Marketing in business schools has changed greatly since I joined the Stanford Engineering school faculty, and in universities continues to differentiate itself from sales. This is less true outside of schools, and in fact looking at the dictionary in the Dashboard on my Apple (clearly a business) computer I see that it is defined as “the action or business of promoting and selling products and services, including market research and advertising”. Not much differentiation there. The marketing professors I know and have worked with have been wonderful people, but the continuum above continues to contain people who still use classic tricks to sell people low quality products they don’t need.
Certainly marketing continues to become more sophisticated and now embraces quantitative methods as well as the best that psychology has to offer. I am all for it when it matches people with products that fill their needs and help their growth. I am less for it when it causes stores I enter to push opportunities to join their club so I can acquire points toward certificates that qualify me for discounts on things I don’t want, when people place ads on my computer screen that become increasingly difficult to make go away, or when they place large signs beside the road in beautiful scenery.
But this book is about spreading the word on almost anything—a vital and increasingly difficult task, as more information seems to clog up communication channels. The author feels that the most efficient way to get people’s attention about a product or service (and I think almost anything else) is through word of mouth, since a certainly credibility is attached, as opposed to communication from the producer, who obviously is going to say the product is wonderful. In addition he quotes impressive numbers to show that we rely heavily on word of mouth in our decisions. I must admit I also like the book because he points out that studies have shown that only 7% of communications on such things as products and services come from the internet—no born- again internet hawk here. Word of mouth is clearly a powerful marketing force, as it comes from people one has some reason to trust who are simply commenting on their own experience. But how to get this powerful word of mouth to happen?
The book discusses six factors which Berger claims causes it to spread rapidly and consistently over time. These are social currency (is it “in?), triggers (are you reminded of it over time?) emotion (does it arouse you?), public (are you aware of it?) practicality (is it useful?) and finally stories (can it be put in various contexts that are memorable?} He has great arguments and stories about each. And they are in general consistent with product quality, although in keeping with the present interest in illogical actions, he also treats common trickery that works, like special offers with time limits, and meaningless “normal” prices.
One of my all-time favorite books is “influence”, by Robert Cialdini (Harper Business, 2008), which discusses a number of common methods of influencing people, even so far as getting them to do things they might not think they want to. It is fun to read, because one realizes that one is often a victim of such methods. Berger’s book is similar, but in a very positive way, in that it lists effective and believable approaches that obviously work to spread the word on good things.