I often read product reviews, but I usually rely most on advice from friends and family. I suspect you do the same.
It’s because recommendations cut through the noise of over-choice; they’re personalized to me- they come from from people who know me and know that I’m outdoorsy, but not wandering-in-the-woods-with-just-a-compass-and-a-firestarter outdoorsy. Across most topics, I have a go-to who has done research, has passion or knows from experience. Like my friend Todd Lutwak told me,
“everyone is an expert at something.”
I turn to my personal experts almost every day, from where to stay in Milan (my brother recommends The Yard), to which shows are coming to town (James talked me into getting tickets to Boy George in September). I asked Tristan how she’d go about finding someone to translate my grandmother’s diary from 1912, and she pointed me to a guy on Fiverr who did an amazing job. When our home network switch died, I sought advice from my former CTO, Chuck Norris, and he sent me a link to the Cisco SG 110. Sometimes advice comes from unexpected people, like my son’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Bacon, who, after hearing about our upcoming family camping trip, sent me her husband’s list of must-have gear for backpacking with kids.
Word-of-mouth has been the elephant on the table of e-commerce and advertising. All research points to the power that personal recommendations have (more on that later). Brands are eager for a solution to “How can we efficiently motivate people to recommend stuff?” But so far, all forms of advertising and marketing have essentially missed the mark on word-of-mouth.
- Social marketing is really just well-targeted advertising, which remains just outside of where the conversation is actually taking place.
- Influencer marketing is designed for people with big followings, who command up-fronts to give shout-outs (with little-to-no tracking).
- Affiliate marketing is built for professional content creators willing to dedicate time for program set up and administration.
- Referral marketing consists of one-off, custom-built campaigns for a single advertiser.
And consumers are left holding the bag, driving the lion’s share of e-commerce without receiving credit.
When I was at eBay, Meg Whitman used to talk about enabling the community of sellers as “global economic democracy.” I see this in a similar light. Why not give people their fair share of the commerce they drive? Democratize digital marketing. Promote populism for paid advertising.
How to Harness Word-of-Mouth
After CBS acquired my last business, I turned my attention to solving for word-of-mouth. I started with research, and deep-dives into the affiliate, referral and influencer marketing worlds made clear to me that no one was really tackling the opportunity. Marketers leaned in to the idea of word-of-mouth, calling it the ‘brass ring’, but alas!, there was no way to efficiently address it.
Next step was to deconstruct the issue, laying out the required elements for a successful platform to harness word-of-mouth. The exercise was anchored in my long-standing inclination to ‘ride the horse in the direction it’s going’ (e.g., enable existing behavior, rather than trying to change it).
The Essentials of Wildlink
From the all the research and deconstruction the problem, the four essentials that would guide Wildlink emerged:
- Effortless: When people are recommending stuff to their friends, it’s impractical to expect them to take extra steps to earn a reward. So, the Wildlink platform must fit naturally within social dialogue. Let users do what they’re already doing. Don’t add steps to their flow, just make it automatic. Simple.
- Ubiquitous: To be successful, Wildlink needs to exist wherever people are already sharing and communicating. All devices. All communication channels. All forms of sharing. Wildlink would work anywhere text can be entered.
- Rewarding: People should get rewarded (with cash) for the commerce they drive to merchants. Nielsen found that 95% of American millennials would like some sort of incentive for sharing products via social media; and 77% of them prefer cash over swag or loyalty points.
- Useful: For senders, let’s make it easier to share suggestions; and for recipients, let’s makes it easier to find recommended items. Convenient. Not spammy.
From those guiding lights came the suite of products that we’ve begun to roll out, building blocks of a holistic platform which we’re working towards.
It’s effortless (automatically enhances shared links with tracking for users to receive credit). It’s ubiquitous (apps for all devices – Android, iOS, Mac, PC, Linux – generate links that can be shared literally anywhere – email, SMS, chat apps, blogs, social media, collaboration tools, etc.). It’s rewarding (people are earning, on average, 3-4% of the commerce they generate). And it’s useful (evidenced by the fact that users are sending 3+ links per week, each of which is getting clicked about nine times).
We’re learning a ton – and having fun in the process.