyone she met about the semester she had spent in Baja with the National Outdoor Leadership School. A senior at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, she told her classmates about the spectacular views of ocean vistas. She told people at the dorm about climbing rocky canyons. She told her crew teammates about camping on beaches. She told the Willamette newspaper that they ought to write about the outdoor leadership school, known by its graduates as NOLS.

This is the foundation of buzz: in order to get people talking about your product or service, you must provide a great experience. And Amy Rathke had an undeniably great experience with NOLS.

But here's the interesting thing. Amy Rathke took her NOLS course in the fall of 2003, an entire year before that week in October 2004. If you were to plot on a graph how much she talked about NOLS in the months that followed her trip, you would see a very high level of talk right after she got back from Baja, followed by a little less talk with each month that passed, until gradually it tapered off. And then in early October you would see the line shooting up again and peaking on October 6, 2004.

What made her suddenly create so much buzz?

Before I go on, I need to define one term that will be used a lot in this book--"buzz." Some people think buzz is complicated and mysterious, but what I'm talking about is actually quite simple: person-to-person communication about someone or something. It can involve anything from computers to cars, movie stars to mobile phones. The basic building block of buzz is a comment. It can be transmitted through face-to-face or phone conversations, instant messaging, e-mail, blogs, or some other method of communication that someone is developing in his or her garage as you're reading this book. Some people use the word "buzz" to describe a spike in word of mouth--when something is talked about for a short period of time. In this book "buzz" refers to all the person-to-person communication--every thing that is communicated verbally and visually--among current, previous, or potential customers.

Some buzz randomly springs up among people as part of their social interactions, and I'll discuss this kind of small talk later in the book. But I'm more interested in buzz that is not random--buzz that is triggered by something that a company does.

In Amy Rathke's case, that trigger was a bus.


Bruce Palmer was never too happy with the way many potential students first encountered NOLS. As the director of admissions and marketing for NOLS, he always felt that a bunch of glossy brochures on top of a table don't do justice to the school, which is all about being active in the wilderness. The idea of a  road show percolated in his mind for a while. At one point he even started writing a plan involving a bus that would tour the country, spreading the word about the school. But that plan stayed on his hard drive, because it contradicted a fundamental value of the school--being environmentally responsible.

Then one day in 2003, two grads from a recent course, Lindsey Corbin and Logan Duran, visited NOLS headquarters in Lander, Wyoming, in an old school bus that had been converted to run on recycled vegetable oil. They were traveling from Middlebury College in Vermont to Conway, Washington, where they were going to drop off Thomas Hand, a friend from school, at his NOLS course. Their bus looked like a quintessential "hippie mobile," with a funky landscape scene painted on its exterior.

This wasn't exactly what Palmer had in mind, but as the students left, he and Brad Christensen, the school's Webmaster, looked at each other.

"You know, I think it would be kind of cool if we did something like that," Christensen said.

"Yeah. This was the only piece that was missing from my plan," Bruce Palmer replied.

The ideas started flowing. NOLS would get its own veggie bus, albeit one that looked a little more professional. It would have solar panels for electricity and a climbing wall on the side, and the crew who'd drive it would be trained to teach things like fly-fishing and wilderness medicine. Silk, the soy milk company, agreed to fund this project. Palmer and his team found a bus and tracked down someone who could convert it to run on recycled vegetable oil.

Soon the bus was on the road. The team called it Tootsie.

Running the bus requires constant scouting for vegetable oil. It's not hard to find used vegetable oil--almost any restaurant has it--but it is hard to find used vegetable oil that's good enough for Tootsie. Oil mixed with burger grease? Not so good. Oil with bacon juice? Sadly, no. Tootsie will only run on pure vegetable oil.

Seeking out this oil became a way of getting NOLS alumni talking. Alumni are notified before the bus visits their campus; sometimes they go along to find the oil and help filter it, a slimy and slippery job that always gives them something to tell friends back at the dorm: how the owner of this Chinese restaurant tried to talk them out of ruining a perfect engine, or how the entire staff of that restaurant came outside to take pictures. Back on campus, alumni often bring their friends to the bus to show them how it works--and to tell them about NOLS.

