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BzzAgent’s Natural Buzz

Wait … this is not another post where Brand Autopsy slams BzzAgent. We’ve played that card (and some might say overplayed that card) with past posts. Instead, this post shares a mild revelation I recently had about the business of BzzAgent.

As we know, BzzAgent’s reason for being is to help companies accelerate word-of-mouth. They seed select BzzAgents in the field with a sample product and give them talking points and ideas for how and where to spread word-of-mouth. The result is hopefully increased word-of-mouth and ‘buzz’ for the product.

Katherine Stone, from the Decent Marketing blog, sums up my core beef with the BzzAgent buzz-making process by writing, “It seems to me that if you need to hire an agency to manufacture buzz then perhaps your product isn’t all that remarkable.” (Decent Marketing | Buzz Kill post | May 6, 2004)

So how did the BUZZ begin for BzzAgent?

Did BzzAgent send out BzzGuides to BzzAgents and give them buzz-creating strategies in order to land the articles in Fast Company and the New York Times Sunday Magazine? Did BzzAgent go through the ‘BzzAgent process’ to get mentioned in Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow?

I’m serious here. BzzAgent is a case study in how to NATURALLY create buzz.

The company is insanely remarkable. So remarkable that we want to talk about it. So remarkable that the media wants to write about it. So remarkable that companies want to hire BzzAgent to create buzz for their products. So remarkable that bloggers want to dissect it.

It’s simple … companies and products worth talking about get talked about.

Which brings me back to Katherine’s quote, “… if you need to hire an agency to manufacture buzz then perhaps your product isn’t all that remarkable.”

24 Comments

  • Hmm, doesn’t this imply that any “remarkable” product gets a big buzz storm going ? …totally automagically ??It would be great if this would really be true. But I think it is not.

  • Perhaps. Perhaps not.Bjoern, I agree that not every remarkable product gets talked about enough to achieve ‘buzz’ status.However, I think ‘buzz’ will be truer, gain momentum faster, and last longer if a product is different enough to be recognized by consumers as being special and unique.

  • jbr says:

    to me, bzzagent is no more remarkable than Amway, Avon or MaryKay. this company has merely tapped into the same talent pool that once used stay at home types to sell goods. bzzagent is “successful” for the same reasons that many other brands are successful….they provide people with purpose and something to believe in.bzzagent has merely taken a different approach for utilizing the basic human need for affiliation/purpose…i find nothing remarkable about them. honestly, our country would be better served by harnessing the same energy for human service, but it’s much more fun to show off new products than go serve soup to the homeless. sad, but true….

  • Tim Lash says:

    “Harnessing the same energy for human service” is already taking place at BzzAgent. One of our organization’s most important projects is offering our services — pro bono — to 3-4 exceptional nonprofits each year nationwide. Thanks to the BzzAgent community, thousands of parents of premature babies have learned about the research and support network offered by March of Dimes on behalf of preemies and their families. Currently we’re helping to raise public awareness of the National Outdoor Leadership School, the premier outdoor educational institution and co-creator of the “Leave No Trace” mantra. Over the coming months and years, BzzAgent will mobilize tens of thousands more brand evangelists to use their influence on behalf of remarkable causes. Check out http://www.bzzagent.com/pages/NonProfit.jsp to learn more.

  • @John: Sure, “natural” buzz is the best there is. But I think there are a lot of products out there, which are – at least to some extent – remarkable, though still no iPods. They can potentially achieve buzz status – but usually that needs really good marketing, quite some time and a whole lot of luck.When I read about Bzzagent for the first time, I thought, such a concept would be great to make this process less random or more predictable. But to succeed the product still has to be remarkable.If it is just boring, the Bzzagent campaign will probably die down the moment the agents stop talking about it. And if the product really sucks, the whole buzz thing will most certainly backfire – like the Home Cafe story has shown.

  • Tim … nice to hear about BzzAgent’s pro-bono work. Maybe BzzAgent should do a BzzCampaign to accelerate WOM on the pro-bono work you are doing. (hee hee)

  • Jackie Huba says:

    Remarkable? Or controversial.Yes, BzzAgent has evangelists like Seth Godin and Tom Peters who spread buzz.But the reason that Fast Company and the New York Times are covering the company is because buzz/viral/word of mouth marketing (pick your buzzword) is the hot “new” thing, and their tactics are controversial.

