Word of Mouth

By Clifford Woods <>

Word of mouth.  We have all heard of it.  But what is it exactly?  It almost seems mystical because of its power to influence.

It can either work totally against you or any endeavor, or totally for and with you, or send you or your activity sky-rocketing.

But how? And how does one acquire it or bottle such a thing for guaranteed success?

Or how does one avoid it so as to avoid the inevitable failure that it has spread?

Any dictionary that you look this phrase up in refers to it as communication, whether it is informal communication, oral or spoken communication, gossip, etc.  Considering all that is available today with the social media rage, there is probably more communication going on now in our society and worldwide between people than ever before in our history.

But even before Facebook, Twitter, texting, LinkedIn, or even emails, I can remember when word of mouth was just as powerful without any of these modern electronic tools.

I’ll start with a good example first.  I remember in 1977 seeing these very short, non-descript ads for a new movie coming out.  I barely noticed them, but I do remember seeing them on TV.  They were non-descript because no famous or even known actors were in it that I could tell, so it kind of looked like a nothing movie to me.

The movie then came out.  It was a little thing called “Star Wars.”  I next remember standing in a movie line in the pouring rain with a group of friends and hundreds of other ticket buyers outside a sold-out theater (in those days the theaters were huge and not these large living-room size theaters they have nowadays) waiting to get in to see this movie.

Not even a thunderstorm deterred a single person into leaving or giving up their space in line. The excitement was so high amongst us that even though quite physically wet, all of us, friends and strangers were laughing and having a great time due to just the anticipation itself.

We all showed up due to word of mouth.  And when we saw it (many times I might add), we continued spreading that word of mouth, and so, quite frankly did the entire world.

Now here is an opposite example.  A few years later, I am in Los Angeles.  On a regular basis, in the LA Times, there are these full-page spread ads for another movie.  This one starred a very famous and popular actor at the time.  You would have thought with as much promotion that was being pumped into this movie, it too would have been an absolute blockbuster.

Well, indeed it was a buster, but without the block.  It just went bust and was a complete flop.

The movie was called “Heaven’s Gate” and it starred Warren Beatty.

So what happened between the two of these examples?

The first example sent people into a communication frenzy instantly and in a very positive way.  The second example did the exact same thing, but in a very negative way, and people stayed away in droves from the movie theaters. Not even a famous, popular actor could get any positive communication going for this picture.  And again it was instant.

So what did George Lucas do that Warren Beatty did not do?

George delivered something that the people wanted. And it communicated.  Or you could say he delivered the right communication (in the form of a movie) to his public and that public, in turn, told everyone else.  In fact, that communication is still going on to this day and this is almost 40 years later.

Warren (or the studios) did not make an activity that communicated.  But they tried to force this “communication” into the public with huge ads, over and over.  It did not work. There is no substitute for the real thing.

If you, yourself think back to positive and negative examples of word of mouth, you will see that the above same formula plays itself out every single time.

Both types are just as powerful.  But it depends on what you communicate that determines the outcome.  So, if you want good word of mouth, start with a really good product and or service that people want and you’ll get the word of mouth you can handle.