The bus's interior walls are decorated with a collage of alumni pictures. A photo of someone in climbing gear sticking the flag of Whitman College in the snow. Three young women in a boat and a scribbling in permanent pen: "Baja '03 La Tigrs." There are pictures of people in meadows and mountains, white rapids and calm waters, deserts and forests, all with their own codes and little inside jokes, telling a story that you may not get, but you can see by the facial expressions of those who do that it is incredible. There's something real about these pictures. They are not neatly framed. They look like what's on your friend's dorm wall.

Sometimes an alum finds his picture on the wall that was sent in by somebody else from his group. This always triggers some talk: "This was awesome. It's at base camp. We had the best lunch ever." And a story follows.

A man named Randy whom I met on the bus one day in upstate New York told me that back in 1984 he took some time off from college to do a spring semester in the Rockies with NOLS. He has fond memories of the school. Now, twenty-three years later, he brought his teenage daughter along to meet the NOLS folks. She's looking into taking a course too. Remarkably, Randy had been researching the possibility of getting a veggie-powered vehicle for about a year, and when he heard that NOLS had one, he felt yet another connection to the school and its goals.

NOLS grads really get into it. They put up posters all over campus. They go to nearby schools and talk to people. They send e-mails to groups that they belong to--the marching band or the chess club. On the day the bus arrives, grads don backcountry gear and huge backpacks, carry maps and compasses, and walk around campus to draw attention to themselves. They talk to people, hand out flyers, and chalk sidewalks pointing people to the bus.

Now back to Amy Rathke. Amy was too busy with classes and work on the day the bus visited Willamette to participate in any organized activities. She did stop by in the morning to say hi, though. And everywhere she went that day, she told people about the bus. "I was so excited to have the NOLS bus on campus," she remembers. Later that day, as she walked to the commons to get some food, Ashley Lewis, who worked on the bus, waved her to come over.

"Hey, hey!"

Amy went over to the bus.

"Everyone who came by today came by because they said you sent them," Ashley told Amy.

Tootsie triggers conversations. It reminds people of experiences they may have forgotten. Perhaps more important, the bus gives them an opportunity to talk about the school once again. It's not that Amy Rathke forgot about NOLS, but after she told all her friends about it, fewer and fewer occasions to talk about her experience presented themselves. Until Tootsie showed up.

Tootsie also turns heads on the street. One time a man who noticed the sign on the back of Tootsie announcing that it ran on vegetable oil followed the bus for one hundred miles on the way from Utah to Nevada because he had to know how. The bus, especially in its first couple of years, generated lots of media coverage too: eighty-five local TV news stories, twenty radio news stories, seventy-five newspaper stories, and features on CNN Radio, Fox TV, the Weather Channel, and CBS MarketWatch.

Is the bus the only way to generate buzz for NOLS? Of course not. About 80 percent of NOLS students hear about the school by word of mouth, which is largely fueled by students' experiences. But the bus starts conversations. Enrollment has been going up since Tootsie joined the marketing team, and Palmer believes that the bus has significantly increased the school's visibility, giving it further advantages when it comes to partnerships.

In the spring of 2007 in a parking lot in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tootsie encountered the grandfather of promotional vehicles, the Wienermobile. The excited bus crew posed next to the playful, hot-dog-shaped Oscar Mayer car.

The encounter reminds us that some aspects of word-of-mouth marketing are not new. The Wienermobile has been around since the 1930s and yet still garners excitement. Mollie Conway, who drove one in the 1980s, told American Demographics about people running up to the Wienermobile and kissing it. One lady chased it for a block and a half.

What would happen if every company had some touring vehicle? Let's hope this doesn't come to pass. My point is not that every company needs to have a veggie bus. It's an excellent example of the kind of initiative that triggers conversations and reminds people about your product, but it's certainly not the only one.