  • Thanks Jackie … you bring up a valid point.My take is … being the hot new thing, being controversial, and being one of the first businesses trying to codify ‘buzz’ makes for being remarkable.Controversy can definitely amplify remarkability.Heck … we saw it happen with the BzzAgent Folger’s HomeCafe shenanigans. The product was unremarkable but what was remarkable was the controversy that ensued with the stories from BzzAgents telling of faulty machines, bad tasting coffee, and unscrupulous merchandise returns at Wal-Mart.I’m not sure that is the ‘buzz’ Folger’s wanted or expected.Hey, can we coin a new word for ‘bad’ buzz? How about … ZZUB?The BzzAgent Folger’s HomeCafe campaign generated tremendous zzub. (Hmm … zzub ain’t great but it’s better than momentary autism.)

  • A minimalist definition* of word-of-mouth would be “consumer-to-consumer communication.” It is hard to say that BzzAgents are typical consumers in the sense of consuming the products they buzz about, nor are they typical consumers in the sense of buzzing about products for the same reasons as other consumers would. For all practical purposes, BzzAgents are the “agents” of the marketer, and this doesn’t event need the conceptual analysis I just presented, as the term “Bzz-Agents” already self-reveals itself. To me, what they do is good ol’ personal selling as another commentator pointed out with the Amway reference. BzzAgents doesn’t really have any expertise on how genuine word-of-mouth transpires and travels in society. It is quite amusing to see “word-of-mouth marketers” debate and legislate word-of-mouth marketing “ethics” before even realizing what they do has actually nothing to do with word-of-mouth.* For more comprehensive definition and survey, see Downloads section at http://kerimcanozcan.com .

  • jbr says:

    the total opposite of buzz is one of 2 things, i think….if you stand still in the woods and listen with 100% attention, you can hear the buzz of nature, a nice comforting sound…however, if you step on a twig/limb, that snap or cracking sound will quickly put an end to the buzz as the creatures no of an intruder…so, the opposite term for buzz can beSNAP/CRACK or the eeeee sound that fills your ears when there is total silence or lack of auditory input into your ears….sorry, but zzub just doesn’t work for me….one other term that could be used is “gulp”…as in the sound one might make after they realize a monumental CF has been noticed….

  • Thanks for the reference John!!! Great points in your post.

  • Brett Gould says:

    It seems that the article, No GoDaddy No!,12/01/2004 missed the mark! The exposure andcontinued press since the super bowel has been a wind fall for GoDaddy. By the way,they may be an upstart, but, they have 30% or the market. Go Daddy !

  • Brett … missed the mark? I don’t think so. If I was marketing Go Daddy, I’d much rather have people talking about what they do and not what they did.Has awareness increased for Go Daddy? Sure. But awareness does not necessarily build preference. It is my belief successful advertsing goes beyond building awareness to building preference.I’m interested in hearing if increased traffic to godaddy.com has resulted in increasing sales. I’m also interested to know how many ‘aware’ folks know what Go Daddy does? All the media exposure Go Daddy is receiving is all about how they are fighting censorship and nothing about the services they offer and why those services are remarkable.

  • george says:

    It seems to me that if you need to hire an agency to manufacture buzz then perhaps your product isn’t all that remarkable.How can that be your “core beef” with the company?Sorry John (and Katherine), but I’m confused … Isn’t that what marketers do? We market things. We advertise. We create buzz. Creating awareness is a fundamental tenant of our business, and it is one of the reasons why companies hire agencies in the first place.I think this is why you still don’t get the “GoDaddy” ads in the Superbowl. They were a wild success, even if you aren’t particularly fond of their content. They created awareness, traffic and sales. They also created buzz, in a major way. Before, during and after the game, the ads have generated more interest and awareness of the GoDaddy brand than ever before. Visits to their site are through the roof (traffic to their site in the 3 weeks before the Super Bowl was up over 80%), and the media (from the mainstream heavyweights to micro-publishers including blogs like this one) are continuing to shower them with free exposure.And as for the content of that free buzz … So what if people aren’t learning how much their hosting services cost at the water cooler? In fact, who cares if they talk about hosting services at all at the water cooler? They’re talking about the brand, and that’s really good. They’re talking about GoDaddy in reference to, as you put it “fighting censorship,” and that ain’t bad for the brand either. I’ll bet that keyword searches on the term “godaddy” are up a ton. Wanna know why? Because all those people at the water cooler got back to their desks and asked themselves, “What is GoDaddy, anyway?”If products were so great that they all sold themselves, there would be no need for marketing or advertising. I’m all for that, since then I could pursue my dream of being the oldest living X-Games champion. Until then, I’ll keep on buzzin’.

