Branding Expert Offers Five Tips to Protect Your Brand Integrity with Word of Mouth Marketing

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Word of mouth marketing dollars exceed traditional advertising for many brand giants such as Staples and Jim Beam. Sandra Sellani, branding expert and author of the recently released "What's Your BQ? Learn How 35 Companies Add Customers, Subtract Competitors, and Multiply Profits with Brand Quotient," ( offers five tips to protect a company's brand integrity and capitalize on a word of mouth marketing campaign.

Brand giants such as Staples and Jim Beam are allocating more and more advertising dollars to word of mouth marketing. In a recent article in Advertising Age, Beam Global Wine & Spirits, owner of the Jim Beam brand, says it has "refocused its $100 million budget toward a singular goal: drive word of mouth." Yet how does a company like Jim Beam control the message and protect its brand integrity when it is at the mercy of bloggers, buzz and customer reviews?

"Word of mouth marketing has become a powerful tool today as many consumers have lost trust in traditional advertising," says Sandra Sellani, branding expert and author of the recently released "What's Your BQ? Learn How 35 Companies Add Customers, Subtract Competitors, and Multiply Profits with Brand Quotient" (ISBN: 0-8329-5002-5, W Business Books, U.S. $24.95, "Today, consumers are inundated with banner ads, billboards, and pop-ups; and are more inclined to listen to their friends and peers. They're also relying on the power of the internet to get information on products and word of mouth from social networks to determine if a company's products truly deliver on their brand promise.

"But it's a double edged sword," adds Sellani. "Word of mouth can put a company completely over the top, or it can plunge sales and revenues into a tailspin."

Take for example the recent Apple debacle with its price cut of the iPhone, which could cost them up to $100 million. The price cut sent thousands into the store to buy an iPhone, but at the expense of the brand loyalty Apple has built up over the years. And word of mouth dissed the brand faster than a wildfire. Within hours of the price announcement, Business 2.0 editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt wrote on his Apple 2.0 blog, "it has sparked an outright rebellion in the Apple support forums, where discussion threads filled with hate mail are piling up faster than Apple can delete them."

Whether a company spends billions of dollars on a formal word of mouth campaign, or whether they leave it up to their customers to spread the word, these days all businesses must pay attention to how bloggers, social networks and the word on the street portray their brand. Sellani offers five tips for protecting a company's brand integrity while making the most of word of mouth marketing:

1) Before you launch a word of mouth campaign, make sure you are ready to deliver on your promises. Anticipate any potential downsides, and don't provide any fodder for negative reactions. Inform everyone in the company about the campaign, message and anticipated response. Help prepare staff for all scenarios. If your internal people aren't prepared, the best product launch can be a disaster. Also, make sure the product is ready for primetime - is it really free of errors, flaws and problems? If not, are you ready to deal with the consequences?

2) Continuously monitor what people are saying in various media, including web sites, blogs, and online customer reviews. You can do this internally or by hiring an external organization to keep track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of target media outlets. Brand exists only in the mind of the consumer. You will never know if your intended message is the perceived message unless you monitor consumer and media responses.

3) If you start to see a trend of negative comments, nip it in the bud. If it appears in a blog, address it at the blog level, acknowledge it, try to fix it or it change it. Shortly after the iPhone brand issue, Apple CEO Steve Jobs sent an open letter to iPhone owners offering early purchasers of the product a $100 credit at any of its stores.

4) Create a community that gives people an opportunity to talk. Use events to generate positive word of mouth. This is exactly what Apple did when they first made the iPhone available in stores. Thousands of Apple devotees stood in line all over the country for hours and talked of nothing else but the iPhone. Apple's brand presence soared during that period - and even generated unprecedented excitement among consumers who previously weren't Apple fans.

5) Create opportunities to observe people using your product and how it fits into their daily personal or business life. For example, eBay has begun a "Hidden in Plain Sight" type campaign which is based on a book of the same title by Erich Joachimsthaler. The book outlines a model on how to become an unbiased observer of people's consumption and usage behaviors, and offers a new approach to identifying and executing a company's growth strategy. eBay, for example, is going into users' homes and observing how they use their product on a daily basis.

"With celebrity and athlete scandals, product recalls and increased media scrutiny, a company's brand isn't something that can be taken for granted, especially when word of mouth has become incredibly powerful. Add in the fact that 80 percent of new brands will fail upon introduction and another 10 percent fail within five years, knowing your brand quotient is now more important than ever," concludes Sellani.

"What's Your BQ? Learn How 35 Companies Add Customers, Subtract Competitors, and Multiply Profits with Brand Quotient" is available at, or it can be ordered through most major book sellers.

About The Author

Author Sandra Sellani can help companies determine their brand quotient (BQ) at The 15-minute BQ quiz, which covers strategy, alignment, communication, and execution, helps companies determine areas of brand strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. In her book, the author highlights 35 companies with remarkable brand quotients. These companies have built winning brands - sometimes against all odds - and left indelible impressions in the minds of their customers and prospects, contributing to their bottom lines and making them successful and profitable businesses. Readers of What's Your BQ? will learn from their examples, be inspired by their strategies, and be able to build their own inimitable brands.


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