Bob Dylan

In the opening segment of Don't Look Back, a documentary about his 1965 UK tour, Bob Dylan stands in an alley in London, singing "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and dropping cue cards with key words from the song. When he drops the last card, he steps off-camera. Two people who were talking in the background throughout the song (poet Allen Ginsberg and singer-songwriter Bob Neuwirth) follow.

In 2007 Dylan made this clip available to the public. Anyone could type his or her own text on those cards and watch Dylan sing "Subterranean Homesick Blues" while dropping the cards with the new text. So instead of loaded words such as "basement," "pavement," "medicine," or "government," a fan can write something like "Hey, Mark! What's up? Remember the ten dollars you owe me? Cheers from Joe!" and Bob will drop those words as if they were his own. Following the ten cards filled out by the user, the last four cards advertised a new boxed set that was to be released on October 1, 2007.

If you're a Dylan fan and you see an ad on TV announcing a new boxed set, you'll make a mental note of it; it's even possible that you'll mention it to someone. But if you get a personalized video like this one from your friend Dave, it may prompt a different reaction. You always knew that you had a poem inside you, and wouldn't it be fun to write a few words yourself? (Surely it would be better than whatever Dave came up with.) Above all, it would look cool--all words look cool when the twenty-four-year-old Dylan throws them in the wind. Then you can e-mail them to a few friends from college, and to that girl from junior year. Wait, you'll write a special one for her . . . Over 250,000 customized messages were sent to friends, and these messages were viewed about 2.3 million times.

What makes this such a good trigger? A lot of things. First, the idea is brilliant: It lets Dylan fans personalize a classic. So is the execution. Consider the video's length, for example. The original is over two minutes long and includes sixty-four cue cards. This would have demanded a lot of the average person, so the creators cut it down to thirty seconds and ten cards. "It has to be easy," says Owen Matthews, of ten4design, the London-based company that created the viral video. "People don't want to spend ages putting something together." The best triggers are simple. All the work that went into this (the thirty-second video consists of about six hundred frames, and Matthews had to modify over four hundred of them manually) is invisible to the user, who simply types in a few words.

Not everyone liked it. Some people were simply opposed to any kind of viral marketing. Others were diehard Dylan fans who objected to the artist's involvement in such a blatant act of marketing. He'd already taken some heat for doing ads for Cadillac, Victoria's Secret, and other companies, but this video took things to a new level by allowing people to mess with the art itself. Someone told me it felt almost like Michelangelo encouraging people to climb up on the roof of the Sistine Chapel and stick their faces through holes where Adam's and God's faces had been.

But many others loved it. I sent this to a couple of friends who I knew were Dylan fans.

My cue cards asked them if they saw it and what they thought. One of them responded (through cards too): "Cool . . . Good to have Dylan to get us together . . ." Another one, the biggest Dylan fan that I know, wrote: "Oh, this is unbelievably cool!!!!!! Wow, I'm blown away. Thanks for sharing. It made my day."

She also said that she would be sending it out to friends. In other words, the trigger worked.

Built-in Trigger

In the last months of 1999 you could hardly go to a school in the United States without seeing some stamp-sized photos posted on binders, skateboards, and lockers. My daughter Maya, who was in high school at the time, had a picture stuck on her school binder of her friend Caitlin and herself. "Everyone had them all over their binders," Maya remembers.

In this case, visual buzz was critical. Those stickers served as visual comments that communicated a very specific message to kids about a new product called the i-Zone camera from Polaroid. In December 1999 the i-Zone became America's bestselling camera. Since then Polaroid has been swept away by a tsunami called digital photography, but our focus here is not on Polaroid's overall strategy but on how at a certain point in time it triggered buzz. In this respect, the i-Zone was a tremendous success, and not a coincidental one.

What triggered conversations among high school kids in this case were those stamp-sized photos. But in this case too, buzz didn't just happen by itself. It was the result of a series of design and marketing decisions. I'll focus here on just one. To understand the background for that decision we need to go back to 1997, a couple of years before the camera was released, to the busy streets of Tokyo.

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