Word of mouth marketing and "cheeseheads"

First, an item from Brandweek’s December 31 edition: word-of-mouth marketing is “projected to hit $1.3 billion this year, up almost 33% from $981 million in 2006,” and “spending is expected to triple by 2011.” This is due to “the explosion of communications on the Internet” and “the acceptance of WOM as a separate discipline beyond ads and public relations.”

This makes sense to me. In an era where the consumer is taking increasing control over marketing, it pays to spend money to facilitate WOM. What the article doesn’t explain, though, is what all this money is being spent on if word of mouth is mostly done for free, by consumers leaving feedback on e-commerce sites, social networking sites, and blogs. True, there is a mention of a company that “leverages relationships with artists in underground New York scenes to build buzz.” But that’s just an isolated case. I would like to know more about how companies are paying to generate WOM.

Speaking of WOM, Wisconsin is generating some buzz as it is trying to come up with a new brand besides “cheeseheads,” which is what they’re known for—dairy and specifically cheese. They seem to be committed to the project, to recognize the obstacles (stereotypes are tough to change; the tourism department “has used numerous slogans in advertising campaigns”; and Wisconsin has “cold winters, high unionization, mid-continental location and relatively high taxes”), and to have done a good job understanding the importance of positioning—finding “that single point of difference”--although the article on this subject doesn't say what that is. They also hired local talent to work on the campaign, thus increasing the chance that the campaign will show deep insight into the brand. (The CEO of Madison, Wisconsin-based branding firm Lindsay, Stone & Briggs is the one who wrote about the cold winters, unionization, location, and taxes in a paper penned eight years ago.) Good going Wisconsin—good luck!