Word-of-Mouth Communication

The most likely way information about a solar product can be effectively communicated is through word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth has these advantages:

• The source is seen as credible, particularly in comparison with advertising since the source is a person known to the recipient. Ads are known to be created by the advertiser. Today, even editorial endorsements have the "taint" of being created by "public relations" tactics and therefore have less credibility than word-of-mouth communication.

• Word-of-mouth often deals with awareness, interest, the source's trial experience and product benefits all at the same time. This can move the recipient rapidly through the stages of purchase decision making and often even creating a reason for purchasing, all in one "exposure."

• It appears to have a more permanent effect than most other communications channels

As a result, second only to the task of creating intangibles for solar products and companies is the challenge of finding the most effective way to generate positive and relevant word-of-mouth.

But because word-of-mouth communication is out of the "senders" control, the requirements for developing essential messages, positions and reasons for purchasing is substantially different than it is for, say, advertising.

Advertising is as direct as standing across a small creek from the prospect, and signaling via messages of the advertiser's design, based on assumptions about the recipient's needs. Advertising is direct, controlled and immediate.

Word-of-mouth, on the other hand, is like swimming 40 miles underwater in a decaying swamp, with the mandate that the swim must be completed by a large group of other people under no control of the starting swimmer, via strokes that cannot be prescribed, and on a time schedule that cannot be forecast. And to add more reality to the metaphor, none of the swimmers can see each other.

With an advertising campaign, the marketer determines message, positioning and purchase reasons only weeks or at most months in advance. If a particular advertisement or campaign does not work, it can be pulled and redesigned.

With word-of-mouth communication, however, the initial positioning and messages once started through the word-of-mouth channel (swamp?) are completely outside the sender's control. They are also outside easy measurement. Consequently, they must be designed at the outset to survive the trials of time decay and the communications quality deterioration through a series of people who invariably have motives other than the marketer.

It is for this reason that the initial positioning and message development effort in a solar company is so critical: the risk of failure is so high, coupled with the need for a "hardened" yet buoyant position and set of messages that will work continually.

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