The Buzz Starts Here: Finding the First Mouth for Word-of-Mouth Marketing - Knowledge@Wharton
New research led by Wharton marketing professors Raghuram Iyengar and Christophe Van den Bulte, working with University of Southern California preventive medicine professor Thomas W. Valente, has found that traditional targets may not be as influential as previously thought. The pharmaceutical firm that sponsored the research for their recently published paper, "Opinion Leadership and Social Contagion in New Product Diffusion," had its "a-ha" moment when they found Physician No. 184 on a map.
The map was part of the researchers' presentation that reported the results to the sponsoring firm. Charted on the map was a tangle of points and lines representing physicians practicing in a large city and the connections between them. Researchers had tracked how prescriptions of a new drug spread from one physician to another, depending on who talked to whom and referred patients to whom.
Mapped out on the screen, the story became clear: The medical community was actually divided into two sub-networks split apparently by ethnicity, with one sub-network dominated by physicians with mostly Asian names and the other with mostly European names. Connecting the two, like a spider suspended on a thread between two webs, was the dot for Physician No. 184 -- a doctor the company's marketing department and salespeople barely knew.