Before we go out and buy something, we often listen to the advice of our friends. If they recommend something based on their own experience, there is a very good chance that we will buy the exact same thing. And if our friends aren’t available, we then tend to trust someone else of our own age who obviously isn’t getting commission from the manufacturer. That’s word-of-mouth advertising, the cheapest yet most effective marketing tool on this planet.
We also listen to expert advice, but not nearly as much. The thought of someone who is smarter than we are is somehow…scary. Besides, expert knowledge that is professionally marketed is a business in itself and no more sacred than the rest.
Web 2.0 has started a phenomena in which your average Web surfer can produce and maintain wikis, blogs, podcasts and other content using social software. What a wonderful world! Existing customers can now warn or win the hearts of potential customers. What consumer protection groups have tried to achieve for decades is now just a few mouse clicks away in the Web. The lack of skills, experience and information is balanced by the dire need of our fellow surfers to express themselves through blogs, comments and reviews.
Some blog authors are so good that you subscribe to them using RSS – and cancel yet another subscription to a pricey business journal. Some people (who know it anyway) claim that I say that with great pleasure. Infamy, I say. Then again, I have no problem if certain editors want to exaggerate our heroic acts.
Blogging has long since grasped the BI world. I even know a dog who publishes her own BI blog. Besides being an expert in the field, she definitely knows how to keep the people around her attentive.
When browsing through the Sherwood Forest of Web 2.0 and BI 2.0, you will encounter Robin Hoods just as well as evil sheriffs. Before the sheriffs venture off, they are sure to have read The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell first. Marketing in the future is a completely different ball game. We need to embrace the power of word-of-mouth marketing. When the products themselves are excellent, this works automatically but the sheriffs just don’t have enough time to wait for that.
Nowadays, it is hard to not to hear when the sheriff is tiptoeing through the forest. When he adds a customer review for his own product, he lets his ad agency write it for him. He also likes to use the comment functions in blogs (often undercover) or send his taciturn deputy to do the dirty work for him.
The anti-guru, on the other hand, is in a league of his own. It starts simply enough, but quickly escalates into a vicious cycle. First you need a guru who says something to the lines of “This is the best statistical chart that was ever designed by man. It has been used for hundreds of years but we can still learn a lot from it because (or despite the fact that) it is so old.” The anti-guru then tries to negate the guru’s message to the broadest audience possible: “I think this is the worst chart in the history of mankind. The only thing we can learn from it is not to use it.” The more absurd the anti-guru’s message is, the better. At this point the guru’s disciples enter the scene. They defend the guru and his teachings and launch a global offensive. In turn, the opposition joins forces to fight for the ludicrous teachings of the anti-guru. This only further adds fuel to the fire and the disciples start yet another counter-offensive, and the story goes on and on. At the end even reasonable people begin to ask themselves who this unbelievably self-confident anti-guru person actually is because they have never heard of him; yet they begin to wonder if they should have.
So what is the moral of today’s story? If you hear someone making a lot of racket in Sherwood Forest, just block your ears and keep on walking.