Remember that classic TV commercial, "If you tell two friends about Faberge Organics shampoo with wheat germ oil and honey, they'll tell two friends, and so on ... and so on ... and so on?"
That's an example of word-of-mouth marketing at its best. And today, buzz agencies, dedicated solely to getting the word out about new products and services, have grown exponentially.
Click here for a list of buzz agencies where you can register today to get involved in their word-of-mouth marketing campaigns.
In 2008, $1.82 billion will be spent getting the word out by getting people talking, according to PQ Media. That means ample opportunity to receive free products for anyone willing to lend their opinion on new stuff.
Big bucks marketing. Big brands know that people are at least twice as likely to give a product a try if they've heard about it from a friend, so it makes good business sense to help get that conversation started.
Women are the major drivers of these word-of-mouth efforts, and there are now hundreds of thousands of women and men who register online with buzz agencies to be word-of-mouth marketers. These people agree to give their very candid opinions on products to the companies and, if they wish, spread the word to friends, family, co-workers, social network pals and others.
What's in it for the talkers? Free stuff and a loud voice in the marketing and purchasing patterns of some of the biggest product launches ever. They're often first on their block to try out the latest products -- sometimes before they're on the market -- for free. Plus, they can use their voices to influence purchasing decisions among their circle of influence, which is exciting for many people.
Full disclosure. Most buzz agencies say they highly encourage participants to be upfront about their connection to the company. After all, the ethics are questionable when a friend raves about a product, but doesn't clue you in on his or her connection to the brand. But these companies also say that they don't tell people exactly what to say, instead, leaving that decision in the hands of each participant to decide how he or she wishes to handle it.
The companies do, however, give people fact sheets with highlights and "wow facts" about each product. It's at the discretion of recipients if or how they opt to reference those pointers.
Spotlight on Success
There are several high profile examples where buzz agencies say they're achieving big success by getting tongues wagging.
Philips Sonicare Essence. Boston-based BzzAgent sent a $70 toothbrush to 30,000 of its marketers, each of whom agreed to be part of this campaign. BzzAgent asked them to try out the toothbrush and -- if they liked it -- share coupons with their friends.
By tracking those coupons and using polls and other data, BzzAgent claims their 30,000 marketers each told an average of 9.4 people. Those 282,000 people then told an average of 4.14 others, reaching a grand total of 1,449,480 people about this product. BzzAgent says the Philips toothbrush benefited from a $2.5 million sales lift that they directly attribute to this word-of-mouth campaign.
BzzAgent attributes these figures in part to a Northeastern University study on word-of-mouth marketing relay rates.
OPI Nic's Sticks. To launch OPI Nic's Sticks -- a clever packaging idea that puts fast-drying nail polish in a pen that's perfect for your purse -- the manufacturer hired the firm SheSpeaks to drum up excitement. SheSpeaks sent the product to 9,000 of its women members, asking them to try it and share coupons with friends.
The results: SheSpeaks says 120,000 Nic's Sticks were sold based on the campaign, which is more than 13 times the original giveaway. As further proof of the program's success, SheSpeaks says the redemption rate for the coupons distributed by its marketers was 300 percent greater than the rate of redemptions for the same $1-off coupon inserted in magazines.
Venus Breeze. The firm VocalPoint, which is owned by Procter & Gamble, but creates campaigns for non-P&G product launches as well, sent new razors and six coupons to a whopping 450,000 moms in select markets around the country. In three months, VocalPoint says trial rates doubled in markets where this campaign took place, compared to markets where it didn't.
The coupons were redeemed at more than twice the rate of those in the newspapers, which marketers say speaks directly to the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Even though many women aren't quick to alter their method of shaving, plenty of them acted on the advice of a friend when told this new razor would provide soft skin without using lotion or shaving cream.
How to Get Involved
Click here for a list of buzz agencies where you can register today to get involved in their word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. You'll be prompted to complete a detailed profile on your areas of interest. This enables a company to decide which campaigns would be best suited for you.
If you don't like pets, you're not going to get dog food in the mail. If you love music, movies, make-up, etc., then you're likely to be included in such programs. Each of these companies runs anywhere from 10 to 20 campaigns a year, some nationwide, some limited by geography.
There are also companies that will reward you for completing opinion-based surveys -- sometimes for prizes, other times even for cash, which is minimal. The more comprehensive the survey, the greater the compensation. Online surveys that take minutes to complete may only pay a dollar or two; surveys that require you to respond over a month may pay up to $100.
You won't get rich, but you might end up with $1,000 or more in freebies in the course of a year, and the chance to influence the marketing and purchasing patterns of some of the biggest brands in the country.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America," and the CEO of Women For Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com.