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  • Sam Decker

Creating Word of Mouth Waggle

Several months ago I reflected on the parallel of nature, man and business in an article titled Tributary Leadership, mirroring the principles of rivers to good leadership.

Here’s another one…

There is an nature analogy that, among other things, reflects how consumers and markets are reach purchasing decisions. It is the honeybee Waggle Dance referenced in Thomas Seeley’s 1996 book, The Wisdom of the Hive and is paraphrased in James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds.

What is important is the way a colony gets to that collectively intelligent solution to find nectar. It does not get there by first rationally considering all the alternatives and then determining an ideal foraging pattern. It can’t do this, because it doesn’t have any idea what the possible alternatives – that is, where the different flower patches – are. So instead, it sends out scouts in many different directions and trusts that at least one of them will find the best patch, return, and do a good [waggle] dance so that the hive will know where the good food is.This result is an optimal distribution of bees per nectar source, and the most efficient model of production for the hive.As a bee (consumer) I too would follow the waggle with the highest chance of finding what I want (replace “nectar” with the “right cell phone” I’m looking for right now).

Depending on your study, customers are exposed to anywhere from 247 to 3000 commercial messages each day. As a result, marketing is changing. The growing attention on word of mouth, authenticity, transparency, social networking, etc. is in reaction to customer cynicism, distrust, sensory overload and lack of time (the new currency). Word of mouth was rated as CMOs’ #1 issue by CMO magazine.

Commercial messages have less waggle because they’ve led us astray — as if a spider disguises itself a scout bee and waggling the hive to fly towards its web!

However, great products with real value are like a field of flowers. Mavens and connectors find these products and waggle others to them. Coincidentally, the best marketing advice in this situation is to, as Guy Kawasaki quotes Chairman Mao, “let a thousand flowers bloom” (Meaning: Encourage many ideas from many sources).

Customers will follow waggles from new sources – blogs, reviews, personal recommendations, etc. The more emotional the subject, the more passionate and authentic the source (mavens, connectors, scout bees, etc.), the more visible the waggle. These people are part of the hive, directing others to the nectar.

10 years ago I wrote a book on customer evangelism in the tech community, specifically related to computer user groups (the maven geeks of the market at that time). The book was explicitly titled How to Market With Computer User Groups (if you want one, email me). It was Not How to Market TO User Groups (disaster!). It was titled "…With Computer User Groups" for a purpose. If you have the right perspective on your best customers (and therefore the right way to treat them) then they do the marketing for you. Hence, with you.

How do you market WITH your customers? Four quick suggestions:

  1. Go upstream in the company (create great “Purple Cow” products and service).

  2. Foster authentic, direct dialogue with customers (blog are a new way, but not the only).

  3. Empower customers to be authorities (reviews, forums, etc.)

  4. Connect customers to each other (forums, councils, etc.)

There’s a lot in these suggestions…a lot to learn and to do. But I think a fundamental issue is to change management culture and perspective from internal waggle to external waggle. From market ‘control’ to market ‘viscosity’.

Be great, be real, let your flowers bloom, and the waggle will follow.


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