Jackie Huba

Q&A with the authors of The Passion Conversation: Understanding, Sparking, and Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing

ThePassionConversation_200Robbi Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and John Moore, authors of Brains on Fire and executives from Brains on Fire, a word of mouth marketing and “movement igniting” company, are out with a new book, The Passion Conversation: Understanding, Sparking, and Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing. The book focuses on the marketing business as a people business. It asserts that once you as a marketer fall passionately in love with your business and start solving people problems, then your customers will spread your message through word of mouth. I sat down with John Moore for a Q&A to better understand the authors’ passion for word of mouth marketing:

Q. What do you mean when you say “Every marketing problem is a people problem”?

A. Companies face all sorts of marketing problems. If a business would reframe those issues as people problems, perspective and focus would change dramatically. For example, a company suffers from sluggish sales growth because not enough people are buying. A brand reeling from poorly conceived products and programs doesn’t have enough people interested.

If every marketing problem is a people problem, then every marketing solution must be people-based. The reasons are obvious…people buy products and use services. People make an unknown brand known. People work together to turn causes into crusades. People form communities to talk and share. People fuel the engine of business. People have the mouths word of mouth refers to.

Marketers wanting to spark and sustain conversations with customers must not lose sight that: It’s about the people, stupid.

Q. Tell me about the “passion conversation” and one way brands can get it started.

A. A line from the first Brains on Fire book is the starting point for this book: It’s not about the product conversation; it’s about the passion conversation. We profile Anytime Fitness in the book and the conversation we highlight isn’t about the product they sell, gym memberships. Instead, we highlight the passion conversation people have about improving their self-esteem as result of working out at Anytime Fitness.

Businesses need to realize the passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

Every business has a story about why it was founded. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking B2C or B2B, every business was founded for a reason. In the talks I’m giving about the book I tell people they can start finding their passion conversation by learning the “Founder’s Story” of why they started the business. I then ask people to take it one step further and learn when their business knew it was onto something special.

 The Whole Foods Market we know today began in 1980. That’s when John Mackey and few friends opened up a health food store. At the time, the founders didn’t have dreams of building a great brand. Instead, they had dreams of selling healthy food to people. That was their passion. However, a year after the first Whole Foods Market store opened a massive flood in Austin, TX wrecked the store. The founders thought all was lost. During the long cleanup process something special happened. Customers came to help cleanup. It was at that point the founders of Whole Foods knew they were onto something special. When their customers took time out of their personal lives to assist in cleaning up all the mud and debris, the founders realized they had created something far more than a grocery store. They had fostered a passionate community of people.

This story has become Whole Foods Market folklore. I’m sure other successful businesses have a similar story of a specific moment in time when the founders realized they were onto to something special. If you do not know the story of why your business was founded and when it knew it truly connected with customers, then I suggest you find that story. Once you find it, you’re certain to tap into a passion conversation.

Q. Why is word of mouth (WOM) marketing so important right now?

A. It’s important because of this irrefutable fact: Recommendations from family, friends, and friends of friends have greater influencer over our purchase decisions than any other form of marketing.

Study after study confirms this irrefutable fact such as this one from Experian. In its 2011 Digital Marketer report, Experian found…“Despite consumer reliance on digital devices and Internet-provided information, the most influential element driving purchase decisions today is still word of mouth, followed by information from a Website.” A Harris Interactive study from 2010 reveals, 71% of us say comments from friends and family exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence over our purchase decisions.

 It doesn’t take an MBA to understand…it’s meaningful to become a talkable brand.

Q. You wrote, “We believe sparking word of mouth is a problem of know-how, not knowledge.” What’s the difference?

A. A knowing-doing gap exists about how to make word of mouth happen. The knowledge of what gets customers talking exists. However, the know-how to apply that knowledge is missing.

Marketers today are confusing hindsight with foresight and leaving out the insight as they develop word of mouth activities. Businesses are too fixated on mimicking best practices from other companies to become their company’s next practice. In other words, they’ve fallen victim to check-the-box marketing. Must get on Pinterest. CHECK. Must use Facebook to engage with customers. CHECK. Must tweet fast and furious. CHECK.

Marketers are putting the WHAT before the WHY as they execute the HOW. They want to spark word of mouth with all their check-the-box marketing activities, but these conversations are not happening because of the missing ingredient—PASSION. 


This book is a must-read for marketers to want to create a brand people love and are talking about. I highly recommend it.

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