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Marketing: what's the buzz all about?


It’s a concept that has taken on many names in recent times, including buzz marketing, viral marketing, word-of-mouth, word-of-mouse and stealth marketing. Whatever you call it, the concept is simple: using customers to create a conversation about a product or service.


Buzz marketing is the promotion of a product or service using customers to communicate a message to friends, family and colleagues. It’s one of the most powerful forms of marketing communications because of its huge potential for exponential growth. Just like a virus, a message communicated using buzz marketing can rapidly multiply to thousands and even millions of customers – as the diagram below shows:

Buzz marketing can involve both online (more frequently called viral marketing) and offline techniques. It’s an integral part of the marketing toolbox because of its impact and persuasiveness. In many cases, the message is passed on to those people who value it most, thereby directly targeting customers with a marketing message. And because the message is delivered by a friend, family member or colleague, it is trusted more than something that is boldly communicated through traditional marketing.


Hotmail offers free email accounts to anyone who signs up. Each email sent by a Hotmail subscriber includes the simple tagline: “Get your free private email at www.hotmail.com”. Users are in effect providing Hotmail with free advertising by sending emails to their families, friends and colleagues. With a budget of less than $500,000, Hotmail signed up 12 million subscribers in the first 18 months.

Another example of buzz marketing success is the yellow bracelets etched with the words LIVESTRONG, which raise funds for cancer research. Celebrities and mere mortals the world over have been wearing their conscience on their wrists as part of this buzz marketing campaign, and many other charities have copied the approach. We’ve all sat in meetings where someone is wearing a colourful plastic bracelet – it’s the perfect conversation starter.


Buzz marketing relies on people to communicate messages rather than traditional methods of marketing, such as mass media advertising. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point”, there are three types of people who help spread ideas. He calls them the Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Mavens are the information gathers who communicate messages throughout a social network. Connectors are people who know and communicate with a great number of people, and Salespeople are those who possess great natural persuasive power. Any idea that catches the interest of Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople is likely to be broadcast far and wide.


Buzz marketing should be combined with other forms of marketing to create an integrated marketing campaign. To be successful, a buzz marketing campaign should:

  • Have a unique feature that makes it entertaining, fascinating or newsworthy
  • Provide incentives to encourage customers to try new products or services
  • Create a conversation and generate positive referrals


Interestingly, buzz marketing is becoming a tool of choice for marketers targeting advertising-savvy teenagers who are increasingly difficult to reach through traditional marketing methods.

However, despite its popularity today, the danger for buzz marketing is that the market becomes cluttered with overuse of the approach. Too much competing buzz equates to merely noise, and this will inevitably diminish its effectiveness, just as we have seen in the world of advertising.

Keep it simple. The best buzz always stands out from the crowd.

Renee Hancock is a marketing and communications specialist, whose experience spans finance, government, education, not-for-profit, telecommunications and law. She has consulted for two of Australia’s most prestigious public relations agencies and now works in-house for a leading financial services organisation.