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This is the second in a series sponsored by Beck Ag on the latest about Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM).

When there's a million dollars on the line, the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" allows contestants to phone a friend or ask the audience.

After all, what do we do when we're pressed with questions, looking for answers? Ask a friend, get advice from others! When your product's on the line, your customers prove to behave in the same manner. They learn about products and services from experience, from advertising, and to a great and now measurable extent, from their peers.

New research recently released from Purdue University shows that effective word of mouth marketing (WOMM) programs create a marketplace "ripple effect" that drives a product message far beyond the initial target audience.

Successful WOMM can include a broad array of tactics all which exploit the fact that peers find their colleagues more credible and trust them more than companies when it comes to validating whether to try a product or not, or whether to use the product longer, differently or more broadly.

According to research studies completed by Purdue in 2001, and additional, more robust research endeavors in 2007, the benefits from WOMM strategies by no means end at the actual targeted participants. Purdue's research shows a strong ripple effect created from successful WOMM campaigns. This ripple effect is fueled by the actual WOMM program participants sharing their "learnings" with additional peers outside of the formal program setting.

According to Purdue's Dr. Jay Akridge, "Our research clearly shows that Beck Ag's WOMM programs reach far beyond the actual program participants. The Beck Ag program participants we talked with confirmed that there is a great deal of informal discussion generated about the featured offering occurring outside of the formal program setting. This should be good news to marketers who employ facilitated WOMM strategies."

So, how does the ripple effect impact the measurement of successful WOMM strategies? Beck Ag's Stephanie Liska explained, "Following a program, we know who we have reached and who has participated in a conference or a one-on-one call. We can (and do) follow up with participants to measure their post-program buying behaviors."

And experience is on Beck Ag's side as Liska explained, "Over the last ten years we've engaged over 500,000 ag professionals in our programs and the R.O.I. we've measured with program participants has been more than enough to bring our clients back year after year and continue using Beck Ag. The ripple effect is icing on our WOMM cake."

Another aspect of the WOMM ripple effect is the marketplace impact it has on performance expectations of the featured product, service or technology. The more that real-world experiences are discussed and shared throughout the marketplace, the more realistic the expectations are for performance.

Liska explained, "When an individual has the chance to learn from someone else's direct experience with a product, they go into a first time trial with realistic expectations. If the product performs up to these expectations they are more likely to increase use over the subsequent years."

Substantiating that experience, Purdue's Dr. Joan Fulton explained, "This WOMM Impact Study proved that the ripple effect was very powerful. People are more likely to share with their peers information and experiences about a product or service when they are adequately empowered with sound information."

WOMMA (The Word of Mouth Marketing Association) estimates that a negative experience with a product can stimulate the individual to share their experience and displeasure with several others and in recent years the Internet multiplies this effect.

As marketers, we all long to create that positive dialogue about our products and services among our customers. Now, armed with proof of the extension in reach offered through WOMM tactics, marketers can be assured of the ripple effect and its potential to advance their messages to their customers and their peers.

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