At Idiro, we are constantly searching for word-of-mouth case studies to help our customers understand and apply best practice in word-of-mouth and influencer marketing, in order that they gain maximum value from Idiro’s social network analysis service.  Here are some instructive examples from the past. The New Yorker recently published an article by Atul Gawande about how two innovations – anaesthesia and antisepsis – revolutionised medical science.  One – the use of ether as an anaesthetic – spread quickly through the medical community, whereas the other – the use of hygienic practices by surgeons to minimise infection – took far longer to be adopted as a standard. The reasons for this difference, as set out in Gawande’s article, are instructive for anyone involved in word-of-mouth marketing. The use of ether to remove pain was relatively simple to implement, made the surgeon’s job easier, and the patient’s experience infinitely less unpleasant.  Doubtless the benefits of anaesthetic spread among doctors and patients by word of mouth and would have translated quickly into economic pressure on doctors to offer this value-added service.  Anaesthetic was good for business.

Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister’s breakthrough in antisepsis was an equally simple idea: sterilise everything in the operating room to reduce dramatically the chance of infection during surgery and consequently to improve patient survival rates massively.  The benefit of antisepsis is even greater than that of anaesthetic: survival.  The benefits were proven by Lister and others.  However the causal relationship between hygiene and high survival rates, while proven, was not plain for all to see, as it was for ether and pain relief.  In those days, surgeons used to operate in clothes stained with the blood of earlier patients as a demonstration patient volume.  Moreover, strict hygiene demands time-consuming processes and attention to detail.  Sterilising instruments, the room, clothes, hands – these are practices that some medical professionals neglect even today.  And if a patient dies after surgery, who can be sure that she would have lived if strict antisepsis had been applied?  Because the germs are invisible and antisepsis requires the surgeon to a) give up a symbol of his job and b) spend time and money sterilising everything, inertia was strong and widespread adoption was very slow. So what can word-of-mouth marketers learn from these two contrasting stories?  First, even if an innovation has major proven benefits, its speedy widespread adoption is by no means guaranteed.  For innovations such as Frank Whittle’s jet engine (1930) and Alexander Fleming’s penicillin (1928), it took a crisis (World war 2) to gain wide adoption.  If your new product requires a significant change in user behaviour or (worse) a change in their beliefs or values, then marketers must make the new behaviour easy to adopt and provide hard-to-deny-or-ignore proof of the benefits. If uptake of your great new product is slow, carry out research into those in your target market who have declined to adopt your product.  Find a way to show clear evidence.  Look for a segment with less inertia or a greater need, and sell your innovation to them – or identify and sell to innovators, as Sony did with the Walkman. Redesign your product or your communication.  London doctor John Snow, who happened to also be a pioneer of anaesthesia, faced massive problems convincing the establishment of his discovery that cholera was caused by contaminated water, and not miasma as generally believed.  His pioneering use of maps to communicate the link between water sources and cholera infections helped convince powerful sceptics – and saved thousands of lives.   Many valuable innovations face scepticism, indifference and inertia.  Overcoming this takes careful planning.  Idiro can provide you the expertise in word-of-mouth marketing to ensure you gain the best advantage from Idiro’s powerful analytics.

Recommended Posts