We chat to the founder of Wordstart, Mongezi Mtati, about his idea for a community of influencers and networks that connect with brands using the power of word of mouth. He shares his thoughts on startups, funding, brands using influencers, and provides us with some fascinating statistics about trusted sources. We also find out about his experience with The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and how it helped his ideas get off the ground.
Tell us about WordStart and where the idea began.
We help companies get the buzz started by introducing them to young South African influencers, both online and offline. We deliver measurement, insights for advertising and more marketing, from the online part of the campaign.
The idea came up in a mentoring session where I wanted to start a digital marketing agency. After looking at what I had done and how brands still approach marketing, as well as perceived product category influencers, I started to build a network that has the power to create perceptions. Our network now ranges from young professionals, to bloggers, to influencers in the social space and experts in various fields. They are trendsetters whose opinions are valued by their networks. We engage these early adopters through brainstorms and seeding new products and experiences. We then we let them talk about their experience and that’s when we measure.
You received guidance from Sir Richard Branson’s Entrepreneur Centre in Johannesburg. How did you approach the Branson Centre and what was required of you there?
When WordStart was an idea, a friend introduced me by email to the Branson Centre CEO. Within hours I sent through my company profile. The idea was for us to take the concept as quickly as possible into something we prove in the marketplace.
They require that you at least, have a registered business that operates. It doesn’t necessarily have to be profitable, but it should be a viable business.
What are some of the findings you have discovered about researching the power of word of mouth?
First, the number of followers a person has on social platforms doesn’t automatically mean influence. Measurable conversation on the web amounts to 20% of all word of mouth about brands and products, while 80% happens face to face.
Nielsen recently released a study that proves that 92% of people around the world trust word of mouth recommendations of people online and offline. Only 47% trust TV ads and far less trust radio ads.
61% of consumers use search engines to read about products before making purchases. We just make it easier for that content to be created through cool campaigns worth talking about. Then 75% of customers spread the word about products that they have good experiences with.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are looking for funding or support?
That’s a tough one because not all businesses are the same and not all support applies to all startups. Funding isn’t always the answer, although it seems to be when you start. Support follows starters, so start with what you have and where you are.
Build from an idea that creates value in the market, rather than looking for funding to support a vague idea that you hope will turn into a business from the money. The more money you get into your business, the more control and equity you give away. So choose wisely, lest you end up working to please a funder, instead of building a meaningful organization that blazes a trail in the marketplace.
Be brave and carve a niche.
Do you think that brands use the word of mouth method to its full potential?
How can word of mouth be monitored by brands and the statistics used effectively?
There a quite a lot of tools to monitor word of mouth, including BrandsEye and Saidwot, and that’s just part of it. The key is to know what it all means and also understanding that a campaign is half the job. The other half is creating raving fans in what you do daily.
Knowing what the statics and data say means nothing if a product or brand doesn’t change. Brands need to strike a balance between listening and evolving to people’s needs. The age of the consumer has died at the hands of people no longer fitting in to the norm. It was followed by its dear friend our trusted ‘LSM’. Build trust and customers will reward you.
Can you give us an example of a great word of mouth campaign that made a great impact? Either something you were involved in or something you have seen.
We worked on Gareth Cliff’s online book launch. In 2 weeks through 17 bloggers, including Ideate and Thought Leader, we reached 105 000 people. The book became a bestseller and also became Jonathan Ball Publishers’ highest selling Kindle book.
In 2011, we heard Rammstein was coming to South Africa in 4 weeks and we couldn’t get tickets because they were sold out. We ran a social experiment that saw our campaign – which included giving away lollipops on the roadside and the creation of a Facebook group – lead to contact with Rammstein and being invited as the band’s guests. It was also featured by a Hungarian fan website and was written about in Portuguese, which proves the power of word of mouth. This all happened on a shoe-string budget.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Mongezi. It is a great inspiration not only for startups but also people who underestimate the importance of word of mouth.