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Spread the Word

Conventional advertising is in trouble. Who said so? Proctor & Gamble (P&G), the world's biggest advertiser. P&G is finding new ways to make marketing work because of fears that television advertising - its biggest spend - is losing its punch. With more products advertised over more media (icluding multi-channel TV and the internet) than ever, it is difficult to achieve the same reach at the same cost as before. And in a highly fragmented media environment, word-of-mouth is more significant than it used to be.

Recent research on behalf of P&G indicates that a mother who is moved to talk about a product sets off a chain reaction that will eventually involve 1,000 mothers in discussion. Gianni Ciserani, P&G Managing Director for UK and Ireland, said: "Now (mothers) go into a chat room or copy an email to a list of friends." And according to P&G, people in the UK are more opinionated, five times more likely than those in other parts of Europe to call a company to express their views.

Today's consumers have access to more information - and more sources to get recommendations from. Word-of-mouth doesn't just include friends or colleagues, but also reports by consumer watchdog Which? or customer reviews on Amazon. Google, the internet search engine, has never used advertising. It grew by word-of-mouth. Founded in 1997, it's now worth 72 billion, the fastest growing company in history. The Body Shop, which reported a profit of 39.2 million last year, also grew by word-of-mouth.

A decline in trust is one reason for consumer's increasing reliance on recommendations. Cynicism has affected a range of institutions across society, such as the government, the church, companies and brands. 'They would say that, wouldn't they?' is a hard accusation to answer. People listen to those they know, or those they think have no axe to grind.

Years ago window fabricators and installers talked to fewer in the industry and kept their cards close to their chest. But people now communicate by telephone, text and email more often and network more openly. They visit other firms and ask their opinions on profile, machinery, hardware, even magazines and marketing services. We do it all. Instead of just looking at an advert or a brochure or listening to a sales rep, we check them out. It's no longer possible to keep poor quality or service under wraps. And bad news travels faster than good.

So do we give up advertising? P&G hasn't abandoned TV advertising and traditional media, but it is integrating it with other activities, including word-of-mouth. Just as advertising only works when you have something worth advertising, word-of-mouth (or 'buzz' marketing) only works when you have something worth talking about. Fabricators and installers are no different from those mothers interviewed by P&G. When you want the best advice, you turn to someone you trust. Spread the word!

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