Thursday, July 15, 2010

What is Buzz?

iPhones do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it...

Buzz, that is. But in the iPhone sense – the cool-hype sense - what is Buzz? How do you measure it, and when do you know you've got it? 

In marketing terms, we know that “Buzz” is composed of awareness, preference and – with due apologies to Cole Porter – even desire and love. People crave their iPhone, they are quite literally passionate about them – the brand-as-device has become a part of their identity and is valued beyond its intrinsic usefulness. This is a hallmark of Buzz: in some sense it goes beyond logic and reason – it is emotional – and this is why Buzz is so hard to define and to measure.

Most people agree that Buzz originated as a word-of-mouth phenomenon, a kind of groundswell, but beyond that definitions get fuzzy. In her much-cited 2000 HBR article The Buzz on Buzz, Renée Dye calls it “explosive self-generating demand” which doesn't strike me as particularly useful or specific (another takeaway from her article is how faddish Buzz is – her examples of buzziness include the long forgotten Pokemon, Beanie Babies and the movie The Blair Witch Hunt).

Not that others have got more specific since then. In her book Buzz, Mariam Salzman gives us this: marketing; it is centered on conversational value; it is peer driven; it is strategic; and it spreads outward from trendsetter to trend spreaders to the mainstream.

Mark Hughes riffs in a similar vein:

Buzz marketing captures the attention of consumers and the media to the point where talking about your brand or company becomes entertaining, fascinating or newsworthy.

Both these books have a lot of good things to say, but like many other social media tomes they don't really give us a crisp definition of the fundamental commodity at hand. In social science speak, they certainly don't get us to a point where we can operationalize “Buzz” and thus measure it effectively.

This is a failure. How on earth can we have a conversation about Buzz, and all that it entails, if we can't agree on what it is? In many respects, this has echoes of past marketing conversations around another slippery concept, The Brand.

So, Buzz is elusive in nature and elusive to define. This hasn't stopped a boatload of companies claiming it and even naming products after it – Google Buzz, BuzzMetrics, ThoughtBuzz, BuzzTrace, BuzzGain, BuzzFeed and even BuzzLife. Buzz is Buzzy, I guess.

Let me know your ideas on what exactly buzz is...

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