Marketing buzz or simply buzz — a term used in viral marketing — is the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which amplifies or alters the original marketing message. This emotion, energy, excitement, or anticipation about a product or service can be positive or negative. Buzz can be generated by intentional marketing activities by the brand owner or it can be the result of an independent event that enters public awareness through social or traditional media. Marketing buzz originally referred to oral communication but in the age of Web 2.0, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are now the dominant communication channels for marketing buzz.
Strategies for Generating Marketing Buzz
Some of the common tactics used to create buzz include building suspense around a launch or event, creating a controversy, or reaching out to bloggers and social media influencers. Social media participants in any particular virtual community can be divided into three segments: influencers, individuals, and consumers. Influencers amplify both positive and negative messages to the target audience, often because of their reputation within the community. Therefore a successful social media campaign must find and engage with influencers that are positively inclined to the brand, providing them with product information and incentives to forward it on to the community. Individuals are members of the community who find value in absorbing the content and interacting with other members. The purpose of the marketing strategy is ultimately to turn individuals into the third group, consumers, who actually purchase the product in the real world and then develop brand loyalty that forms the basis for ongoing positive marketing buzz. The challenge for the marketer is to understand the potentially complex dynamics of the virtual community and be able to use them effectively.
Development of a social media marketing strategy must also take into account interaction with traditional media including the potential both for synergies, where the two combine to greater effect, and cannibalism, where one takes market from the other, leading to no real market expansion. This can be seen in the growing connection between marketing buzz and traditional television broadcasts. Shows monitor buzz, encouraging audience participation on social media during broadcasts, and in 2013 the Nielsen ratings were expanded to include social media rankings based on Twitter buzz. But the best known example is the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon. Companies build anticipation before the game using different tactics that include releasing the ads or teasers for them on-line, soliciting user input such as Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl competition where on-line voting between consumer created ads determines which will air during the game, and purposefully generating controversy, such as the 2013 and 2014 SodaStream ads that were rejected by the network airing the game for directly naming competitors.
For advertising to generate effective positive buzz, research has shown that it must engage the viewer’s emotions in a positive way. Budweiser’s Super Bowl advertising has been the most successful at generating buzz as measured by the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter survey over its 26 year history, a testament to its masterful use of heartwarming stories, cute baby animals, majestic horses, and core American values to stir the positive emotions of audiences across a wide range of demographics. Using controversy to generate marketing buzz can be risky because research shows that while mild controversy stimulates more buzz than completely neutral topics, as the topic becomes more uncomfortable the amount of buzz drops significantly. The most buzz will be generated in a “sweet spot” where the topic is interesting enough to invite comment, but not controversial enough to keep people away. There is also substantial risk of generating negative buzz when using controversy, for example Coca-Cola’s 2014 It’s Beautiful ad that aired during the Super Bowl and generated substantial backlash.
Two common terms used to describe buzz are volume, which quantifies the number of interchanges related to a product or topic in a given time period, and rating or level, a more qualitative measure of the positive or negative sentiment or amount of engagement associated with the product. Basic social media measures of buzz volume include visits, views, mentions, followers and subscribers; next level measures such as shares, replies, clicks, re-tweets, comments and wall posts provide a better indication of the participants' engagement levels because they require action in response to an initial communication.
It is possible for firms to track the marketing buzz of their products online using buzz monitoring. Many tools are available to gather buzz data; some search the web looking for particular mentions in blogs or posts, others monitor conversations on social media channels and score them on popularity, influence, and sentiment using algorithms that assess emotion and personal engagement. Buzz monitoring can be used to assess the performance of marketing strategies as well as quickly identify negative buzz or product issues that require a response. It can also be used to identify and capitalize on current trends that will shift consumer behaviors. For example the low-carb diet was buzzing months before sales at grocery stores reflected the trend. Monitoring buzz around certain topics can be used as an anonymous equivalent of a traditional focus group in new product development. For some companies it is important to understand the buzz surrounding a product before committing to the market.
Positive vs. Negative Buzz
Positive "buzz" is often a goal of viral marketing, public relations, and advertising on Web 2.0 media. It occurs when high levels of individual engagement on social media drive the buzz volume up for positive associations with the product or brand. Examples of products with strong positive marketing buzz upon introduction are Harry Potter, Volkswagen's New Beetle, Pokémon, Beanie Babies, and the Blair Witch Project. Negative buzz can result from events that generate bad associations with the product in the mind of the public, such as a product safety recall, or from unintended consequences of ill-advised marketing strategies. If not swiftly counteracted, negative buzz can be harmful to a product’s success and the most social network savvy organizations prepare for these eventualities. Examples of negative buzz include the United Colors of Benetton's shock advertising campaign that generated numerous boycotts and lawsuits, and the 2014 General Motors recall of cars many years after a known issue with a faulty ignition switch which they admitted had caused 13 deaths. In the latter case traditional media also contributed to the amplification of the story through reporting on the ongoing recalls and GM CEO Mary Barra’s testimony before the US House of Representatives.
Effectiveness of Marketing Buzz
Buzz works as a marketing tool because individuals in social settings are easier to trust than organizations that may be perceived to have vested interests in promoting their products and/or services. Interpersonal communication has been shown to be more effective in influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions than advertising alone and the two combined have the greatest power.
A 2013 paper by Xueming Luo and Jie Zhang lists numerous previous studies that have shown a positive correlation between buzz rating and/or volume and product sales or company revenue. To expand further on that research, Luo and Zhang investigated the relationship of buzz and web traffic and their effect on stock market performance for nine top publicly traded firms in the computer hardware and software industries. Comparing data on consumer buzz rating and volume from a popular electronic product review Website with the firms’ stock returns over the same period, they found a strong positive correlation between online buzz and stock performance. They also found that due to increasing online content and limitations in consumer attention, competing buzz for rival products could have a negative effect on a firm’s performance. For these nine companies, buzz had a greater effect than traffic and accounted for approximately 11% of the total variation of stock returns, with 6% due to the firms’ own marketing driving the stock price up and 5% due to rival firms’ buzz driving it down.
As consumers increasingly expect to have access to buzz about products as part of their purchasing decisions and to interact with the brand in social media, successful companies are being driven to adopt social media marketing strategies to stay competitive. To successfully plan and implement these campaigns requires the ability to predict their effectiveness and therefore the return on investment that can be expected for the dollars expended.
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- Pursuing Marketing Buzz - NY Times article
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