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How to win with Word-of-Mouth – a Q&A with founder Dave Balter

Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing under the sun. How do you get listener tongues wagging and, in the process, move the needle for your station’s ratings? Dave Balter knows. He’s the creator of and a founding member of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association. He is also co-author of the upcoming book Grapevine: The New Art Of Word-Of-Mouth Marketing.

I asked Dave to share some word-of-mouth lessons for Radio. Listen here for the full ten-minute podcast of my Q&A with Dave. You can easily download the file or play it right on the web.

Mercury Podcast Q&A with Dave Balter, founder of

And here’s a brief and partial transcription:

What is and how can you help a radio station? is a word-of-mouth marketing and research firm. We have over 100,000 volunteer brand evangelists or “agents” who take part in word-of-mouth programs for products and services and brands and share their opinions with others as effectively as possible.

There are lots of people who have opinions about the stations they listen to. Our goal is to identify these people, organize them, help them communicate more effectively with others, and help the station to understand how listeners are discussing it.

The goal is to understand what they’re saying and to get them more involved in communicating better.

What are the benefits of to your clients?

Agents get to try a product or service, then they go out and create word-of-mouth. They come back to us to fill in a “buzz form” which details their communication and what happened. We then write an individualized reply to each one – no automation. We get about 7,000 of these submissions each week.

For the customer, there are two outcomes:

First, to engage consumers and build a community of people talking to others effectively. For example, that would help a radio station acquire more listeners.

Second, we’re gathering data about how people are actually communicating. In each report we can see how many people are communicating, when they’re communicating, what they’re saying, what age groups, etc. This not only allows clients to monitor the conversation, it also helps them see opportunities to change their marketing, their product, or their service to make it more effective.

The way people communicate is in motion. People come to us to see how consumers are changing their communication and how they’re influencing others. That knowledge, awareness, and access to understanding is the main value driver.

And what’s the benefit to the members, the “Bzzagents”?

We intended for members to generate word-of-mouth for points they can redeem for brand-associated rewards. But as of last month 85% of agents have never redeemed a single point!

Naturally, we looked into this. And agents told us they participate for many reasons besides points. They want to be the first to know, they like to talk about new things, they’re fascinated that they have a dialogue with a brand, they’re grateful that people are listening, they appreciate the power of their opinions.

Lots of Radio is based on incentives, such as contests. What does that discovery imply about the way Radio lures new listeners?

It’s not all about incentives. Recognition is a pretty important factor. I think a lot of people overlook the value of being embraced by the brand. Sure, perks are good – but it’s more important for listeners to feel they’re part of the system.

So for Radio, how do you get listeners to feel they’re part of the solution and not simply a “targeted customer”?

If you ran a radio station “Frequent Listener Club,” how would you use it?

First, figure out ways to let listeners communicate to you what they’re doing, how they’re sharing their opinions, then be responsive to each one. It’s a daunting task, but it’s what will drive people to become more involved.

Let people feel on the inside and feel they’re really communicating with the brand and are part of the solution – not just a “target.” How you treat these people will really make a difference.

Are all “Frequent Listeners” created equal?

We expected that heavy listeners – the influentials, the mavens – were the most valuable people from a word-of-mouth perspective.

But we discovered that these influentials didn’t talk any more than most other people. The heavy loyals have already influenced their network of friends – and they felt they “owned” the brand already and thus didn’t talk about it much. The experts, meanwhile, had very short word-of-mouth windows – they’d only talk about something as long as it was new, then they’d move on to the next new thing.

The “light loyals” – the people who live on the bottom of your database list – these are the people who generate the most effective word of mouth for the brand. They have a network around them that hasn’t been influenced and they’re not basing their identity on how cool they are or how much they know about your product.

THIS is the group of people driving the most value. Look at the group that you often overlook – not the biggest fans but these “light loyals” – these will be the most passionate evangelists that will drive the most long-term results. Don’t limit yourself to targeting the heavy listeners.

Why are “light loyals” more powerful word-of-mouth generators? Their motivations are different. If they’re in your club it’s to be involved with the station. They’re not in it for the perks. And these are the listeners with “fresh ears” around them.

What are the best ways a Radio Station can generate word-of-mouth?

Don’t think of word-of-mouth as some special kind of marketing medium. Word-of-mouth is something that’s happening all around you every day. In one study, 14% of every conversation had something to do with a product or service.

There are opportunities for your listeners to talk about you all the time. Know the “triggers” and use them. Know the targets – the types of people you want to talk to. You need to make people conscious of the right way to communicate, because it’s happening all around you anyway.

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