Network marketing – Is it word of mouth (WOM)?

WOM 1Some people say that they’re the same – word of mouth and network marketing.

Tom “Big Al” Schreiter, for example, has taught for years that recommending your product or business is like recommending a restaurant – only you don’t get paid when you’re recommending the restaurant.

While network marketers do speak to others about their wares, the 95% drop out rate in NM tells me that the “words of mouth” in NM are somehow not the same. People everywhere still recommend restaurants, movies and a host of other things to friends, but most network marketers have given up recommending their wares long ago.

What’s the story here? Why the wildly different results?

Word of mouth and NM are both the same and not the same. Same in the sense that people talk to each other about things in both. But there the similarity stops.

Many marketers (not just network marketers) have latched onto the phrase word of mouth because it has been the most effective means so far to market products.

Here’s how it’s defined in Wikpedia:

“Word of mouth (WOM) is the passing of information by verbal means, especially recommendations, but also general information, in an informal, person-to-person manner, rather than by mass media, advertising, organized publication, or traditional marketing…

Word of mouth promotion is highly valued by marketers. It is felt that this form of communication has valuable source credibility. People are more inclined to believe word of mouth promotion than more formal forms of promotion because the communicator is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (ie.: they are not out to sell you something)…Also people tend to believe people that they know.” (Emphasis added.)

In his eye-opening book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses those people (“Connectors” and “Mavens”) who start word of mouth discussions that create major marketing successes.

“What sets Mavens apart…is the fact that [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][they] want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help. That turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention.”

He then brings up Paul Revere…

“News of the British march did not come by fax, or by means of a group email. It wasn’t broadcast on the nightly news, surrounded by commercials. It was carried by a man, a volunteer, riding on a cold night with no personal agenda other than a concern for the liberty of his peers…”

And last, he gives a restaurant example..

“And why are the Zagat restaurant guides so popular?..Their real power derives from the fact that the reviews are the report of volunteers – of diners who want to share their opinions with others. Somehow, that represents a more compelling recommendation that the opinion of an expert whose job it is to rate restuarants.” (Emphasis added.)

The difference, it appears, is in the motivation. Love? Or money?

In network marketing, many people DO love their products; so for them, that part of the word of mouth works. But then, when they come to the money part – the part where the listener finds out the speaker is selling it or benefitting in some material way when the other buys – that’s the moment the word of mouth spell is broken. The trust has gone. The relationship has been “abused,” according to tens of thousands of people.

Two suggestions for network marketers:

1. If in your soul, you feel this difference between marketing and word of mouth like I do, stop telling prospects that NM is like recommending a restaurant. And don’t nag your people about going to their friends. It likely means they too, have discovered this difference first hand. Most people would rather keep their special relationships. It’s not worth it to them to risk friendships by selling to their friends. (See Stella’s story in If My Product’s So Great, How Come I Can’t Sell It?

2. Train your folks to ALWAYS tell up front that they are marketing the product they’re talking about. FIRST thing, before the gushing starts. I don’t know of anyone, anywhere, who wouldn’t rather buy from someone who loves their product line, who uses it, and who wants to make a difference in the lives of others by spreading the word. We ALL buy stuff anyway, so that’s not the problem. Just don’t hide it. You have to reveal it at some point. So why not do it up front?

NEXT: Buzz marketing – Is it word of mouth (WOM)?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • >Word of mouth and NM are [both the same and] not the same.

    Good. Great. Excellent. Fabuloso.
    I’m delighted you nailed that one – it’s long-since past time someone full-on tackled this example of the often-dangerously deluded nonsense that’s spouted by too many in this business.

    >Many marketers (not just network marketers) have latched onto the phrase word of mouth because it has been the most effective means so far to market products.

    Has it? Really? Or does it merely enable them to continue to self-delude that ‘they’re in a business like no other’ and hence not fully-engage the process.

    …whatever anybody else has told you about ‘no selling’, that’s nonsense.
    NM is almost entirely a sales-oriented enterprise – we just call it ‘marketing’ and try to pretend ‘we’re helping people enrich their life’ – when really we’re out to have them buy our stuff.
    As a NM-er your task is to find people who don’t know about your stuff and persuade them to buy it. Anyone who tells you different is either a fool a liar or both.

  • This knowledge is very liberating. New distributors who “do as they’re told” by recommending the product — just like they recommend a movie — can’t help but feel a little devious inside. Do you really want to feel guilty every time you try to make a sale? Who can do that long-term?

    — Walter (from Appleton, WI)

    “I no longer need 80 oz. of Mountain Dew to get through the day”

  • For me, Walter firmly hits the mark with his remark of:
    >Do you really want to feel guilty every time you try to make a sale?

    ‘MAKE A SALE’ is the whole damn point of this business – it’s not about referring, recommending, sharing, buyers’ clubs, relation- and leadershipping, helping others or whatever. IT IS SALES. And, seriously, there are very few businesses in which it can be as tough to make those sales than NM.

    Everytime I buy something it’s from someone who’s selling it. There’s no mystery. It’s a transaction – pure and simple. In the hocus pocus attempts to disguise the blatantly obvious and pretend to be something it isn’t, NM blows smoke up its own ass. And that, by any marker is dumb. Stupid.

    Unless and until ‘we’ responsibly own the fact that we’re selling, much of the world – y’know that portion which doesn’t buy into NM – will continue to turn its back and snigger. Rightly so.

    And, ‘I probably do need it’, can I please have Walter’s Mountain Dew?

  • Walter…

    I agree with you that the way the business is taught, people end up feeling guilty each time they make a sale, because we pretend it is sharing or education. THEN we have to ask for the money.

    It IS sales, as Gulliver says. But it’s sales with authenticity. From that personal story.

    That’s what makes it work…LEADING with the fact that you are marketing/selling this product…BECAUSE it made a difference to you.

    Then, the fact that you are selling it, is more palatable to others. And of course, you will suggest they TEST it first, to see it it makes them feel like it did you.

    That is presumably a big difference between the genuinely motivated networkers and direct sellers, and those who sell whatever they can to make a living, whether they use it or not, or think it’s really much good or not.

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