The content of word-of-mouth communication for solar products -- once underway -- can be enhanced and mildly diverted by the solar supplier. But because it is essentially an underground communications medium, the content of word-of-mouth cannot be substantially changed or improved, once launched. Hence the need to be correct at the start, to assure that the power of word-of-mouth will not turn negative and then increasingly build negative perceptions.
The risk of negative word-of-mouth is always present, particularly for companies where products may be incomplete at introduction. Negative word-of-mouth is substantially stronger, and works substantially faster than positive word-ofmouth. Using a word-of-mouth based strategy for a new product that does not meet expectations will provide rapid and permanent failure.
For all of its difficulties and risks, word-of-mouth has one powerfully vital attribute: it provides a method for reinforcement that is substantially better than any other medium. There is substantial research on the learning process that says, in essence, that the identical message is only effective the first three times it is received. After three exposures, the recipient becomes saturated with the particular message and interest declines rapidly. It is this finding behind the use of changing messages in advertising, behind the campaign concept.
Word-of-mouth provides continually changing messages to maintain and even enhance learning. Word-of-mouth involves multiple sources (the people who talk about solar) with, by definition, multiple messages. People who are the sources of word-of-mouth customize the message to fit their circumstances and experience.
The value of this customization is that it avoids saturation by providing different messages about the same product, avoiding the saturation point of the same message, and stimulating and reinforcing continuing progress through the learning process. It is for this reason that word-of-mouth has such a powerful effect in quickly stimulating purchase behavior.
The infrastructure concept and infrastructure communications recognize this unique characteristic of word-of-mouth and are designed to keep different messages flowing.
Product introductions that recognize this stimulating word-of-mouth effect focus on effective, customized communications to different segments of the infrastructure primarily to assure that word-of-mouth reinforcement communications keep moving, keep evolving and keep on target. Such product introductions recognize the requirement for multiple messages to multiple segments, they understand and plan based on the infrastructure concept, for changing but consistent messages, and they appreciate the fact that word-of-mouth is outside the marketer's control.
In my next post, I'll talk about ways to measure the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing.
Word-of-Mouth Communications Part One