Word of Mouth Guides Dustbunny's Debut

Best Practices: When Customers Are the Network

Word of mouth isn't just an effective strategy for marketing existing products. Some organizations use WOM to research what people are saying about a product before it goes to market.

That's exactly what Bradford Morse did before he and co-inventor Raquel Barela brought their Dustbunny product to market. They partnered with a firm called Echopinion to find out what consumers thought about the fast-moving, automated electrostatic cleaner that rolls around a floor space, grabbing dust and pet hair along the way.

Echopinion works with an unspecified number of members to test new products. Participating members are asked to do two things: tell Echopinion what they think about the product and then share it with others and report on such details as where the interaction took place and their friends' exact reactions. "It's freestyle text. We just gauge whether their reaction is negative or positive," says Bill Mosher, founder and president of Echopinion.

Then after compiling and analyzing all the data, Echopinion applies the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures the likelihood of a customer recommending a company or product/service to a friend or colleague.

The result of engaging in word of mouth prior to a product launch is the ability to build strong marketing materials based on the knowledge of what consumers think of a product. "The data that you receive is actually what these folks are talking about-it's how they're using it," Mosher says. "It's a focus group, it's sampling, it's all the traditional marketing stuff on steroids."

The Dustbunny campaign needed that boost of steroids. As a new product from two unknown inventors with no big brand behind them, the Dustbunny would benefit from all the help it could get. For two months in the first quarter of 2006, 127 Echopinion members tested the product and shared it with family and friends. These were females with hardwood floors, who owned pets, and were over the age of 23.

The initial results, however, were less than promising. When Echopinion tallied the NPS, the Dustbunny scored a negative 32. Mosher didn't falter. He dug deeper into the data and saw that 75 percent of the 127 members were actually talking positively about the product and of that 75 percent, each member was telling five people about it. It was the other 25 percent of the testers, however, who didn't care to share the product with anyone that weighed heavily on the NPS.

When Mosher started reading the comments, he discovered something else. Of the 75 percent, Mosher found that the members were not using the product for what Morse and Barela intended it for-to clean entire floors. The consumers repeatedly said it worked great in hard-to-reach places-underneath beds and behind chairs. As a result, the inventors improved the marketing message to focus on the benefit of cleaning small areas. "We listened to what the consumers were saying, changed the marketing message, and took the NPS up by 14 points," he says.

As the campaign came to a close, the inventors had scheduled a meeting with the Home Shopping Network to gauge interest in showing the Dustbunny on QVC. They nailed the interview, with HSN saying the data impressed them. "It allowed the QVC folks to understand the triggers to know why people would buy this," Mosher says. On October 23 the Dustbunny made its debut to millions of viewers.

Although QVC is tight lipped about how many Dustbunny products sold on its air date, QVC has since asked Morse and Barela back for another stint this year. As for continued progress, the inventors are in the process of further honing the marketing message and hiking the NPS by continuing to listen to what customers are saying.