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Monday, December 06, 2004

Buzz Debate
Ragezz On

Not enough honey in the hive to make this
BzzAgent lie about cool (or crappy) products.

NPR's The Connection aired a discussion with the author of the NY Times article and Dave Balter, founder of BzzAgent.com. Audio is archived and free.

The current debate over Word-of-Mouth (WoM) advertising seems to keep coming down to the assumption that campaign participants are paid to lie, manufacture positive spin on bad products, or somehow otherwise asked to be insincere.
It's simply not true.

The primary example being given is of Sony/Ericsson's efforts to hawk their camera phone through a bit of theatrically scripted 'dramatic marketing' (DRAMArketing?) . The practices of companies like BzzAgent are diametrically opposed to those employed by Sony.

A BzzAgent's opinions are are real, unscripted, peer-to-peer interactions. I can't speak to what other WoM organizations may practice, but as a BzzAgent myself I'm happy to report that I was never asked to do anything remotely devious or underhanded.

Word-of-Mouth marketing is
"Open Source" marketing.
Companies can generate loads of buzz (good or bad) by simply getting their products in the hands of real-users and allowing the natural progression of information-sharing to spread from peer-to-peer. One need only witness the Firefox browser's seemingly overnight popularity and current cult-like following. Only Mac users seem to be this passionate about an object of their desire.

Mozilla freely allowed the public to download the Forefox browser and word spread from peer-to-peer, like... er... like "fire."

What I see BzzAgent attempting to do is track and measure the way this message spreads from a campaign they organize and monitor. A limited quantity of free product is distributed to their list of pre-qualified BzzAgents, (they can selected by region, age group, sex, etc.) and those agents are asked sample the product for themselves, and (if the agent feels it's worth talking about) to file reports of any activity in which they tell someone about the product -- positive OR negative!

As far as being "paid to promote" -- BzzAgents are awarded a small amount of points for each report they file. There are no deposits to Swiss bank accounts or offshore holding companies.

The points are not withheld and awarded only for positive reports. As one who wasn't too fond of a recent book (I didn't like the paper it was printed on, nor the quality of printing, and I thought there were better resources already available). These points are awarded equally despite the buzz generated being positive or negative.

Once enough points are collected, they can be exchanged for other items (primarily books) which also seem to be items that might generate additional WoM.

I think BzzAgent is smart enough to realize you can't control buzz, nor have they tried to -- at least not in any campaign in which I've participated. In my opinion (and since I AM a BzzAgent, and seem to be the only one reporting on it that has actually experienced a Bzz campaign, received their marketing materials, read their specific campaign instructions, filed a report, etc.) what they are attempting to do is QUANTIFY it.

BzzAgent evaluates their agent's efforts and produce reports on the spread of the WoM they generate. This has value to their clients and they charge accordingly for their efforts.

For me, BzzAgent is a means of getting first-access to the 'cool new stuff' that I like to talk about with my firends and write about in my blog. If I wasn't a BzzAgent, I'd still be getting the next Seth Godin book and telling my friends about it -- as a BzzAgent, I get it a couple weeks earlier and I get my copy for free.

As for being rewarded with BzzPoints, I usually end up redeeming them for additional copies of the book I buzzed, and giving the copies away to friends I know will enjoy it as well.

If a Bzz Campaign has a GREAT product, I'm happy to tell others about it -- if they have a CRAPPY product, I'm gonna tell people it's crappy. There's no lying or deceit, only the opportunity to tell my friends about cool (or not) stuff.

If BzzAgent ever DID try to control the message I shared, or even penalized me for spreading a negative message, I'd buy into the "paid to promote" theory -- but until then (at least in my opinion) Word-of-Marketing is simply "open source" marketing.

Editors note: To help stop the perception that BzzAgents must keep their identities hidden, I've added the BzzAgent logo to my blog.

To those that think I have some ulterior motive to the items I review and recommend, I actually have more of a vested interest in you buying a book from one of my Amazon links than any BzzAgent campaign in which I've participated. I would no more give a positive book review in the hopes that you'd buy it from my Amazon link than I would give positive buzz to a product which did not deserve it.


Blogger johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy); said...

I joined BzzAgent after railing against it many times on Brand Autopsy. I joined it to better understand the ‘BzzAgent game.’ (You can read a recent post on my recent ‘Tom Peters BzzAgent experience’ here” (http://brandautopsy.typepad.com/brandautopsy/2004/11/bzzing_tom_pete.html)

My take on BzzAgent is that it taps into people’s aspirations to be mavens. Some people, want to be in the know before everyone else knows. These mavens and maven-wananbes enjoy being hip to something before it becomes a trend.

In other words … BzzAgent is just as much in the maven-makin’ business as it is in the word-of-mouth business.

Note … my other BzzAgent experience was being a part of the VERY UNREMARKABLE Johnston & Murphy LITE show campaign. Wow … a light-weight dress shoe … big whoop … nothing buzzworthy there. So I filed this report with BzzAgent on my ‘buzz activity’:

I spoke with a friend of mine and commented on how unremarkable the shoe is.

