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Marketing Expert Emanuel Rosen

Looking to build a buzz about your business? Try word-of-mouth marketing.


We've seen it happen time and again. The Blair Witch Project, Play Station 2, the new VW Beetle, the latest Oprah Book Club choice. It's that thing that everybody wants and is talking about. It's the latest buzz. And you want that buzz to surround your business.

Managing The Web-Based Enterprise But how do you draw that kind of attention to your product or service? How can you get everybody who's anybody talking about your business? Emanual Rosen knows buzz. As the former vice president of marketing for Niles Software, the makers of EndNote, a reference tool for academic researchers, he experienced firsthand how positive buzz can create a wildly successful product (when he sold his share of the company, he was able to retire on the proceeds). Rosen has compiled his knowledge into The Anatomy Of Buzz, a word-of-mouth marketing guide that offers strategies for creating buzz for your business. Read on to find out how you can spread the word about your business. What's your definition of buzz? What kinds of businesses need to be concerned about buzz?

Emanuel Rosen: Buzz is person-to-person communication about a particular brand. All companies are concerned about it, but there are obviously some companies that get more buzz. The nature of your product is the most important factor in determining how much buzz it will get. People don't talk much about paper clips; they tend to talk about products that are new, exciting, risky or innovative. How much buzz a company can expect also depends on the audience they're trying to reach. For example, young people tend to talk more, so if you're trying to reach teenagers you can expect more buzz.

Companies that are effective in building buzz break out to new areas in the [buzz] network-to new geographical areas, as well as new academic disciplines, new social circles, and areas we call dead networks, where there's no activity or buzz. What's an invisible network?

Rosen: They're the information networks that link us to each other, which is how the buzz spreads. Customers have always talked to each other through these networks by phone or through face-to-face conversations, but now giving and asking for advice is easier [because of the Internet.] You just type a sentence and send it off into cyberspace. Marketers must [now] pay more attention to buzz because it spreads much faster.

[Marketers] should also pay special attention to "network hubs"-individuals who are central in the networks and are key to spreading the message. I dedicate two chapters [in my book] to these individuals and to how they can be identified. Everyone in marketing always talks about "influencing the influencers." It's important to realize there are many more influencers now than five years ago because of the Internet, and it's crucial to reach them. You cite many examples of companies that successfully launched a product with the help of strong buzz. What's your favorite example?

Rosen: PowerBar is a company that really understands the concept of not only megahubs [influencers who work on a mass level, like a celebrity or sports figure], but network hubs. When PowerBar started, it was very systematic about approaching influencers, like sports coaches or influential team members, at the grassroots level, and feeding that market with PowerBars. And the company was very successful in promoting this product through word-of-mouth.

Another company that [spread grassroots buzz] very successfully was Palm Pilot. [One of the] several things it did right was to market its product at the Gartner Symposium, an IT industry conference. What the company did at the conference-which I think was brilliant-was load about 5,000 Palm Pilots with the agenda, and then give one out to every attendee so they could essentially use a Palm Pilot for free for three days. [As] you can imagine, a lot of people who went to that conference talked about the Palm Pilot because they were holding it in their hands and looking at the conference agenda. The company then gave people the option to purchase the Palm Pilot at a discount and take it back to their networks. So 1,500 out of those 5,000 people went back to their companies with Palm Pilots. This is another way to create buzz: to involve potential customers in a very strong way with a product. In your book, you discuss natural contagion, the concept that people naturally talk to each other about positive and negative customer experiences. What are some ways a company can accelerate this discussion?

Rosen: A very important thing to realize is that networks are huge. We have a tendency to hang around the areas of the networks where we feel most comfortable and where we have the most customers. Companies that are effective in building buzz break out to new areas in the network-to new geographical areas, as well as new academic disciplines, new social circles, and areas we call dead networks, where there's no activity or buzz. [In the book,] I describe how when FedEx, a company we now take for granted, began, it really had to go out to different cities, cut them into blocks, and do sales blitzes to make people aware of the product before it could talk about it. So that's a kind of very basic and old-fashioned way of creating buzz, but it's really something that is often needed to start little fires in multiple networks.

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