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This is the first in a series of articles sponsored by Beck Ag highlighting the latest results of new research focused on Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM).

"That's what I'm talking about!"

The excitement, impact and momentum of Word of Mouth Marketing has spread through marketing and sales channels in a wide variety of industries, from cars to bars, from charms to farms, and beyond.

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) formed in 2005 and at last count, boasts 391 members. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), AdAge, AMA's Marketing Matters, Fast Company, BusinessWeek and a host of sources invaluable to marketers all are covering the steady advancement of WOMM.

To capitalize on this trend in marketing, venture capital dollars are flowing to companies with WOMM expertise. Agriculture is no exception to industries experiencing the benefits of planned, strategically focused word of mouth initiatives. As companies try to transform their brand communication from a monologue to a dialogue, word of mouth strategies are becoming an even greater part of the marketing mix.

Interest is high in WOMM, but marketers are a savvy (OK, skeptical) lot. They require proof to determine effectiveness of these marketing strategies. In our industry, we have such proof. In 2002, well ahead of the curve, Purdue University dedicated the necessary resources to evaluate the effectiveness of WOMM. They designed a study to look at some specific WOMM programs that Beck Ag had produced a few years prior for their ag industry clients.

The in-depth study validated the significant return on investment generated from participation in the Beck Ag WOMM programs. Beyond the dollar returns, researchers were impressed by the fact that grower and veterinarian participants had a very high recall and favorable impression of the WOMM programs even two to three years after their participation.

In addition, the number of Beck Ag program participants who indicated they actually shared information with other peers was very high. It was clear that the word of mouth buzz went well beyond the actual program participants. The ripple that was created helped to produce an even greater return on the initial marketing dollars invested.

To update and expand the research begun in 2002, this year, Purdue is again evaluating the effectiveness of WOMM. According to Purdue's Dr. Jay Akridge, "This new study takes a much deeper look at the impact of WOMM. We take a deep look at participants' experience with WOMM initiatives, the actions taken as a result of the initiative (including further discussions with other peers in the target audience), and how the initiative affects other marketing and promotional activities."

He added that at this point in the analysis, "We see both increased product adoption by the participant and a strong enhancement of the relationship between the marketer and the customer."

Akridge reports that details of this WOMM research will be shared with National Agri-Marketing Association participants at the national convention in Dallas, TX, next month.

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