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The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Trigger Exponential Sales through Runaway Word of Mouth

The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Trigger Exponential Sales through Runaway Word of Mouth

by George Silverman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814470725
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 05/28/2001
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 6.03(w) x 9.01(h) x 0.83(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

George Silverman (Orangeburg, NY) is founder and president of Market Navigation, Inc., a marketing consulting firm, and an acknowledged expert on word-of-mouth marketing.

Read an Excerpt

The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By George Silverman


Copyright © 2001 George Silverman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-7072-6

Chapter One

Dominating Your Market by Shortening the Customer Decision Cycle

Let's start from the beginning. What are we trying to do as marketers?

Put simply, we are trying-through a variety of means-to get lots of people to buy our products-repeatedly, in large quantities and at rewarding prices. We are trying to bring our products to people in the most profitable manner possible, both for our customers and ourselves.

How do we accomplish this? It's widely believed that there are only three ways to increase sales: increase the number of customers, increase the dollar amount each customer spends per purchase (higher prices and/or larger orders), or increase the frequency with which the customer buys. Ask virtually any marketing expert, consult the marketing books, and they will all tell you that this exhausts the possibilities.

But the most important way of increasing sales and dominating a market has never, to my knowledge, ever been written about: Increase the speed with which decisions are made. You heard it here first. Let's take a look at this concept in detail, because decision acceleration is the most powerful way to dominate a market, and word of mouth is the most powerful way to accelerate decisions.

Amazingly, marketing success is determined more by the time it takes your customers to decide on your product than by any other single factor. Decision speed is more powerful than positioning, image, value, customer satisfaction, guarantees, or even product superiority, because focusing on it forces you to organize these factors, and many more, into the most potent combination possible.

Why Decision Speed Determines Product Success

Decision speed is the time it takes your customers to go from initial awareness to enthusiastic full use and recommendation of your product or service. This in turn is governed by the simplicity, ease, and sometimes the fun of the decision process.

Obviously, the company that makes its products easier to decide on will acquire customers faster and increase market share faster. But increased decision speed causes much larger changes in market share than might be obvious. In fact, it's the key to dominating your market.

Accelerated decisions are in a different class from other marketing program adjustments. While most marketing changes-at best-provide incremental market share increases (typically 10 to 30 percent), faster decision cycles can improve market share by orders of magnitude (10 to 100 times).

Why Speed Equals Multiplied Sales

Suppose there are five similar products competing in a new category. All things being equal, they will each eventually capture a 20 percent market share. Say the decision cycle time for these products is about one year.

Now suppose that you are competitor #1, and you find a way to make several of the time- consuming steps in that decision cycle easier for your prospects, cutting the decision time in half. What happens to your and the other competitors' market share?

Obviously, if your product achieves its expected one-year market share in six months, it will have effectively doubled the market window of opportunity, giving you the time and resources to capture another 20 percent market share in the remaining six months. This would give your product a 40 percent share at year's end, with the four other competitors sharing the remainder, at 15 percent each.

But even that triumph is not the whole story. It leaves out the powerful effect of word of mouth and assumes each prospect makes a solitary decision. When you increase the decision speed for your prospects by 100 percent, you not only get customers sooner, you turn those customers into zealous advocates for your product before the competitors have a similar opportunity. Why would your user endorsements be any better than those from competitors? First because they are available sooner, but second, and more important, your endorsements will be supported by the targeted, persuasive information you selected and provided to shorten the decision cycle in the first place!

With this kind of decision support, the first marketing months can generate such evangelism among early adopters that a 40 percent market share could be too conservative a goal. A more likely outcome could be a 60 percent to 80 percent market share for your product, a 10 percent share for product #2, with the others splitting the remainder. This isn't pie in the sky. Most marketers will recognize that this is the pattern for many products.

How Decision Time Can Be Cut in Half

Can you really cut the decision time in half? Isn't that unrealistic? Yes. My experience has shown that this is too conservative. Usually, you can cut decision time by way more than half when you precisely map the customers' decision processes, reduce decision friction, and remove the bottlenecks by concentrating on the communications that will really move people to action.

Here follow some examples, but keep in mind that people who have used decision acceleration and word-of-mouth campaigns are understandably secretive about them. Word of mouth-especially intentionally caused word of mouth-is an amazingly powerful secret weapon that people want to keep secret. In fact, the very fact that people might think that certain information delivered by word of mouth was "planted" would destroy its credibility. So, I have to disguise many of the examples in this book. Some examples are simply unidentified, others are changed in detail but not in principle, and others still are amalgams of several different programs.


