Book Review: Word Of Mouth Marketing

The first thing that Andy Sernovitz, the author of Word Of Mouth Marketing, wants me to tell you is that he sent me his book and asked me to post a review of it online (very tastefully and tactfully, btw). You see, Andy advocates that anyone (or firm) looking for word of mouth marketing should be transparent about who they ask for referrals.

The first thing that I want to tell Andy is that I’m sorry.

Sorry, first, for taking so long to write this review. He sent me the book months ago, and I read it months ago. I’ve just been too lazy to sit down and write the review.

Sorry, second, for not following instructions. Andy asked that I post the review on Amazon, but that’s obviously not what I’m doing.

And sorry, third, for not writing the glowing review that I’m sure that Andy would want (and, as the author of a book myself, what I would want, too).

I do have some critiques I want to level against the book, but first the positives.

Above all, Word Of Mouth Marketing is a very well written book. It’s no minor feat to write a business book that reads as smoothly and as a fast as a novel. It took me four train rides (two into Boston, two out of Boston) to finish the book. Considering that so many business books are poorly written (full of redundant, buzzword-laden sections), this book is a welcome respite.

And please don’t let my foreshadowing of criticism diminish the fact that there a ton of tips for word of mouth marketing tactics that readers will take away from the book.

If they work in  a very small firm, that is.

But I don’t think this book will be particularly helpful to marketers in medium to large organizations. Which would be OK if the book clearly stated that it was intended for marketers in small businesses. But it doesn’t, and in fact, uses big firm examples like Southwest Airlines (which, ironically, is what I’m flying on as I write this).

My criticism of the book centers around two points: 1) over-attribution, and 2) under-integration.

Word Of Mouth Marketing — like, unfortunately, too many other marketing books — suffers from a case of over-attribution: Attributing business results to word of mouth marketing without acknowledging the contribution of other marketing investments.

The references to Southwest Airlines are an example of this. Andy bashes mass media advertising (which seems to be obligatory in today’s marketing books) as being increasingly irrelevant and ineffective. Yet, Southwest Airlines — which is held out as the benefactor of great word of mouth marketing — invests heavily in TV advertising.

And quite effectively, I would bet. It’s series of ads making fun of how other airlines nickel and dime you death is pretty memorable to at least this writer.

In addition, there’s little mention that, of all the airlines, no one has a better on-time record than Southwest Airlines. Do I — and millions of other people — know this from word of mouth? Or from personal experience? And from advertising?

The second issue I had with the book concerned under-integration.

The reality of being a marketer is that, regardless of whether or not mass media advertising is as effective as it once was, few firms will stop advertising in those channels (and, in fact, all non-WOM channels in general).

Marketers in medium to large firms (and perhaps small ones too) need to know, at a minimum: 1) How much should we be spending on WOM relative to what we spend on other channels, and 2) How do we integrate WOM with other marketing tactics?

Maybe I’m being unrealistic in my expectations. But the book promises to talk about the art and science of WOM. All I saw was art. (A search of the Social Science Research Network for “word of mouth” turns up almost 100 studies — none of which were referenced or cited in the book).

Bottom line: While well written and full of good tips for executing WOM tactics, Word Of Mouth Marketing is best suited for marketers in small firms, and less so for those who must manage marketing investments across a variety of channels.

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