Word-of-mouth, for-the-win.

“This kind of thing is manna from heaven, but nobody knows how to do it on purpose. At least, I don’t.”

David Ogilvy

As Ogilvy noted, word-of-mouth is divine. It’s a moment when culture quiets, someone speaks, and ideas spread. At it’s best, word-of-mouth follows the rules of a dream. At it’s worst, word-of-mouth runs afoul.

Part-of-the-reason WOM wows is that it’s targeted. We think of Facebook as refined, but WOM is even better. Jonah Berger said in his Talk At Google: “If you don’t have a baby, no one is going to tell you about baby products. Word of mouth is like a searchlight that lurks through your social network to find the person that might be most interested in a particular product or idea.”

In his research for Contagious, Berger talks about the STEPPS to raise your batting average. There’s no guaranteed way to create a sensational idea, but there are things that make it a bit easier. 

For example, though Disney is a great brand, they could do better in the WOM game. They could follow the STEPPS for better WOM: social currency, triggered moments, emotion, public, practical value, and stories.

Berger’s book, in a sentence, might be, remind people to tell stories of helpful and meaningful things

This means Disney’s problem is this: “The problem with Walt Disney World is that we don’t go very often and there’s nothing in the environment to remind us that the product exists. When people come back they talk about it a lot but they don’t keep talking about it because there’s no trigger to remind them of the product.”

A great WOM product was the Zestimate. This Zillow feature arrived after Bill Gurley challenged the team: market without a budget. That challenge, co-founder Rich Barton said, “lit the creative juices of the team.”

When Zillow.com launched, the site crashed. People had to know. People told their friends. Barton hoped for this, “We figured it was so practical, and also voyeuristic, that word of mouth would carry it for a while.”

According to Berger’s STEPPS program, the Zestimate was great. It provided social currency in an era when new websites were cool. It was attached to an emotion, the largest asset for many people. It was public data and it offered a practical value

According to Zillow Talk, the Zestimate’s accuracy was 14% at launch. In 2019 it was within 1%. Barton would go on to use the same contagious ideas when he founded Glassdoor. 

When Walt Disney started to build his theme parks, he told the Imagineers that they had to include a Weenie. These were landmarks people could use to orient themselves. Move forward fifty years and that Weenie-spot is now a selfie-spot. Create someone where people can take a picture. That’s something worth talking about. 

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