People were holding back from using a major new drug because they were worried about the dangers of its use. It turned out that these dangers were well founded. The product had actually killed nine people. We got users of the product as well as experts, who had been using the premarket version and the marketed version, to talk about its safety, but also its potential danger if not used properly. People stopped waiting for the other person to use it and jumped to get its benefits immediately. It turned out that it was easy to use safely with certain precautions, and sales skyrocketed (more than 700 percent).


In another case, an industrial machine's prices were more than 30 percent higher than the competition, but the overall costs were much lower because it had fewer and cheaper repairs, was supported by expensive training, and the company did not oversell more or fancier equipment than the customer needed. But people could not justify it to their bosses. Some did not know how to even begin to justify it. Others were waiting until they could get around to "doing a study." This wait turned out to be years in duration. The company turned years into weeks by getting some of its most enthusiastic customers to make their studies public and serve as references. They even prepared a slide show template and sample spreadsheets that their prospects could modify to present to their bosses.

Choosing a product is not a single decision; it's a series of decisions, often an extended series. Some choices along the way can be fast and easy to make, but many require time, attention, and effort in gathering and verifying information, weighing options, testing and evaluating results, and persuading others. I call this time, attention, and effort "decision friction." The process of deciding is slowed by each of these time-consuming bottlenecks and friction points.

If you can identify and minimize just a few of those decision bottlenecks for your customers, you can reduce their decision time by more than half, thereby multiplying the sales and market share of your product or service. In my thirty-plus years as a marketing consultant, I've seen it happen for products and services of every description, whether the decision cycle for the product was measured in years, months, weeks, days, or minutes.


A complicated piece of machinery required extensive research to buy, usually taking about six months. It then needed to be compared to the alternatives, which also took months. Then it had to be tried, which took about a year. Then it had to be rolled out gradually, with training. Another year. The whole thing was compressed into about eight weeks by holding a seminar/training program, then following it up by audio teleconferences. The decision makers were given the material that would have taken them months to find, shown how to evaluate it, given extensive (and flattering) competitive materials, and encouraged to try one against the other-all in a carefully structured trial that kept several prospects in touch with each other and with customers, with a hotline to third-party experts. This word of mouth, applied to several critical bottlenecks in the decision process, cut the decision time by multiples, while at the same time showing that the company had nothing to hide.

The Secret to Shortening the Customer's Decision Cycle

Shorten the decision cycle by making the decisions easier for the prospect, by focusing on their particular decision roadblocks, bottlenecks, friction points, and rough spots. It's this ridiculously simple marketing idea that's at the root of my entire approach to marketing. It's one of those ideas that is simple, obvious, compelling, and almost totally ignored, both in theory and practice. Decision acceleration is not written about by marketing gurus, and it is not thought about by product managers formulating product strategy. It will turn into your secret weapon. This is probably the most important paragraph in this book and I hope to publish a book on it as well.

Decision Acceleration System

To make the decision easier, think of your sales people, product materials, presentations, seminars, press releases, hot lines-in fact, every aspect of your marketing program-not as sales communications, but as a Decision Acceleration System for your customers and prospects. To turn your marketing into a Decision Acceleration System, make the product:

Benefits, claims, and promises obvious and compelling

Information clear, balanced, and credible

Comparisons reveal meaningful differences

Trial easy

Evaluations crystal clear and simple

Guarantees ironclad and generous

Testimonials and other word-of-mouth marketing relevant and believable

Delivery, training, and support superior

When customers have information that makes a decision easy, they make it quickly. When a company makes it easy for me to decide on their product, not only do I buy the product, I also feel gratitude and a sense of loyalty to the company that gave me the easy choice. Full, balanced information about a product or service-including clear product comparisons, guarantees, and a commitment to support, all provided in the right sequence-enhances the value of the product and gives it a competitive advantage. Stated another way, the product with the better decision-support system often has the competitive edge, even if the product itself is not superior.

This isn't just theory. It is a fact of life for every product or service, whether it's a simple consumer packaged goods product or the most complex medical, industrial, financial, or agricultural device or service. If you make the decision easier, more prospects can select your product more quickly and with greater confidence, and overwhelming market dominance is often the result. Not just market share increases of 10 percent, 25 percent, or even 50 percent, but 10, 25, or 50 times the expected market share. For the very few who have discovered it, it's the best-kept secret weapon in marketing.

