Word of Mouth Marketing: A Double Edged Sword

As we enter further into the age of information, customers are gaining more power than ever. A huge source of this power comes from word-of-mouth supported by the viral nature of the internet. We are now living in a time where a single person can spread their message instantly across a truly global audience to voice their comments, criticisms or personal experiences.

From a business perspective, word-of-mouth marketing can be a great way to leverage technology and gain inexpensive exposure, as one of the largest problems for a small business is letting your customers know that you even exist. The drawback to this tactic is that word-of-mouth is notoriously difficult to control. But why should that even matter as long as the public is talking about your business? After all, any publicity is good publicity, right? Try telling that to Paul Christoforo of Ocean Marketing who recently learned a harsh lesson on the importance of respectful customer interactions and the power of word-of-mouth.

Back in mid December, Christoforo was contacted by a customer, Dave, who was inquiring about the delivery date of a fully purchased pre-order of a new product Ocean Marketing was handling distribution for. After noticing several delays on the estimated release date, Dave was simply trying to find out if his product would arrive before the holidays or not. The email conversation quickly escalated to an argument, which can be seen in full here http://penny-arcade.com/resources/just-wow1.html, but the gist of which could be summed up in one sentence said by Christoforo directly to a paying customer:

“We do value our customers but sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your im stupid hat on.”

Generally, it is not a good idea to call your customers stupid, especially when the transaction with them is not yet complete. One has to assume that Christoforo, as a PR professional, understands this concept. When looking further down the string of emails at his closing statement, it appears as if Christoforo may have had an ulterior motive for his behavior:

“Make sure you stir up a lot of controversy about us the more the better we needed some drama gets good blood flow going about the new product launch.”

It is true that some companies have benefited from controversy related exposure since, as mentioned before, it can be harder to let customers know of your existence than to get them to like you. However Christoforo could not have anticipated the insanely rapid and powerful backlash that immediately unfolded.

The very next day, this exchange was posted publicly and spread worldwide within hours. The public spent the entire day making jokes and bashing Christoforo personally, sending emails, posting to his twitter, and even calling his home. According to Christoforo, this should have been great for business as now everyone knew about his company. Yet, the real backlash from his charade was just beginning.

The following day, two days after the original email, Christoforo sent out a press release apologizing and pleading for mercy as his business was crumbling to the ground. The companies he did business with began dropping their contracts and ceasing business deals since no one wanted to be associated with a company that had so much negative press surrounding it. Christoforo did, after all, ask for controversy and that is exactly what he got.

The moral here is that in an age of global interconnectivity, one person can make a difference on a worldwide scale. Companies are, now more than ever, being held responsible for their actions and everything you do as a business owner will make it to your customers as public information more rapidly than you can imagine. Regardless of if this was actually one of the centuries biggest marketing blunders, or a misguided attempt at some free exposure that got out of hand, Christoforo underestimated the nature of word-of-mouth and was burned to the ground in all of one day.



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