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Summer sports are here, and whether you're a little leaguer or a consummate professional, to perfect the craft, the fundamentals must be solid. The same principles hold true in marketing. Marketing fundamentals sustain and support us in our efforts to reach the masses with information on our products and services. But as in those favorite summer sports, it's the strategic implementation, based on solid fundamentals, that achieve victories!

Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is one such strategy that relies on the fundamentals, while allowing marketers to market with their customers. It's a team sport where the customers become advocates to advance marketing messages effectively and repetitively.

A positive customer experience can generate valuable momentum in a marketing mix. At the National Agri Marketing conference in Dallas, TX, this past April, a panel of seasoned executive marketing professionals from both inside and outside agriculture talked about the rich opportunities WOMM provides. They were quick to point out that WOMM extends beyond traditional marketing 'buzz.' But they note that WOMM creates a significant, long-term brand building experience.

Accurate measurement of the impact of word of mouth marketing is accomplished by measuring results, not actions, according to Julian Aldridge, President of Ammo Marketing, headquartered in San Francisco, CA. "It's not about how much talking is generated about a brand, but how much impact it has. It's about reaching the right influencers with the right messages in such an experience that they want to tell their friends, and their friend's friends."

According to Purdue University Agri-marketing Professor, Dr. Joan Fulton, "People want to talk about their experiences with products and services. This is an age-old and proven method of communication. The myth is that the results of those conversations are out of our hands. The reality is that a managed WOMM initiative can have a significant positive impact on our bottom lines."

Driving their deployment of WOMM are long-term measurable results that accelerate sales and create positive experience-based interactions for customers — enabling marketers to drive and enhance long-term relationships with customers.

New research from Purdue University further establishes proof and measurement of the value and impact gained through WOMM.

"We undertook a significant study involving four product categories at various stages of their product lifecycles; mature, launch, mature-reposition, and growth," said Fulton. "In more than 700 telephone interviews, researchers examined initiatives between 18- and 30- months post-initiative on a U.S. crop expendable input, Canadian crop expendable input, livestock expendable input, and a companion animal product."

Purdue Agricultural Economist, Dr. Jay Akridge, part of the Purdue research team, explained that one of the research objectives was to gain a better understanding of the ways customer experience marketing strategies affect buyer behavior.

"We collected data that allowed us to compare initiative participants against a control group. Control group members were not involved in the initiative in any way, but had similar demographics to participants. With more than 700 interviews conducted, we collected a very rich set of data," said Akridge.

A comprehensive, graduated set of impact measures were explored: Recall of initiative; Rating of initiative experience; Actions taken after initiative; Product adoption/use or recommendations for product adoption/use; Retention of volume over time; Manufacturer advertising message recall; and Information sharing (ripple).

"Key to the findings were the impressive numbers on the long-term, effective value of the sales impact of word of mouth marketing," said Fulton. Acceleration of product adoption occurred within the first year following the WOMM initiative and continued to follow beyond year one.

"We noted sales impact in each case," said Fulton. "The research results showed sales impact occurring for products at each phase of the marketing lifecycle."

According to Dave Rylander, Director of U.S. traits for Monsanto, understanding sales impact numbers is fundamental to Monsanto's marketing strategies.

"We look at the bottom line results of our marketing efforts," Rylander said. "We're finding long-term effectiveness with WOMM. Sometimes we use it to build awareness. Often, we have more technical information to share such as the introduction of a biotech trait. In that case, the understanding we can facilitate through a word of mouth program really enhances our efforts to educate and empower customers/advocates to share information with their peers."

Enhancing Advertising Effectiveness
While recall of product advertising was high among both participants and the control group, specific recall of key manufacturer messages was much higher in each case among WOMM participants.

"That's a critical distinction and one that marketers work to achieve," Akridge said. "Beyond just recalling the ad, customers who had participated in a WOMM initiative expressly recalled specific marketing messages about the product."

According to Akridge, the momentum gained through a WOMM initiative continues beyond the initiative itself. "Clearly, the research results show that WOMM increases the target audience's recall of specific product benefits and it amplifies other advertising/promotional media efforts."

Fulton agreed with discussions generated by the NAMA panel in Dallas where it was pointed out by several participants that advertising combined with a word of mouth marketing strategy far outweigh the opportunities presented by either alone.

"The fundamentals hold true and must be solid no matter what type of marketing you have under way. When have a tool that can help us effectively, measurably, and strategically enhance our bottom line outcomes such as WOMM, we can hit a home run," said Fulton.

Precision Selling: Building Relationships with Large Farmers

July 10-11, 2007

National Conference for Agribusiness
November 13-14, 2007

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