Viral marketing vs word-of-mouth marketing?

by Kate Brodock on 18 May 2009

Posted in: Explanation,Straight Marketing

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I was talking to someone last week about the focus of her firm, and she said to me “We don’t really do word-of-mouth marketing, right now we’re into viral marketing.” It was one of those moments where you stop and think you missed something huge somewhere along the lines.

But I didn’t.  Viral marketing is word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.  According to the very helpful definitions on the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA):

Word of mouth: The act of consumers providing information to other consumers.

Word of mouth marketing: Giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place. It is the art and science of building active, mutually beneficial consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-marketer communications.

Ok, so what about viral marketing?  On WOMMA’s “Types of Word of Mouth Marketing” page:

Viral Marketing: Creating entertaining or informative messages that are designed to be passed along in an exponential fashion, often electronically or by email.

The key word here is “exponential.”  The uptake of the marketing message is large and fast.  But it is still done by creating enough of a reason for people to spread that message themselves via consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-marketer communication.

For some reading this, it may seem mundane.  But when you’re a professional in the field, out talking about what your company does, these distinctions are important.  I should have heard from the woman talking about her firm “We do WOM marketing, specifically viral marketing.”  Not one or the other.

While definitions may sometimes be tedious, they are still useful, if not necessary, to make distinctions, define functions and set industry standards.

Since we’re on the topic of WOM, the image above is WOMMA’s new logo, which I think is really great, so I figured I’d spread the word :-)

What are some definitions you’re confused about?  Some you think need more refining?  Ones you see misused often?

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  • Pingback: Why You Really Must Use Viral Marketing In Your Ongoing WebSite

  • Frobin Jojo

    I disagree! Viral marketing and word of mouth (marketing) are NOT the same! While it's true that viral marketing is always some kind of word of mouth, not every word of mouth marketing is viral. While word of mouth can happen across literally all media, the core of a viral campaign happens (if it happens) on online or mobile – otherwise it's successful word of mouth.

    A viral campaign is not necessarily told others in words – mostly it's a link, a download, a video … the difference is: the user has to do a technically action to see/hear/expierience whatever his friend told him – maybe just a click, or a download, … however, the viral thing is not just the idea, it's also the way this idea is widespread.

  • http://www.othersidegroup.com/adcomments Kate Brodock

    Hi Frobin –

    Thanks for your comments and discussion! Yes, agreed, not all word of mouth marketing is viral. WOMMA states that pretty clearly as well on their “Types of Word of Mouth Marketing”, as they have defined viral as a KIND of word of mouth. There are many other types of word of mouth that are not viral.

    Great thoughts on the way that viral marketing works.

    Cheers,
    kate

  • Frobin Jojo

    I disagree! Viral marketing and word of mouth (marketing) are NOT the same! While it's true that viral marketing is always some kind of word of mouth, not every word of mouth marketing is viral. While word of mouth can happen across literally all media, the core of a viral campaign happens (if it happens) on online or mobile – otherwise it's successful word of mouth.

    A viral campaign is not necessarily told others in words – mostly it's a link, a download, a video … the difference is: the user has to do a technically action to see/hear/expierience whatever his friend told him – maybe just a click, or a download, … however, the viral thing is not just the idea, it's also the way this idea is widespread.

  • http://www.katebrodock.com Kate Brodock

    Hi Frobin –

    Thanks for your comments and discussion! Yes, agreed, not all word of mouth marketing is viral. WOMMA states that pretty clearly as well on their “Types of Word of Mouth Marketing”, as they have defined viral as a KIND of word of mouth. There are many other types of word of mouth that are not viral.

    Great thoughts on the way that viral marketing works.

    Cheers,
    kate

  • http://www.networkmarketingsuccess.ws mlgreen8753

    Word of mouth marketing is a form of viral marketing, but digital viral marketing can happen much faster due to the ease of transferring digital content. That's why it's a good idea to implement digital content in your business using video and sites like Adwido for distribution.

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