  • George … it is obvious we belong to different schools of marketing thought. I think the best marketing spend is one that improves the product. I believe branding ultimately answers the question of why a company or products exists. Marketing to me should articulate the myriad reasons why a brand is remarkable enough to exist. And I prefer marketing that builds preference more than awareness.Given my stated beliefs, I’m not impressed with how Go Daddy is telling their story.As for BzzAgent … they are a great resource for marketing departments devoid of ideas.

  • george says:

    You’re right … We must be from different schools. See, I don’t remember the chapter when we learned that “the best marketing spend is one that improves the product.” Funny, I must have missed that day.And by the way, GoDaddy isn’t telling their story. GoDaddy, the media, and the millions of people talking about their brand are telling their story. Surprise! That’s the story!Ok, still don’t get it? … Do you still not get why marketing doesn’t have to be about telling stories? Well, I’ll use the easiest example I know … Red Bull. Why? Because Red Bull doesn’t need to tell a story. They need other people to tell the story for them. Red Bull needs buzz. And that’s where their marketing spend goes.Need another example? Try Google. They didn’t need to tell a story. They didn’t need “marketing that builds preference more than awareness.” They needed buzz. Like Red Bull, they need other people to tell the story for them. Viral, WOM, tell-a-friend buzz. And that’s where their marketing spend goes, too.Finally, I feel the need to stand up and defend marketing departments everywhere, since you chose to summarily slap them in the face.Are the folks in all those marketing departments who go to agencies for traditional TV spots, print ads, banners, billboards websites and so on also devoid of ideas? Or, is it just those in marketing departments who think a bit outside the box and try things like WOM marketing who are devoid of ideas?Wait, that makes no sense at all. ;)

  • My marketing school of thought tells me Google chose to spend money building a better search engine rather than spending money on better advertising. Google’s better product created preference which led to awareness.My marketing school of thought also tells me Red Bull stealthily told their story by seeding micro-markets with rumors of it being illegal in Germany and with innuendos of its secret ingredient being taurine extracted from bull’s testicles. Red Bull crafted a brand story of mystery and mythology which fueled those in-the-know to spread what they thought they knew.Again George … looks like we see marketing from two different perspectives.

  • george says:

    John, I hate to be so blunt, but what your “marketing school of thought” is telling you is crap and borders on being offensive to those of us who value fact over opinion and dialog over rumor mongering.Red Bull has spent millions to endorse and support a highly select group of athletes, musicians, artists and other opinion leaders who embody the brand and are natural spokespeople for the company. Those opinion leaders create buzz and influence their peers. That group of people who represent the brand “tells stories” about the brand.They have spent millions creating and/or supporting events for those opinion leaders to showcase their talents. The opinion leaders and public who attend these events create buzz. That group of people who experience the brand “tells stories” about the brand.Finally, Red Bull has spent millions on sampling the product in the right place at the right time to the right people in order to demonstrate the product benefits and create buzz. That group of people who try the brand “tells stories” about the brand.And while I’m at it, get the facts straight before blindly listening to what your marketing school of thought is telling you. Red Bull has never endorsed, promoted or otherwise fostered the kind of rumors and innuendo that you suggest. In fact, the contrary is clearly stated in the FAQ on their website, which is translated into over 30 languages.Regarding Google, their marketing strategy has always been to leverage the viral, WOM characteristics of the web to spread buzz about their fabulous brand and products. They understand the combined power of WOM marketing and the internet better than any company I know.Given the quality and amount of VC involved with Google from the start, I think it incredibly naïve of you to think that they had to choose to spend on one thing (product development) over another (advertising). They never had to choose. They could have spent however much they wanted on advertising, if they wanted to. They just knew that by leveraging WOM/buzz, they wouldn’t have to.Don’t agree? Well, just ask yourself why they released so few invites to GMail when it first launched. And why to just those people? And why, after doing that, did so may other people want a GMail account? And why, now that so much buzz has been created about the product, are so many new invites suddenly available? (Now, you get 50 invites to send to other people vs. 6 before.) They have a ton of cash. Why aren’t they out there telling stories, John?In fact, Google could be telling all the stories it wants, but they know it is better to foster the creation of buzz and WOM and let other people tell the stories for them.Common John, tell me another story.

  • Yet again George … looks like we see marketing from two different perspectives. Thanks for so passionately sharing your thoughts on Brand Autopsy.

