The Anatomy of Buzz By Emanuel Rosen Currency, 304 pages, $37.95 Attention! By Ken Sacharin John Wiley and Sons 209 pages, $46.50
Sixty-five per cent of people who bought a Palm organizer became intrigued with the device after hearing about it from another person. Friends and relatives are the No. 1 source for information about places to visit as well as flights, hotels and rental cars. The same is true about choosing a car dealership, a doctor or a movie: Word of mouth is a powerful force.
"Yet most of today's marketing still focuses on how to use advertising and other tools to influence each customer individually, ignoring the fact that purchasing many types of products is part of a social process," Emanuel Rosen, former vice-president of marketing for Niles Software, writes in The Anatomy of Buzz.
"It involves not only a one-to-one interaction between the company and the customer but also many exchanges of information and influence among the people who surround the customer."
He defines buzz as the aggregate of all person-to-person communication about a particular product, service or company. And he argues it's vital that companies understand how buzz spreads.
Knowing the demographics of your customers and what they consider to be the most important attribute of your product is important. But equally crucial are questions such as: How do those individuals interact with each other? Who influences them? How many other customers -- and potential customers -- are they connected to? What do they tell them? "The spread of buzz, since it is not always easy to trace, tends to be neglected," Mr. Rosen writes.
In fact, this has been a big year for buzz. Malcolm Gladwell's marvellously written The Tipping Point sparked interest in social diffusion, with his interweaving of examples from epidemics, crime prevention and product fads.
Although the points he highlighted can be easily applied by managers to internal social change programs in their organization, they were too abstract to serve as a handbook for marketing. The Anatomy of Buzz is that handbook, with lots of examples, ranging from software to cars, books and games such as Trivial Pursuit.
Two elements are crucial: a contagious product -- something that by its nature generates talk -- and network hubs, individuals who spread the word to others, be it Oprah Winfrey or your neighbour. But companies underestimate the number of hubs, concentrating on elite influencers when it's thought that the percentage of opinion leaders on average in the population is 10 to 15 per cent.
Not all those network hubs are equal, of course. Ms. Winfrey can influence a lot more people about a book than your neighbour can. Some hubs connect between different groups -- for example, the woman Mr. Rosen describes spreading a word-of-mouth hit, the book Cold Mountain, from one book club to another she belonged to.
Network hubs can be attracted to your product by "seeding," as software companies do with beta versions of their product or the publisher of Cold Mountain did by sending proof copies to leading independent booksellers.
But Mr. Rosen also stresses the importance of giving the network hubs facts -- and then more facts. Never assume they have the latest information about your product. And try to keep generating excitement and talk, as Jeep does by holding Jamborees, where aficionados gather -- and later tell all their friends about their fabulous weekend.
Attention! by Ken Sacharin, executive vice-president of Media Edge, argues that conventional advertising has become so wrapped up in persuading consumers to buy a product that it has forgotten the important prior step in an ad-saturated world of simply getting attention. Even the conventional method for checking the effectiveness of advertising -- focus groups -- is based on the assumption that attention is already secured.
"Because attention has become so much harder to achieve, we must redouble our efforts to achieve it," he writes.
To do that, he uses the analogy of walking into a crowded room at a party, eager to gain attention. You can make a grand entrance, as Microsoft did with Windows 95. You can walk up to the nearest person and interrupt politely with a relevant comment, as on-line banner ads geared to the content of a search on Web portals do, or be introduced, as celebrity advertising accomplishes. Similarly, he takes readers through other steps, including the occasional yelling, whispering, being different, touching, telling a story and mingling.
Mr. Sacharin argues attention is the crucial building block to all promotions -- even loyalty, one-to-one, and permission marketing. His thesis is sound and he presents a solid framework and sufficient examples to refocus attention on attention. Worth reading: Clean Your Clothes with Cheez Whiz by Joey Green looks at offbeat uses for 35 brand name products. You can shine your shoes or polish brass with A-1 Steak Sauce, prolong the life of razor blades by spraying them with Clean Shower, get paint off your hands with Noxema, soothe sunburn or condition your hair with Cool Whip, and clean your toilet bowl with Gatorade or Dr Pepper. The book offers a brief history of how each product was initially discovered and its growth over the years. And by the way, Dr Pepper will also clean the grease off clothes, if you're out of Cheez Whiz. Harvey Schachter is a freelance writer based in Kingston. Readers can send e-mail to: