Successfully creating a buzz around products is an art that few companies are able to consistently master.
Generating buzz is tough to achieve because it spreads mainly by word of mouth and can’t be created by advertising dollars. Recent examples of great buzz generation include the much anticipated Fox show “X Factor” debut, Amazon’s release of the “Kindle Fire” and Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft that was just delivered to its first customer in Japan. Given that buzz often leads to profits, this is a problem that many companies have been looking to solve. Interesting research on buzz from Brian Uzzi, Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, sheds light on how to generate buzz and how companies can be more effective practitioners of this elusive art form.
Uzzi used a private survey which asked 180,000 participants about their impressions of “soon-to-be-released” Hollywood films. Uzzi used the results of this survey and the resulting box office success of these movies to better understand buzz and how it relates to profits. From the data, Uzzi found that once buzz reached a certain tipping point–21% of Americans–there was a dramatic increase in box office revenues. But how did the level of buzz reach this point?
Interestingly, Uzzi discovered that buzz is not generated based on an actual experience with a product but more the anticipation of that experience.
He found that there was little to no relationship between buzz and advertising dollars spent. Buzz instead was driven by intangible factors such as a catchy trailer or unique film premise that piqued the interest of movie goers. As a result, Uzzi argues that marketing efforts should focus on planting seeds that consumers would ideally spread themselves throughout their extensive social networks.
One company that has been able to consistently plant these buzz generating seeds is Apple. Famous for its tight-lipped approach to pre-release product information, Apple strategically incorporates secrecy to generate buzz about its new products. It was reported that Apple sent the media invitations for its October 4th event that simply read “Let’s talk iPhone.” Within a few minutes the internet was abuzz with anticipation of what the new iPhone would look like and what new features were possibly going to be in included. In this case less was more, and the web was full of anticipation.
While generating buzz like this is great in bringing attention to products, ultimately, the product itself must stand up to the buzz that has been created in order to be successful. We’ve all had the experience of rushing to a theater or signing up for the latest web phenomenon and have had the product not live up to the lofty expectations that we have had. In the end, buzz can’t substitute consumers’ desire for a product that adds substantial functional value.
Read the original piece on Columbia Business School’s Ideas and Insights blog.