I told him the shoe is light but that there are other light-weight dress-style shoes on the market. I also told him that the letter from BzzAgent Jono was so over-the-top glorifying that it turned me off. (Jono needs to get out more if he really believes the J&T Lite changed his perception of dress shoes. I take it Jono is anything but a metrosexual.) And, I expressed my feelings that wearing the shoes made me feel as though I was wearing orthopedic shoes. (Ouch.)

But that is not all … I wore my J&M Lite shoes to the airport and spent ten minutes arguing with the TSA employee that I didn’t need to take them off to go through security because they’re based on a fiberglass shank rather than metal. The TSA employee didn’t buy that line. He also didn’t buy the line that my J&M Lite shoes should be looked at like flip-flops. I stopped arguing with the TSA employee once I noticed his shoes … they looked just like mine. (Great, the TSA employee and I are stylin’ together with our orthopedic-esque dress shoes.) I took off my J&M Lite shoes and had them scanned just as I would with my Kenneth Cole dress shoes.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Don The Idea Guy; said...

John ~ Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
I'd have to agree with just about everything you said - I joined to have first access to whatever BzzAgent was buzzing.

Maven or Wannabe... I'll take either label, but BzzAgent is simply one source of trendwatching material to which I subscribe -- magazines, blogs, whatever -- inspiration and 'cool stuff' comes from everywhere.

Your experience with the shoe campaign is perfectly understandable. Personally, I wouldn't have participated if I had been offered a spot in the campaign. I don't think I would have been impressed or inspired by a "shoe." Same goes for their current battery campaign -- I was offered a spot and declined. I simply see nothing buzz-worthy about another battery.

But... the Seth Godin books, Tom Peters' new "Project04" -- all cool things I would have bought and buzzed whether I was a BzzAgent or not. BzzAgent is simply a conduit through which to access these things ahead of the pack.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous; said...

Don, In reading your comments, also those of John Moore of BrandAutopsy, as well as Dave Balter's posts on his blog, it is pretty clear that this is a company on the up-and-up. I still have a little bit of an issue in that while the management at BzzAgent does have integrity, many of the BzzAgents seem reluctant to be so forthcoming and are purposefully not transparent with their involvement.

Also this I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg in open source marketing. Personally and professionally, I like to have more influence on the direction of the product/service itself and really be heard as far as my needs/wants by the company than to solely be used as a mouthpiece.

Evelyn Rodriguez, http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com

1:23 PM  
Blogger Don The Idea Guy; said...

Absolutely, Evelyn.
I feel WoM is probably the oldest form of marketing, and since it IS so organic in nature, the one most likely to continue evolving over time.

As far as maintaining an open dialogue with companies to help shape their products/services, I think that's a different animal.

Unfortunately, most companies lack the vision to understand what a benefit consumer involvement can be to growing a healthy and loyal group of customer evangelists.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Peter; said...

I totally agree with Don !! I joined BzzAgent to see the inside working of this new concept. I actually carefully scanned the registeration process to esnure that there was no catch.. in fact THERE IS NO CATCH..

This WoM concept is great, if the product is crappy, I'll say it !! If I think its good, I say so.. no biggie.. my values are not for sale. !!PERIOD !! and neither is my creditability with my peer group..

Don, I blogged this about open source marketing too some time ago

Its interesting to boot, that many different minds sets are echoing the same reposne .. its dah ?? so whats all that hype about BzzAgent eh ??

1:36 PM  
Blogger Don The Idea Guy; said...

Thanks for writing, Peter -- it was good to hear you weigh in on the issue.

I think the primary point that seems to escape those vehemently against BzzAgent is that they DON'T do anything to try and control the buzz or the things their agents say to anyone.

Every argument against BzzAgent seems to stem from the fact they believe the buzz is fake, mass-produced, scripted, or (at the worst) bribing their agents to say "nice things" about the object of their campaigns.

The only way I think they'd be completely convinced is to simply join a campaign and experience it for themselves -- obviously nothing I, you, or Dave Balter says seems to convince them otherwise -- but no one seems willing to see for themselves!

1:49 PM  
Blogger Brian, Certified Idea Maniac; said...


I have participated in numerous Bzz Campaigns. I don't believe Bzz Agent is creating false hype about the products they represent. I am sure Bzz agent is like many businesses and have clients of all variety's some products will be winners and some will be losers.

I have done numerous campaigns and have found it takes a lot of energy to buzz something that is untrue. Therefore the only times I have buzzed are the products I truly find remarkable. Of the products I have reviewed I have buzzed positively for Seth Godin's A Purple Cow, Mildly for Free Prize inside, (I think Seth is cool but not all his books are as good as a Purple Cow, Ode magazine was top notch. I do not remember the name of the anti spam product but found it a hassle and not worth my time and the Potato Chip Difference not interesting enough for me to even read as well as the book Unstuck.

So I say leave BZZ agent alone. Its a free world and marketing comes in all forms. At least it is fresh and new. Everthing comes full circle and interuption marketing may make its return some day.

1:47 PM  

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