Editor's note: This blog originally appeared on "Insights from Aisle Five," the blog by SymphonyIRI Group.

Deb Eskra SymphonyIRI uncropped.jpgBy Debra Eskra
Conversation, chatter, buzz – word-of-mouth marketing has been around since way before the dawn of social media. People have been talking to friends about their favorite CPG products as long as products have existed. But today, social media, blogs and online forums have amplified this buzz and greatly expanded the reach of each brand’s influencers.

The idea behind word-of-mouth marketing is quite simple. If you like a product, you’ll recommend it to friends, who will pass the suggestion on to other friends. Soon, there is a whole network of folks promoting a brand!

Before digital forums, these conversations were difficult to track. Now, brands not only foster relationships with consumers by inviting candid feedback, but also encourage consumer-to-consumer conversation beyond their control. Mentions of products can be “hashtagged” and tracked across social media networks.

These new outlets helped transform a once informal marketing tactic into a measurable campaign form. Here’s how it works:

1. Find Brand Ambassadors. But where? As an example, our partner BzzAgent can help identify consumers eager to voice their opinions. BzzAgent enlists a national panel of volunteers who provide demographic information and insight into their interests. These pre-qualification surveys determine which “agents” fall into a brand’s desired target market. BzzAgent then sends BzzKits full of literature, coupons and product samples to appropriate agents. 

2. Track Digital Mentions. Every time an agent tweets, blogs or mentions the product on Facebook, it’s logged. This shows how the message resonates throughout the digital space and who it reaches.

3. Measure. Our Matched Market Analysis can measure the campaign’s ROI by isolating sales impact relative to other media. We compare sales data driven by BzzAgent’s campaign to that of a control market (without BzzAgent presence). Check out this success story of how we measured a 14.5% sales lift for Green Mountain Coffee’s campaign.

Although this type of campaign isn’t free like traditional word-of-mouth, our analyses have confirmed positive ROI, generally higher than advertising in traditional outlets such as print, television and radio. Word-of-mouth campaigns may still take a back seat to straight digital programs, but serve as effective complements to branded messages.

To increase and ensure positive ROI, here are some things to keep in mind when planning word-of-mouth campaigns:
• For new products or line extensions: Ensure strong distribution. Consider waiting to implement the campaign until the new product is readily available in retail outlets. While the buzz about a new product increases awareness, if the consumer cannot find it at retail, the campaign will be less effective.
• For established products: This strategy can provide a boost to tiring products or attract new buyers. Use word-of-mouth campaigns to reignite excitement by telling consumers about a brand refresh, or a new flavor or scent. Word-of-mouth campaigns can also create a positive halo effect on the main brand.

Many CPG marketers are still trying to get a grasp on the effects of this old concept’s new tricks. Keep in mind that consumer advocacy built by social marketing generates an average sales lift of 6.7% for CPG brands. Take advantage of digital social tools to help your brand increase sales and awareness.

Debra Eskra is a Vice President, New Media Solutions at SymphonyIRI. In her role, Debra is responsible for client management for the New Media Solutions team and specializes in word of mouth social media, local targeting and understanding the impact of online search as it relates to marketing.