Sometimes a product comes along that is so obviously superior that it seems to "sell itself." (Even then you could say that it sold itself because the decision was so easy.) But most buying decisions take time and effort. If the information provided by the seller is inadequate, we must go searching on our own to make up the deficits. At best, the days, weeks, or months lost by those delays cause confusion (a form of decision friction) and thereby slow the product's growth, making it share the market with all the competitors. Your advantages get lost in the shuffle. These decision points accumulate, causing prospects to drop out of the decision cycle, and spell disaster for the product's success.

The Decision Is Much Too Important to Leave to the Customer

You need to structure the decision process for customers, and guide them through the twists and turns. Without active guidance, they will falter and flounder, and drown in a sea of information.

The Most Important Passage in This Book

Shorten the decision cycle by making the decisions easier for the prospect, by focusing on their particular decision roadblocks, bottlenecks, friction points, and rough spots. It's this ridiculously simple marketing idea that's at the root of my entire approach to marketing. It's one of those ideas that is simple, obvious, compelling, and almost totally ignored, both in theory and practice. Decision acceleration is not written about by marketing gurus, and it is not thought about by product managers formulating product strategy. It will turn into your secret weapon.

The marketer can make the decision road a superhighway or a neglected, pothole-strewn byway. If the road smoothes the way for prospects, the speed limit goes up and there can be enormous market-share gains. This makes decision acceleration the most critical element on the road to market success.

How Do You Do This?

Go to some of the better Web sites, like some of the Microsoft small business sites. These Web sites are not only giving information, they are guiding people through the decision. This means that they have different tracks for beginners and sophisticated people, they use comparison charts and rating sheets, and they make the information easy to understand and to lay out for comparisons. They are models of simplicity and relevance. They have case studies and genuinely useful information from customers. They have discussion groups, toll-free numbers to get questions answered, ways to download trial software, application examples and help, and examples from industries like yours. Yet, they appear simple to the customer. Most other sites overwhelm you with a tidal wave of information, presented from their point of view, not from the struggling customers' perspectives. There are no signposts, no organizational help, no simplicity.

Why Is Decision Acceleration So Important?

Decision acceleration is the most important breakthrough in marketing. For the purpose of this book, it is important that you understand at least the basic concept of decision acceleration, because what overwhelmingly has the greatest effect on accelerating customer decisions is word of mouth.


Excerpted from The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by George Silverman Copyright © 2001 by George Silverman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

"1. The Copernican Revolution in Marketing

2. How to Dominate Your Market: Shorten the Customer Decision Cycle

3. We Must Understand Word of Mouth to Harness Its Power

4. Levels of Word of Mouth

5. Word of Mouth at Work in the Real World of Business

6. The Six-Step Process for Harnessing Word of Mouth

7. Use Word of Mouth to Speed the Decision Process

8. How Word of Mouth Works in Different Parts of the Adoption Cycle

9. The Decision Matrix

10. Whose Words Have the Most Weight, and How to Deliver the Message

11. Champions

12. Why Conventional Promotional Media Lose Effectiveness

13. Viral Marketing: How to Spread Ideas Like the Plague

14. What Do People Talk About?

15. How to Research Word of Mouth

16. What You Need in Order to Construct a Word-of-Mouth Campaign

17. Word of Mouth, the "Tried and True" Way

18. Irving Silverman's Rules of Marketing

19. Specific Steps to Creating a Word-of-Mouth Campaign

20. How to Launch a Word-of-Mouth Campaign with High-Ticket, Business-to-Business, and Professional Products

21. Which Word-of-Mouth Methods Work Best?

22. Applying What You Have Learned

23. How to Build Your Practice Through Word of Mouth

24. The Word-of-Mouth Toolkit

25. Word of Mouth on the Internet

26. 27+ Ways of Harnessing Word of Mouth

27. Practical Tips and Suggestions for Using Word-of-Mouth Media

28. How to Spur the Stampede

29. Internal Word of Mouth

30. How to Conduct Employee Research

31. What Tom Peters Says About Word of Mouth"

What People are Saying About This

Seth Godin

The secret to marketing success is no secret at all: Word of Mouth is all that matters. In this thorough, useful book, Silverman tells you what matters. Buy it now...before your competition does.
—(Seth Godin, author, Unleashing the Ideavirus)

Alan Weiss

A fabulous road map to highly effective, very inexpensive marketing. This book is word of mouth raised to an art form, and it's presented so that the techniques can be used immediately. A well-written book by a well-versed expert.
—(Alan Weiss, Ph.D., author, The Ultimate Consultant)

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