The elusive word-of-mouth


I was in the mood for a movie last night and went to see ABOUT TIME. It's a wonderfully charming movie about a time traveler who can go back in life to correct his mistakes. The cast was brilliant, and the writing and filming so quirky. I loved it so much that I came home and immediately emailed my movie-loving friends, and posted it to Facebook and Twitter. I really felt compelled to tell other people about this great film.

This morning, I woke up still thinking about the movie, but more from a business perspective. Two friends told me immediately they hadn't even heard of it but would go see the movie the very next day based on my recommendation. Word-of-mouth is so powerful, but so elusive. In the book world, publishers and authors try so hard to implement a great marketing and promotion plan, but the ultimate secret weapon for selling books is still word-of-mouth. The problem is, even despite Malcolm Gladwell's great analysis on the subject, no one really knows why certain movies or books or products catch on and spread through word-of-mouth.

So I thought harder about the movie. What exactly had "pushed" me to go see it? I'd seen the previews and thought it looked cute but wasn't entirely sold--I thought it might be a good movie to rent at home later. Then I looked at what other movies were out there, and nothing else really stood out that I was desperate to see. Then I happened to read a review by our local movie reviewer, whose taste I usually agree with, and he gave it five stars and raved about it. So in my case it wasn't word-of-mouth that made me go see it, but rather those three factors--interesting premise, lack of competition, glowing professional review by a trusted source.

It made me think of other books and movies I've buzzed about through word-of-mouth. I recently read NIGHT FILM and loved it so much I emailed my family and friends that they should drop everything and buy it that day, and most of them did. As an author, it was incredible to see! I've seen so many aggressive and expensive marketing ideas in the book world, like tours, deep discounts, free giveaways, paid advertising, and I don't think any of them are even slightly as effective (and free!) as word-of-mouth. But my experience with ABOUT TIME made me realize all those marketing tools like reviews and great book covers and advertisement maybe aren't so much about encouraging individuals to buy books, but encouraging enough people to try the book with the hopes of sparking a big word-of-mouth spread. Whether or not the book actually catches on? I think a lot depends on quality, and comparisons with other books in the market, or even if it just strikes a particular cord with a certain reader.

I'm curious--what books or movies or products have you felt so excited about that you've been compelled to spread the word about it?