Today, there are more ways than ever to get the word out about your business; even setting aside all the traditional outlets, there are half a dozen social media platforms that can help you get your message out to millions of potential customers instantly.
And yet, the best shopping is still the oldest and simplest form: positive word of mouth.
Why is word of mouth so powerful? Simple. It comes down to trust. People trust other people more than they trust advertisements. According to a Nielsen study, 83 percent of people surveyed said they trust recommendations from friends and family, making it the most credible form of advertising, and that number could keep going up given today’s hyper-saturated media environment.
What Exactly Is Word of Mouth Marketing?
Word of mouth marketing, also called WOMM, is marketing that motivates your target audience to positively talk about your brand. It’s essentially the first step in a chain reaction: you give the customer a specific type of experience, and they, in turn, give you a powerful word of mouth boost.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably been on the giving and receiving end of WOMM hundreds of times in your life. WOMM is essentially the original version of viral marketing. In this case, the medium is one-on-one, real world communication instead of online transmission. You help a customer sell a house, give them a break on the commission, and they tell all their friends that they’ve got to work with this great agent.
The best part? It’s free, and it’s incredibly reliable. Word of mouth marketing comes from a trusted source, and people are far more likely to act on a personal recommendation than on an anonymous advertisement.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s harder than it seems. Traditional marketing is linear; you buy a billboard, and the billboard goes up and so do sales. Word of mouth marketing has an intangible element to it since you’re trying to subtly motivate your customers to spontaneously recommend your brand to people close to them. When you think of it like that, some of the requirements of WOMM become more clear. Keep reading to learn a few basic principles of word of mouth marketing that you can use to get people talking about your brand.
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Effective WOMM Has to Create Emotion
Surprise. Gratitude. Awe. Joy. If you can evoke these powerful emotions in your customers, they’re going to talk about you to the people in their lives. It’s that simple. Clearly, you don’t produce a feeling like awe with simple words, no matter how refined or eloquent, or even with a brilliant business plan. The best WOMM strategies use nonverbal, physical methods to evoke powerful emotions.
There are a lot of ways to invoke positive emotions with your customers. You can use architecture to awe your customers: think of the iconic pyramids and volcanoes of the Las Vegas strip, or the iconic, futuristic interior of an Apple store. You can also use architecture to evoke gratitude: grateful parents drove McDonald’s sales through the roof after the company added playgrounds to their restaurants.
Experiences are another way to evoke positive emotions. Think of the first time you heard the employees sing at a Coldstone Creamery, or when you saw the employees at Seattle’s Pike Place Market tossing fish through the air. Remember when Coca-Cola rolled out “Happiness Machines” that dispensed free Cokes if you hugged the machine or danced for it? These are the kinds of unique experiences that customers tell their friends and family about.
And ‘unique’ is the operative word here. An exceptional customer service experience will go far to cement a positive impression in an individual customer, but it rarely stimulates a word of mouth reaction. That’s because customers understand that customer service is variable. No matter how well you treated them, they know that if they recommend your business to their mother-in-law, she’s probably going to have a different experience.
A big aspect of word of mouth marketing is good old fashioned relationship marketing. Just as potential customers accept word of mouth recommendations because they come from someone they trust, your brand’s WOMM will be much more effective if you’ve forged strong relationships with your customers.
Engage with your customers on social media. Retweet their praise, repost their photos on Instagram, answer their comments on your blog. Maintain a casual, individualized voice; let them understand that there’s a real human being on the other side of that Twitter account.
Another big aspect of maintaining a positive relationship is simply being there and being accessible. Don’t make it difficult for your customers to get in touch with you. Make sure your website includes a well-monitored customer service line and email account, and promptly answer direct messages on social media. And make amends for mistakes. A customer who complains about a subpar product, and then receives a replacement in the mail won’t tell their friends about the initial subpar experience; they’re going to tell people about getting the prompt replacement.
Everyone Loves Free Stuff
This one’s a no-brainer. If you give someone a free t-shirt, they’re going to turn themselves into a walking billboard for your brand. Under Armour is one of the most successful athletic wear companies in the world, and they jumpstarted their growth by giving free clothes to college athletes. As these athletes filtered up into the pros and continued to wear their free clothes, Under Armour’s brand awareness grew exponentially. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Dropbox is another great example of how a giveaway catalyzed powerful word of mouth marketing. The multi-billion-dollar company racked up massive referrals in their startup phase by giving 500mb of free storage to anyone who referred a new user. The lesson? Free stuff works.
No Man (or Business) Is an Island
Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a community, and that community is likely where your potential customers live. Sponsoring charitable events and supporting local community organizations is a bulletproof way to raise your brand’s profile and to establish an image as a considerate, engaged company. Getting your name on Little League jerseys, sponsoring the local charity 5K run, or sitting on the board of the town hospital will go a long way towards putting your brand in a positive and memorable light.
There’s a reason huge corporations like Coca-Cola and Target donate a percentage of their earnings to charity; the positive publicity and word of mouth triggered by these contributions far exceed the financial value of the donations. If it works for them, it can work for you.
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