Friday, April 21, 2006

Overcoming “NWOM”

Years ago, scientific diffusion research pinpointed that the Durham brand is heavily undermined by negative word of mouth (NWOM), centered among residents in nearby communities. Some is overt dissing, much is "damned by faint praise."

In non-marketing circles, especially when it comes to cities, towns and counties as visitor destinations, it is often conventional wisdom that positive word of mouth (PWOM) trumps or effectively counters NWOM. That would be great, but many studies show that’s just not the case.

Word of mouth and the marketing that generates it have been studied for decades if not centuries, but two great reads, The Tipping Point and a great new book entitled Connected Marketing, have made many more people aware.

One of the authors in the latter book reviews a 2005 study by Informative, Inc., on the financial impact of NWOM on airline profits, which documented that, while respondents were roughly split as to the power of PWOM or NWOM, negative comments were found to have 2.5 times more financial impact.

While the study found very little correlation between the amount of PWOM and operating profits, it documented a very close connection between NWOM and profits, meaning when NWOM increased, profits decreased and vice versa.

Two authors in the book cite the importance of intervening with the sources of word of mouth, in addition of course, to making every improvement possible. Addressing misinformation was found to create a "perceived justice" effect, inoculating others to NWOM.

Unfortunately, traditional advertising isn’t the answer. Separate studies show that ads have the effect of entrenching both negativists and positivists equally. Other types of marketing are needed to address NWOM.

DCVB has many initiatives to address NWOM, but one takes a two-pronged approach with tools like the 300+ Great Things About Durham flyer, used to energize PWOM, and 25 Common Misperceptions About Durham, used to inoculate potential visitors and newcomers, so they will "perceive injustice" when they come in contact with NWOM, and used with positive opinion leaders, empowering them to overcome NWOM.

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