Is Buzz a Good Thing?

In recent research I conducted with more than 150 senior marketing and sales executives, a majority (67.1%) felt buzz is helpful in long-term branding, while 31.6% of participants felt buzz is neither helpful nor harmful in long-term branding. Only 1.3% felt that buzz is harmful to long-term branding.

I thought the results were interesting because I never defined the word “buzz” and let the participants assume their own meaning for the word. Most definitions of buzz (in a marketing sense) involve some type of word-of-mouth promotion. The traditional word-of-mouth is being supplanted by electronic discussion in chat rooms, blogs, social media, web sites, etc. with the idea of dramatically increasing the speed of communication. This also falls under the banner of viral marketing.

Often these campaigns are orchestrated by marketers who let “just a few” thought leaders and early adopters in on the news about a new product or service. Since they have news they believe few people have, they share it quickly with people in their network, who share it with people in their network, who share it with people in their network, forming a geometric progression of distribution.

This is great, but does it really help build the brand? It depends on what is being communicated. If you are able to “seed” the news with your key brand messages and show how the new product or service fulfills your brand, it is good. Of course, you loose control of the message after the first tier so you are at the whim of the network at that point.

News spreads quickly and if the product or service is a disappointment, it seems to move at light speed. So every marketer contemplating a buzz campaign must be ready with the next phase before the buzz hits the street. By monitoring social media you can gauge the tenor of the discussion to decide which next step you take. If the discussion is on message, let it roll and let the network do its thing, and maybe keep the momentum by confirming that the buzz is true. If misinformation is getting out, weigh in with your key messages in your social media outreach and web site, and with the mainstream press if the problem becomes big enough.

So I agree with the 31.6% who felt buzz is neither helpful nor harmful in long-term branding. If the buzz supports the key brand messages, you monitor the spread of the message and you make adjustments as necessary, buzz can be a powerful tool. But if you falter in any of these areas, the result can be neutral at best and possibly damaging in terms of impact on your brand.

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