Experience-Based, Informal Word-of-Mouth and Brand-Bonding Puts Consumers in the Marketing Driver’s Seat


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Today, we are witnessing customer-driven marketing through empowerment and self-management; and many companies have found themselves in the back-seat of the new customer-supplier relationships. They are forced to modify existing communication techniques, or create new ones, so that they can be positioned to generate bonded brand loyalists among their customer bases. How they use, or misuse, these new-age relationships and techniques, and how they assess the return-on-customer effectiveness, and level of monetization, of their initiatives will change how word-of-mouth is pursued by both small and large enterprises.

The false sense of simplicity surrounding much of the early application of word-of-mouth techniques has given way to real challenges that businesses must address:

– What is true word-of-mouth vs. artificial word-of-mouth, and why is it essential for marketers to distinguish between the real and engineered advice?

– How do marketers actually build plans around word-of-mouth, run an effective word-of-mouth program, and track its success?

– Is word-of-mouth the same in every market or geographic situation; and, if not, what are the key differences for marketers to understand?

– Why is customer-brand bonding the ultimate attainment of loyalty behavior on behalf of a brand or supplier?

– What kinds of research and metrics are available to monitor the revenue impact of word-of-mouth and brand bonding among customers?

– What is necessary to get staff buy-in, and what is the role and effect of employee ambassadorship in word-of-mouth?

– What is the real, likely future of word-of-mouth marketing?

For marketers to succeed in this arena, it’s important that they have, or develop, both a comprehensive overview and set of actionable insights for understanding all nuances of the word-of-mouth landscape: how we got here, how true word-of-mouth campaigns can be generated and modeled, how appropriate measures need to be applied to assess strategic and tactical campaign effectiveness, why customer-brand bonding is the ultimate goal of word-of-mouth, how technology tools are being integrated to facilitate learning from word-of-mouth campaigns, how employee behavior links to customer advocacy behavior, how word-of-mouth is addressed outside the U.S., and how the concept is likely to morph going forward.

There’s a new dynamic associated with word-of-mouth and customer-brand bonding, and it begins with moving beyond traditional thinking about customer loyalty behavior. What is real loyalty today? How do you measure it, how do you protect it and reward customers for their loyal behavior? What we are coming to understand now is that a loyal customer is not enough. Customers may say that they are loyal to the brand and say that they will use the brand again; but, given the opportunity, they will often switch without hesitation. We have seen this in industries such as retail, wireless telecom, credit cards, and travel, each of which has spent more than almost any other industry on loyalty tools.

At the same time, we are seeing a group of innovative brands such as Google, Subway, Nike, Zara, Samsung, Amazon, Red Bull, Apple, Zappos, and Harley-Davidson, each having a dedicated and enthusiastic group of customers who are more than just loyal, they are — bonded. Once these select companies have built a critical mass of bonded customers, they enjoy benefits which most brands could only dream of. They get massive word-of-mouth exposure, they have reduced customer acquisition costs, they have lower service and support costs (or none in the case of Google), they can enter new market areas, etc. The most remarkable example of customer-brand bonding may be Google, which not only doesn’t do any marketing (in the traditional sense) but, as noted, also doesn’t have any customer service; and, yet, Google still has a large cadre of users who are passionate about their value proposition.

Customer loyalty, in and of itself, focuses on retaining customers, and ‘barriers to exit’ in the macro sense. In today’s interconnected world, with active vendor substitution and high churn rates an everyday reality, traditional approaches to customer behavior management will inevitably fall short. Bonding, now identified as the highest expression of customer loyalty behavior, has proven to generate stronger, and more polarized (positive to negative) results across b2b and b2c verticals, especially when compared to traditional satisfaction, retention, loyalty, and recommendation metric results. Arguably (because customer researchers detest agreement), customer bonding will be the standard for successful brand and corporate performance going forward.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. It’s really hard to define the loyalty, but one thing is for sure: if you have to keep giving gifts to your customers, then they aren’t loyal to you.

    Their shopping experiencie must be the best since the begining to the end; your only exit barrier should be the gap between the experience on your store vs the others. Yes, you can give a gift from time to time, but if it becomes a habit, sooner or later your customer will notice that ultimately he/she is paying you for those gifts, so your prices and all your “good intentions” will be questioned.


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