Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Illusion of Control: Last year, when I was working on a story about word-of-mouth marketing, I spoke to a dozen or so public relations professionals on the subject. On more than one occasion, I heard that word-of-mouth was one of the things these PR firms had always done. But when I asked for case histories, what I got was: “We did this special event, and it generated lots of buzz. People were talking about it for days”
In other words, PR people were not only not creating word-of-mouth campaigns; they didn’t even know what word-of-mouth is.

Now along comes marketing guru Jack Trout, writing in Forbes (hat tip to the folks at Beyond Madison Avenue), and making the case that word-of-mouth “isn't new much less ‘the next big thing’ that WOMMA declares.” In fact, he says, “a third-party endorsement of your product has always been the Holy Grail. It’s more believable. In prior days, we used to try and find the ‘early adapters’ for a product.”

So there is someone more clueless than PR people.

Here’s the money quote, the one that reveals just how much Trout doesn’t get it: “Now for the really bad news. There's no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign?”

I get the feeling that Trout is one of those dinosaurs who believe that—or would prefer it if—marketing took place is some sort of abstract, hermetically-sealed universe in which the consumer receives the tightly-controlled advertising message, discusses it with no-one, does no research, but simply takes the information he or she has gleaned from the ad into the dealership or the store and orders what the advertiser told him to order.

Well here’s a newsflash, Jack… you have to give up control and let consumers take over your campaign. They’ve been doing it for ever, anyway. Your brand is not what you say about your products; it’s what everyone else says about your products, based on your advertising, and your PR, and your promotions, but based much more on their experience with the product, in the dealership, in the store, on the Internet, and conversations with their friends.

What you say about your brand—the stuff you control—is about 10 percent of those conversations, if you’re lucky. The other 90 percent is stuff you don’t control, can’t control. And word-of-mouth marketing is a way of taking some control of that 90 percent, or at least working actively to influence it. It’s getting involved in as many of the conversations about your brand as you can.

You don’t have control now, Jack. You have the illusion of control. You can't build a marketing strategy around an illusion.


  • At 8:11 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said…

    Paul you did a much better job of making the same points that I was trying to make.

  • At 4:01 AM, Blogger Paul A. Holmes said…

    I don't know about better... I just used more words.

  • At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Please, marketing is selling, period. I guess you would like to leave that up to the consumers, but get real. Marketing requires creative approach and media to put your product or service out there. If people will talk about it, fine,but that is not what marketing is all about. You should know better.

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