Several weeks ago, a few of my colleagues gave a presentation to our entire office about the field of word of mouth marketing, learnings from the WOMMA conference and what this means for our clients.  After the presentation, several members of our social marketing team commented that this area seemed to be nothing new.  After all, they had been doing almost exactly the same thing for many years.  Nedra Weinreich’s recent post shared a similar frustration … on the recent commandeering of the term "social marketing" to define (and be limited to) these new emerging areas of consumer generated media, word of mouth marketing and customer evangalism.  Social marketing already has a definition – and it’s not the same as word of mouth marketing.  But what makes them different?

Most professionals familiar with both terms would agree that social marketing is typically about health or social concerns.  It most often starts with promoting individual behaviour change – but typically seeks it in order to promote a wider societal change or benefit.  Word of mouth marketing, on the other hand, often focuses on products and services.  Leading WOM advocates and companies like Buzz Agent focus on getting consumers to share honest opinions about products and services and to tap into a phenomenon that has existed for hundreds of years – people telling other people what to buy and what not to buy.

The interesting point here, though, is not to focus on the semantic differences – but rather what this entire debate means for the evolution of the marketing industry.  People’s opinions have always been important, but the rise of personal media gives these voices amplification.  The evolution of better search and filtering tools allows these amplified voices to be more easily heard.  Put the two together, and you have a power afforded to many individuals far beyond anything that was possible in the past.  It is no longer enough to focus a marketing message on a sale.  "Buy this" is being replaced by "believe in this."  And this is a social marketing lesson that others are now finally learning. As marketers evolve, there will be more crossover in this space – and that’s a good thing.  This trend will lead to more authentic marketing messages and a rise in the perception of marketing … probably at the expense of advertising.