How valuable is word of mouth?

V. Kumar, John Andrew Petersen, Robert P. Leone

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

139 Scopus citations

Abstract

The customers who buy the most from you are probably not your best marketers. What's more, your best marketers may be worth far more to your company than your most enthusiastic consumers. Those are the conclusions of professors Kumar and Petersen at the University of Connecticut and professor Leone at Ohio State University, who analyzed thousands of customers in research focused on a telecommunications company and a financial services firm. In this article, the authors present a straightforward tool that can be used to calculate both customer lifetime value (CLV), the worth of your customers' purchases, and customer referral value (CRV), the value of their referrals. Knowing both enables you to segment your customers into four constituent parts: those that buy a lot but are poor marketers (which they term Affluents); those that don't buy much but are very strong salespeople for your firm (Advocates); those that do both well (Champions); and those that do neither well (Misers). In a series of one-year experiments, the authors demonstrated the effectiveness of this segmentation approach. Offering purchasing incentives to Advocates, referral incentives to Affluents, and both to Misers, they were able to move significant proportions of all three into the Champions category. Both companies reaped returns on their marketing investments greater than 12-fold - more than double the normal marketing ROI for their industries. The power of this tool is its ability to help marketers decide where to focus their efforts. Rather than waste funds encouraging big spenders to spend slightly more while overlooking the power of customer evangelists who don't buy enough to seem important, you can reap much higher rewards by nudging big spenders to make referrals and urging enthusiastic proponents of your wares to buy a bit more.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalHarvard Business Review
Volume85
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2007

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Strategy and Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)

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