Word of mouth marketing is the most powerful advertising tool in a small business owner’s toolkit. A happy customer sharing your story with a friend, colleague, or family member is far more effective and much cheaper than any billboard, blog, or Twitter feed.
Conversely, an unhappy buyer telling friends how bad their experience was can cut deeper into revenue than nearly anything else. Done right, word of mouth marketing can grow your business, build your brand, and secure your revenue stream.
Researchers have been examining word of mouth marketing for at least 60 years to figure out what it is, why it works, and how to do it well. Here’s what we know:
What Is Word of Mouth Marketing?
Word of mouth marketing differs from unorganized expression in that it’s influenced and directed by the organization. In providing that influence and direction, a business can follow one or more of three basic word of mouth marketing models:
1. Seeding. In this model, companies suggest to customers what they can say and how they can deliver the message to show their satisfaction. Typically, companies also offer rewards to customers who participate.
2. The Engineered Approach. Like seeding, the engineered approach builds a network of satisfied customers who express similar ideas on the same channels, but it’s more hands on than seeding. The engineered approach can include targeted messaging or talking points that flow from the company to the influencer.
3. The Direct Approach. Here, businesses take more control of the influencer, message, and approach. They may pay someone to promote their service or product on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter, for example.
Word-of-mouth marketing can create both buzz (discussion about the brand or product) and direct, person-to-person sales.
Does Word of Mouth Marketing Work?
Most marketers believe word of mouth marketing is the single most valuable and most effective form of marketing there is.
Businesses have always relied on people to spread the word about their products or services, so perhaps word of mouth is the oldest marketing strategy in history. In today’s hyper-connected world, however, word of mouth marketing isn’t just talking. It’s also getting reviews on sites such as Yelp! and Google, having customers share your blog or Facebook posts, or employing a social media influencer to talk about your product on their site.
The value of social media marketing lies in its continuity. It’s not a once-and-done strategy. When one person shares a piece of content with a friend, that friend can pass it on to another friend and so on. As trust in paid advertising continues to decline among the North American public, people are increasingly turning to friends and other people they know to provide trustworthy product reviews.
Why Is Word of Mouth Marketing Considered So Powerful?
Word of Mouth Marketing Statistics
Word of Mouth Marketing Case Studies
Word of Mouth Marketing Ideas
How to Start Word of Mouth Marketing
Before you launch any word of mouth marketing strategy, know your brand well. Make sure you’ve thought through the language, colors, and feelings that you want your messaging to convey. If something you create does go viral, you expect it to tell the truth about your company.
Second, be authentic. The more vulnerable you appear, the more people will sense that you are honest, credible, and easy to do business with. Owning a mistake online and publicly making it right will do more to advance your word of mouth campaign than try to appear perfect.
Finally, have a message of hope. The internet — and the world — are already crammed with heartbreak, anger, and suffering. Don’t add to that. Instead, speak to people’s aspirations and joys. Tickle their funny bones. Give them a reason to believe in something bigger and better than themselves.
In other words, create content that is true, sincere, and hopeful. Then put it where people can share it.
How to Drive Word of Mouth Marketing
Two groups of people drive your word of mouth content into the world. One is influencers. The other is your everyday customers.
To get great influencers, identify the people of influence in your target communities. Maybe they are online influencers. Maybe they’re local officials. Or well-known writers and speakers. Consider how you can build relationships with those people (Hint: invite them to be a guest on your podcast).
Take your time establishing a genuine connection. Help them achieve their own ambitions first. Then ask them for help to advance your own narrative. Slowly, methodically cultivate your influencers. They’ll pay off in huge dividends over the years.
For everyday customers, make it easy to leave reviews and share your content. A customer may like your product and their experience with you, but they don’t want to have to enter their blood type to crack open the safe that contains your complex review process. Just a one-click option can help you collect those coveted four and five star reviews from a lot of people and thus establish credibility on the internet.
How to Improve Your Word of Mouth Marketing
How to Measure Word of Mouth Marketing
Word of mouth marketing is notoriously difficult to measure. Recently, however, McKinsey developed a strategy to measure it. This strategy uses the equation: Volume x Impact = Word of Mouth Equity. Here’s how it works:
Volume = The number of messages. “What is said,” the researchers at McKinsey noted, “is the primary driver of word-of-mouth impact.” Surprisingly, the researchers found that functional messages got more customer buzz than emotional ones did.
Impact = Network + Content + Sender + Source. Who’s talking? Where are they talking? What are they saying? What is their trigger? Competent, trustworthy people who pass messages in tight networks get the best results.
Volume times impact, according to McKinsey, will tell you “word of mouth’s relative impact on brand and product performance.”
Word of mouth is powerful, effective, and low cost. It’s also very hard to do. But patience, customer empathy, and a rock-solid plan can help you develop an effective word of mouth marketing system that generates amazing results.
Check out all of the articles in the ‘Marketing Strategies Every Business Should Be Using‘ series:
- How Any Size Business Can Have Amazing SEO
- Which Social Media Platforms Are Right for Your Business?
- Pay-Per-Click Advertising: Everything to Know About PPC
- Gain Free Business Exposure by Becoming a Podcast Guest
- How to Become a Trusted Expert with Content Marketing
- Get More Business Referrals by Encouraging Word of Mouth
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.