New study reveals the state of word-of-mouth marketing

This month, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) published the results of a study revealing the state of word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) in 2014. House Party Director of Research & Analytics David Smith led the project, which surveyed over 300 marketers across a variety of industries, including food and CPG, technology and automotive. Here, we chat with him about what the study’s results mean for marketers.

1. How did this study come about? Why was it important to do this now?

As an industry, it’s extremely important to come together regularly to compare current strategies and tools, identify areas of growth and opportunity and determine impediments to securing larger budgets. This survey did all of that, and it laid the proper groundwork so that future industry benchmarking can take place every few years. Nothing like this — taking a full look at online and offline word of mouth — has been done before.

2. What are some of the key results of the study? How do marketers view word of mouth right now?

First of all, the industry is clearly poised for growth. 70% of respondents expect budgets for online WOMM/social media marketing to grow, and 29% expect the same for offline WOMM. (Far fewer expected growth for traditional tactics like TV, print and product sampling.)

We also gleaned some key insights around current objectives of WOMM programs and obstacles to pursuing broader WOMM strategies. Not surprisingly, most marketers use WOMM to drive brand awareness and increase engagement; only 43% of marketers listed “direct sales” as a major objective of their WOMM campaigns. This is probably a result of what marketers cited as their biggest obstacle to pursuing more WOMM programs: an inability to quantify the results. More than 80% listed measurement difficulties as an obstacle to pursuing a WOMM strategy, and it seems that if marketers were better able to measure a sales impact, they’d feel more comfortable listing that as an objective.

3. Did you see any surprising results?

Marketers have a lot to learn when it comes to WOMM, as they admit; very few companies consider themselves above average when it comes to their WOMM efforts. Even among those companies self-identified as “innovative,” only 40% rank themselves as above average when it comes to WOMM.

There’s also room for improvement in marketers’ satisfaction with the WOMM tools and tactics available today. Though most marketers were satisfied, the majority were only “somewhat,” rather than “very,” satisfied.

4. What predictions do you have for WOMM going forward?

Measurement, measurement, measurement. As I mentioned before, proof of performance is going to be extremely crucial to this industry getting a bigger share of marketing budgets. There’s already plenty of data available to calculate the ROI of WOMM programs, and as pressure to justify all budgets continues to rise, marketers will become more aware of how to access and utilize this data properly in measuring their WOMM campaigns.

WOMMA is currently conducting a landmark study on ROI and proof of performance, with results to be unveiled at this November’s WOMMA Summit. This research — utilizing market mix modeling — will likely strengthen measurement’s place at the forefront of industry conversations going into 2015 and further justify the role of WOMM in the overall marketing mix.