One of the most influential forms of promotion occurs when one person speaks highly of a product to someone else, particularly if the message sender is considered an unbiased source of information. Until recently, marketers have had little control over person-to-person promotion that did not involve salespeople (i.e., biased source). However, marketers are beginning to experiment with new methods of promotion that strategically takes advantage of the benefits offered by word-of-mouth promotion. Unlike salespeople who attempt to obtain an order from customers, controlled word-of-mouth promotion uses real people to help spread information about a product but do not directly elicit customer orders.
With controlled word-of-mouth promotion a marketer hires individuals to spread positive information about a product but in a way that does not make it obvious to others that they are being paid to do so. The technique is especially useful when building awareness of new products and this approach has been dubbed “buzz” marketing as a way to describe its objective of building a high level of awareness for a product. For example, a brewer may form a team of word-of-mouth marketers who visit local taverns and night spots. As part of their job these marketers may “talk up” a new beer sold by the brewer and even purchase the product for some customers. But in the course of doing so they do not directly disclose that they are being compensated by the brewer for their efforts.
Controlled word-of-mouth has received a great deal of publicity though much of it has focused on potential ethical concerns. Some have expressed concern that paying people to “act” as if they are interested in a product without any indication of their relationship with the product breaches ethical standards. As more companies explore controlled word-of-mouth marketing it is expect to become an even more scrutinized form of personal selling.