  • George: Let’s be frank, “storytelling” is a self-serving metaphor, invented by advertisers and branding “experts”, that is quite overrated. The percentage of brands that do have a consistent “story” people can associate with is quite small, the percentage of consumers who re-tell those stories is smaller, the percentage of consumers who make purchases based on those “stories” is probably even smaller. In a postmodern world awash with signs, messages, and stories, the ROI of creating brand stories (“grand narratives” as J-F Lyotard would call it) is practically zero. Consumers who are interested in stories read fiction or watch TV/movies, and should I add the success rate of any new fiction book or TV series/movie on the market is quite discouraging?Having said that, consumers *sometimes* do tell “personal” stories where brands figure as objects, affordances, or issues. In those cases, the “personal” story is constructed based on a “personal” meaning derived from a “personal” experience of an interaction with brand element/s (product, service, organization, sales rep, etc.). Therefore, it takes a lot more than broadcasting stories to create meaningful experiences for individual consumers.

  • Bruce Palmer says:

    NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, is in the midst of a GoodBzz (pro bono for non-profits) campaign with BzzAgent. We are one of the remarkable companies that have a long history of great word of mouth. 97% of our graduates indicate that they would recommend NOLS to a friend and 80% of our students first heard about NOLS from a NOLS graduate, a school guidance counselor or staff at an outdoor store.So why did we pursue the GoodBzz opportunity?Going in I felt that there were a number of upsides for NOLS:∑ In addition to our grads there would be more people out there talking about NOLS.∑ I thought that some BzzAgents would probably end up taking a NOLS course.∑ Most importantly, I thought we could learn more about how to better utilize the power of our word of mouth.We are now in the 5th week of our campaign. It is vastly exceeding my expectations. Here are some of my observations as a client of BzzAgent:∑ The BzzAgents involved with our campaign are very earnest. They are showing and telling. They aren’t shilling and selling.∑ BzzAgent has incredible tools for word of mouth marketing. BzzAgents are trained, they report what they have done and what they are hearing, they are given feedback on their feedback and they are supported.∑ The feedback and the way we receive it from BzzAgent is excellent.∑ The BzzAgents are having fun. They are learning about a new opportunity, they are doing their own research and they’re talking with their friends.Here are a few things we have learned that are a huge help to NOLS going forward:∑ We haven’t been asking for enough help from our alumni.∑ I think with more direction we will get more return from our grads. Training on who to talk to, when to talk and what to say. Nothing evil here, just better tools to help our grads talk about what for many of them was the most important educational experience of their lives.∑ We need a better mechanism in place for our graduates to let us know what they are doing and what they are hearing.∑ We’ve received great feedback that will help us better deliver our education to our students. As an example, we need to do a better job letting prospective students know why a NOLS course costs what it does and be sure they know about our financial aid opportunities.So I’ve been very psyched with our experience with BzzAgent. Good people. Very well designed program. Excellent results for NOLS.I’ll leave it to others to deal with the hypothetical and argue semantics, but from ground level at a reputable organization our experience with BzzAgent has been clear, blue sky.Bruce Palmer. NOLS marketing director

  • george says:

    Kerimcan,The only reason for all the referencees to “storytelling” is that John Moore uses the expression all the time, and I was using his word to pull apart his argument. That’s why I put the term in quotes. I would agree with you that, for the most part, “storytelling” is “a self-serving metaphor, invented by advertisers and branding ‘experts.'” Either that, or something you do with the kids to help them fall asleep at night.Bruce,Thanks for sharing your story. ;)You wrote: [BzzAgents] are showing and telling. They aren’t shilling and selling.Not to repeat myself, but man, that’s good.

  • Bruce Palmer says:

    George,Glad you liked my turn of a phrase. Another NOLS sound bite that has gotten critical acclaim is the “the essence of egg roll” which we use when describing the emmissions from the NOLS on the Road recycled vegetable oil (RVO) powered bus. Cheers!

  • Bruce … thanks for sharing your story. Glad to read that from the NOLS GoodBzz Campaign you are learning to better maximize NOLS graduates as evangelists.I’ve long believed the REAL opportunity for BzzAgent is to help companies accelerate word-of-mouth with current customers and not with BzzAgents.For any given campaign, BzzAgents may or may not have been previous/current customers of the product they are bzzing. Accelerating WOM with current customers seems to be the easier and truer way to build buzz. After all … these customers are already familiar with the product and could probably write their own BzzGuide.I’ve read Dave Balter has plans to move his BzzAgent business in the direction of helping businesses tap into the WOM opportunity with their current evangelists. Sounds like NOLS is learning how to do just that from their GoodBzz Campaign. Good stuff.