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

Marketers have built an industry on understanding what customers want and how to share information about their products and services. What they've learned is that experience is still the best teacher. Understanding where that experience comes from is the key to successfully leveraging that experience and putting it to work for your products and services.

Simply put, there are basically two ways to get experience with a product or service: direct or indirect. Beck Ag Sr Partner Vernon Benes said, "You might think that direct experience trying the product for yourself is the best teacher. But direct experience is also the most costly in terms of time, money and the risk of failure. Also depending on the actual experience versus expectations this approach may be the most short-lived by the user."

Benes continued, "Indirect experience, or hearing about a peer's experience is often a more effective way to gain product or service experience for several reasons: someone else is footing the bill, spending the time and ultimately taking the risk. In addition, combining the experiences of a few people provides a broader sample. WOMM allows us to leverage the experience of a few and effectively share it with others."

Increasingly, consumers gain product experience through indirect experience of asking a friend or colleague.

Numerous studies verify that consumers increasingly turn to friends and colleagues for product help in making their buying decisions. The Word Of Mouth Association's CEO, Andy Sernovitz said, "We look at data from multiple research entities that show nine out of ten Americans say they are likely to use a product or service recommended by a friend."

Marketers recognize several forms of WOMM, but talking with others about the product, comparing experiences and helping each other sort it out is considered the most powerful. That's because it happens close to the point of maximum involvement, just when an individual is making their crucial try or no-try decision about the product.

Benes added, "This is the point in WOMM where customers are setting realistic expectations for the trial use of the product.

"Clear product/service expectations are crucial to customer's purchase decisions and to satisfaction," said Benes. He pointed out when a prospective user considers trial use of a product, they learn what to expect or not to expect from a product from a credible peer. If the product performs at or above this expectation the likelihood of repeat purchase and even increased usage of the product in future years is greatly enhanced.

Purdue University recently released a research study that evaluated four different WOMM initiatives. Purdue's Dr. Jay Akridge commented, "Our research showed that participants in WOMM programs purchased products at higher levels and maintained those volume increases over time."

The retention of volume increases suggests high satisfaction with the product experience. Beck Ag's Benes said, "The Purdue research strongly validates our belief that setting realistic expectations for the first use of a product results in faster and broader adoption over the long run."

Beck Ag CEO, John Finegan stated that WOMM marketing is both a science and an art. "We have the data to show how customers share product and service information. Where experience proves to be the best teacher, WOMM allows us to precisely and effectively leverage that customer experience. WOMM is 'art' when deftly applied with knowledge of the product, knowledge of the customer and understanding of how to lever the experience allowing us to get ahead of the product/service learning curve. That's powerful!"

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