For marketers, one of the coolest things about the web is that when an idea takes off, it can propel a brand or company to fame and fortune. For free. Whatever you call it—viral, buzz, or word-of-blog marketing—having other people tell your story drives action.
Amazingly, if you toss a Mentos candy into a bottle of Diet Coke, you get a marketing explosion. More tangibly, the mint/cola reaction triggers a geyser that sprays ten feet or more. This phenomenon was popularized in the summer of 2006 in video experiments produced by Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz (http://eepybird.com). After their initial success, Grobe and Voltz made a video of an extreme experiment to answer the following question: "What happens when you combine 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints?" Web audiences were mesmerized by the result—it's insane—causing a viral phenomenon. In only three weeks, four million people viewed the video. Then mainstream media jumped in, with Grobe and Voltz appearing on Late Night with David Letterman and The Today Show.
Imagine the excitement in Mentos marketing offices when the videos took off online—millions of Mentos exposures at no cost. The price tag to get results like that from traditional marketing would have totaled tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.
Every day, bloggers, podcasters, and vloggers promote and pan products. Consumers tell good and bad tales in which products and services play a starring role. Sadly, most companies are clueless about what's going on in the blogosphere.
As a minimum, marketing professionals need to know immediately when their brand names or executives are mentioned in a blog, and search sites like Technorati can help. Beyond mentioncounting, analysis is important. With tools like BlogPulse Trend Search, marketers can monitor significant trends in words and phrases currently popular in the blogosphere. On the day that the Diet Coke and Mentos experiments went viral, there was a tenfold spike in the number of blog posts mentioning Mentos. If you follow the word Mentos, you'd want to know what was going on, so you could either respond to the crisis or leverage the positive development. At the least, you should learn the reason for the spike and alert company managers; when The Wall Street Journal calls for comment, "Huh?" is not the savviest response.
Over at Alexa, a service that measures the reach and popularity of websites, the comparisons between the viral eepybird site and the official Mentos site (http://us.mentos.com) are remarkable. Marketers use Alexa to figure out what sites are hot and use that information to make their own sites better. The three-month average rank for the official Mentos site was 282,677, while eepybird was 8,877. It's also impressive that the official Mentos site had a prominent link on the home page to the video experiments.
The most sophisticated marketers and corporate communicators use text mining to look at chunks of the blogosphere. According to Glenn Fannick, a text mining and media measurement expert at Factiva who blogs at http://fannick.blogspot.com, "Text mining refers to the process of extracting words and phrases from prose and converting them to metadata for the purpose of analyzing trends and spotting potentially interesting anomalies." In the marketing world, text mining is used by companies to monitor the unprecedented number of aggregated blog posts, comments on blog posts, chat rooms, and discussion boards for opinions expressed on the web. As a source of market intelligence, the collective web wisdom about your organization and its products and services is invaluable.
This is a new world for marketers and corporate communicators. Never before have people offered their unsolicited comments in a form that can be analyzed by companies—a big change from the "suggestion box" or "focus group" mentality of most organizations. Never before has a medium allowed an idea (or a product) to spread to millions instantly in the way that consumergenerated content does, a radical change in mind-set from the "big-budget glitzy TV ad" mentality of large companies.
To embrace the power of the web and the blogosphere requires a different kind of thinking on the part of marketers. We need to learn to give up our command-and-control mentality. It isn't about "the message." It's about being thoughtful. It isn't about "segmenting consumers." It's about conversations. Marketing is no longer advertising; marketing is about telling—and listening to—stories.