Implied WOM -- Here's a case where it's more important than explicit WOM
The Olympic swimming competition is providing a great example of what I call “Implied Word of Mouth.”
The current flurry of Olympic gold medals and world records in swimming is being attributed in large part to the new Speedo LZR swimsuits.
— 38 world records have been broken since its introduction in February until June, before the Olympic qualifiers and Olympics, not counting all the Olympic trial and Olympic records.
In fact, as of this writing, here’s some information that Speedo has on its website:
They have an endorsement deal with Michael Phelps. That’s an obvious use of paid word of mouth.
More importantly — and often neglected by people who are thinking about word of mouth — is the implied endorsement by all of the swimmers, many of them previously non-contenders, as they win medals and smash world records.
Adding to the situation is the controversy around whether the suits constitute “technological doping.” Swimmers and Speedo are being accused of using technology — rather than athletic ability and training — to give athletes an artificial edge, much like using performance-enhancing drugs.
It is just about the ideal word of mouth situation:
- A wildly superior, unusual product.
- Easy to talk about the product as a whole.
- A technology story that is easy to describe, thereby giving a “reason to believe.”
- An overall story that is easy to tell, even in headline form. (“New Kind of Swimsuit Shatters World Records” Better for the Company: “New Kind of Swimsuit Makes Even Mediocre Swimmers Win Races.”
- Celebrity endorsements. Some paid, others spontaneous.
- Implied endorsements by everyone who is seen on the Olympics wearing one, especially medalists and world-record breakers. [Note: This is the original meaning of “viral marketing”: a product whose very use is an implied recommendation by those who use it. It was originally used for HotMail, which had at the bottom something like: “Sent by HotMail. Want a free email account? Go to Hotmail.com”)]
- Controversy, generating buzz, that reflects well on them. After all, if the suits were not effective, there would be no accusations of unfairness.
- An amazing website (Speedousa.com). It is simple, uncluttered, fun, and allows you to find anything you want on a very information-packed website with only an obvious click or two. Their explanations are simple, yet informative. There are a few problems: they have a fun “Virtual Model” section in which you can construct someone who looks like you, and then try on various kinds of swimwear (when did “bathing suits” become “swimwear”?). Unfortunately, all of the avatars are under 30. More importantly, they have so many fabrics and lines that they need a comparison chart or a decision tool where you can enter info, such as whether you are a competitive swimmer, where you will use the swimwear, etc. and it makes recommendations. Like many of the sites that help you pick a camera or a television set.
- A product that is not yet available to the public, but will be soon, thereby building desire for something you can’t have. By the way, a full swimsuit will cost around $550, with leggings costing just $350, and trunks just $290. But don’t worry, they have models that are almost as good, especially for the non-competitive swimmer. By the time you check out other models, their $100 and $50 swim trunks begin to look cheap.
- There are dozens of other little and large issues around their product lines, website, attitudes, innovative spirit, etc. that make this a marketing situation well worth studying. I’ve barely begun to look into this company, and already I’m bowled over.
Note to any companies that are tempted to say, “Yes, but we are not Speedo,” or, “Yes, but we have a mundane product,” let me respectfully remind you of several things: First of all, stop saying “Yes, but…” Then, remember that they were a swim trunk manufacturer. There is nothing more mundane than that. Then, they were the first to use Lycra® in swimwear in 1972. Then, a series of innovations in all areas of sportswear followed that. To get WOM, you have to be EXTRA-ordinary.
The REALLY important lesson here:
Okay, here is your reward for reading this far: All of the above is an example of a much more important and broader concept: Decision Simplification. Speedo has made the brand choice decision into that Holy Grail of marketing: a no-brainer. If you want to buy a swimsuit and want the very best, the decision is now simple — a decision so simple that no time or effort has to be spent on it by busy people (everybody!). If you are an affluent and aspirational buyer of sportswear, what are you going to buy yourself or your kids? Simple. The suit that Michael Phelps and every other medalist and world record holder wears.
Many people have gone from only a dim awareness of the brand to the belief that Speedo makes the best swimwear. When they go to their website, they find out that they make a broad line of sportswear and accessories.
It doesn’t make a bit of difference if Speedo doesn’t make any money on the new swimsuits. They have, after all, put a huge amount of R&D into its development. They have now out-Niked Nike, the masters of the actual and implied endorsement. They have demonstrated in the most rigorous environment that their particular clothes actually enhance performance. I’m not aware that anyone else has done that, at least so convincingly and so publicly.
This particular formula for Decision Simplicity is simple to understand, but hard to do: Make a smashingly superior, astonishing product and get everybody to use it visibly because of the edge that it gives them. They don’t actually have to say a word about it, although they will. Of course, you might have to put in some R&D that will make the bean counters go crazy.
What this means to you
If you can make a product that actually enhances the performance of something your customers do (why make it if it doesn’t?), you are making your customers into a personal champion and making them feel better about themselves. They will brag about it. They will wear your logo.
Also, get the leaders in your customers’ line of work to visibly use it. Get them involved in its development, get their continual feedback, stir up the good kind of controversy and competition, make it something whose name and logo they are proud to display. It’s worked for Speedo, Nike, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Apple and many, many other brands that you’ve never heard of because they are in obscure and technical areas. But, I could name plenty of other brands in windsurfing, magic, photography, surgery and medical devices. There is room in your area, even if you’re getting clobbered by a Nike at the moment.
Here's another idea: Maybe you should run an “Olympics” in your category. For instance, if I made voice dictation software and it was the fastest on the market, I would run a contest for the fastest “typist” (sounds better than “dictator”) in the world. They could type or use voice dictation. Since the fastest typist in the world types about 160 words per minute, and I can easily hit that with my present voice dictation system, the champion would be widely acknowledged to be the fastest in the world, using my software. My guess is it would be over 200 words a minute, using my software. This would be a real contest that actually demonstrates the superiority of my product dramatically, instead of the stupid, artificial contests that are usually run.
How can you take advantage of implied word of mouth?