Sunday, June 03, 2007

Book review: Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen

Notes on The Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen

The thesis of Buzz is that buzz about a product or service isn't just organic but can and should be built, maintained and expanded by the leaders of the company. Buzz, defined as positive comments, is among the most powerful marketing weapons on the planet. A comment from a trusted messenger, like a friend or colleague, cuts through the noise of television, internet, radio and print advertising and commands attention and respect. Therefore, one must build and cultivate buzz (including making the product or service extraordinary) as part of any marketing campaign.

Rosen describes a method for building buzz. First, ask your customers, especially your best customers, to buzz. They are the believers in your product (or else they wouldn't have associated with you). Give them the chance to impress their networks with their savvy by sharing their association with your extraordinary product. Ask them to spread the word with a personal letter or email to potential clients they know that explains the value of the product or service and some of them will.

Second, focus on people at the center of a social network. Rosen call them hubs. A mega-hub is Oprah Winfrey or David Broder or Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people trusting their recommendations. A regular hub is the popular kid in high school or the county chair of the Democratic Party or the local bookseller with dozens of people trusting their recommendations.

Hubs are more likely to recommend your product, candidate, issue or service if their heart feels they are a part of something and their head knows that the quality is high. Thus, create a community of believers (Deadheads or Rangers and Pioneers or Jeep Jamboree) who can evangelize about you and your company and give them complete transparency and candor. If there's a problem, share it and solve it with the people who care most about you and your campaign. Don't spin your base.

Finally, use scarcity and mystery to get hubs talking. Sneak previews or special invitation-only events create excitement and buzz. Dampening supply early on to create unmet demand also fuels buzz (only permitting the candidate to personally appear at certain events or only offering a few potential customers access to the product or service at first).

Rosen's insights into buzz are particularly relevant for a class of service providers that are not known for their innovative marketing: public transportation agencies like Amtrak or the Chicago Transit Authority. For them, a key insight is to ask your best customers (like monthly pass holders) to spread the word. Existing riders are in a better position than anyone else to pitch the service to their networks and recruit new riders. They should be asked to do so on a regular basis.

Leaders of agencies should explain to riders how public transportation is a network and therefore grows more valuable as more people use it. Routes with few riders ultimately get eliminated. With more riders comes more revenue for reliability and expansion as well as more political support for public investment. Every rider has an interest in recruiting new riders to keep the service they use and to build support for more.

Network hubs who could come to understand the value of transit to their community should be recruited to spread the word as well. Local elected officials, not only those who influence transit budgets but those who control unrelated agencies like school boards or park districts should be asked to tell their constituents about the service in their area. Give them tools like neighborhood or route-specific maps that are relevant to their local network they can distribute locally. In return, the agency must solicit and respect their input.

Create events for riders and hubs to build excitement and community. Take riders to see the bus barn or the maintenance facility. Bring your best customers to your planning department to review potential designs for signs or maps. Share all ridership data by route and ask for advice on how to recruit new riders. This is particularly important with any new routes where new riders need to be quickly identified and recruited to fill empty buses.

The Anatomy of Buzz is published by Currency Books and is available in paperback.

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