How to create a buzz: The business lesson for marketers

b_uZZartOriginally posted on CNN.com by Peter Walker

LONDON, England (CNN) -- In these economically tough times, the dream for every marketing strategist is buzz -- your product picking up ever more sales by word-of-mouth as customers talk to potential new customers, all costing your company not a cent.

Of course, this phenomenon is so alluring because it is also so very elusive. Companies have spent millions over the years trying to work out who in their marketplace are the "connectors," those who spread the word about a new product or service throughout their peer group.

Now, new research from a leading U.S. business school suggests that many marketing departments have been looking in the wrong place, and that these all-important opinion-formers might crop up in seemingly unlikely places.

The study, carried out by Raghuram Iyengar and Christophe Van den Bulte, both marketing professors at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton school, along with Thomas W. Valente, a professor of preventative medicine at the University of Southern California, looked into the so-called "seeding points" for a new prescription drug. Who were the physicians, they asked, who were at the social networks, promoting the new drug widely among peers and colleagues?

The answer, they found, after mapping a jumble of points and lines representing doctors practicing in a large city and the connections between them, was unexpected. Physician 184, the hub point for information about the new drug, was not a particularly famous or distinguished name.

Instead, he was the link point between two medical communities in the city split broadly by ethnicity, one dominated by Asian names and another with primarily European names. The study also showed the doctor had seemingly exerted a significant impact on sales and use of the treatment.

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