What will it take to move CMOs?

I hate the term WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING. Or WOMM as it is so lovingly called by those who cradle it’s potential in their arms like a baby.

I hate it.

Funny thing to admit since Brains on Fire was recently named by PQ Media as one of the top three WOM agencies in the nation. And it’s true, the genuine interest in this subject (growth is expected to more than triple in the next three years, making WOMM a $3.7 billion dollar industry) from CMO’s and CEO’s has created ‘foot in the door’ opportunities for us left and right with some pretty big, impressive and smart companies.

But here is another true confession of sorts. As a naming and identity company, we had and continue to have a pretty good ‘ok, let’s do business’ rate. Over half of anyone qualifying for our services (meaning they have the ability to pay us) choose to partner with us after hearing our process and our point of view. (We preach the Fascinate, Inspire, Reward, and Engage gospel and have incorporated Word of Mouth tools into our client’s identities for as long as I can recall.)

But here is the funny thing. When folks come in looking specifically for Word of Mouth strategies or services, our ‘let’s partner up’ rate sucks. We are thought leaders, speaking anytime a WOMM expert is needed from Michigan to JoBurg. We have done work I am chest swelling proud of for Fiskars Brands and Rage against the Haze (South Carolina’s teen anti-tobacco use movement ” currently an EFFIE finalist). And there’s a boatload of lessons that can be learned from these two amazing and quite successful cases studies.

But why are CMOs listening and then taking no action. Of the 30ish companies we have talked to in the last year, only 4 have actually engaged with us or someone else. The rest have done — well, nothing.

We never do pitch work. We philosophically believe we should be paid for the work we do. But we do prep for new business meetings by tapping into the online conversations that exist on the companies we meet. We just take what time we have before the meeting and let our internal curiosity team gather photos, stories and information online. It’s amazing what we gather that these smart companies have never ever laid eyes on. It’s out there folks! Just type in I love _______ (your company name). Or I hate _________(your company name).

Why? I think there is just too much confusion about WOMM. Is it something you create? Or stir up? Most folks wanting to talk to us seem to need clarification. We clearly state that we are not a product seeding WOM agency. We don’t have a people driven media channel to support our work.

Our unique point of view (and it has lead us to a position of thought leadership for a reason ” powerful results), is that there is not a magic bullet. There are no easy tactics. Viral videos, buzz strategies and even product seeding have a place, but they have fleeting impact.

Why are CMO’s confused or fearful when they hear talk of strategies to empower your customer’s passion to create growth? It’s hard work. It requires listening and inviting conversation. Opening the kimono to the realities of your company. The good and the bad.

It requires letting go of control. The Obama movement has no problem with passionate American’s creating ‘Why I love Obama’ videos. Why should a company care if it customers create art with your product or express their love in a song?

You can and should embrace and amplify your customer’s love. Believe me if you do, they will tell others.

And here is the part that is tied to our identity work ” if a company is willing to take a stand, the work is really a lot easier. If you are willing to state who you are and what you believe in, you will attract others who feel the same way. I believe that with all my heart and soul. Fiskars didn’t find folks out there who loved making scissors like they do. They connected with folks who were fanatically passionate about scrapbooking. Period. Then Fiskars simply helped them spread the scrapbooking love.

And do you think we found kids who were passionate about not smoking? No way. We found kids who were passionately trying to be heard in the world. And we simply armed them with knowledge and the tools to be heard.

Most CMO’s just want to look the other way when those magic (and sometimes fanatical) fan moments happen. Why? I just don’t get it. This new thing – loud and proud customers taking co-ownership of your success – is very real and can be ignited with energy and passion and tools to help them spread the word even faster and louder. Yep ” it is hard. But it is also really, really rewarding work.

I have pondered long and hard as we have talked to companies over the last 12 months, just who should we be talking to? PR Directors, product developers, CEO’s Or CMO’s with marketing budgets to back up movement building efforts? And here is where I net out: all of the above. It takes a company-wide belief that finding, embracing and loving the ones who love what you love will and can create amazing new opportunities for growth ” not just to the bottom line, but to the growth of the very soul of your company.

Amen. (I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

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