You’re starting the search for a new product, and you want to see how the top few options compare. Where do you turn for that information? You probably spend some time perusing the websites of each of the main brands you’re considering. But just as likely, you spend time asking around — checking with friends, posting for recommendations on social media or reading over reviews.
It’s such a common part of the research process that Facebook now offers a feature for asking for recommendations, and customer reviews are now believed to be one of the top ranking factors in search — for local queries especially.
Marketing has an important role to play in crafting the right message for prospective customers, but the work you do is just one part of the overall picture people will see when they seek out information about your products. At least as important to the ultimate decision most consumers make is word of mouth.
For all the time and energy you put into creating the perfect tagline or piece of content, for some of your target audience, it won’t hold as much importance as a hastily written review from another customer. That’s because they know you have an interest in getting them to buy, where a customer is a neutral source with nothing to gain.
While you’re limited in what you can do to create and manage word of mouth — ultimately it’s up to your customers what they want to say about your brand and products — there are steps you can take to encourage happy customers to speak up more and harness the messaging they create. Any technique you use to make customer feedback into a marketing resource falls under the umbrella of word-of-mouth marketing.
Word of mouth includes customer reviews, testimonials, referrals and — something harder to measure — excited in-person recommendations from one friend to another. Word-of-mouth marketing includes any strategies you use to get more customers to provide positive feedback in those forms and the ways you use that feedback in your marketing efforts.
Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful strategy for three main reasons.
Whether it’s friends raving about eating the best meal they’ve ever had at that new restaurant downtown, or a professional colleague talking about how much easier their life is now that they use a particular software product, excited customers are one of the main ways people learn about a great business or product. You get that initial word of mouth by having a great product and customer service, but a word-of-mouth marketing strategy can help you make it go further.
Using word-of-mouth marketing, you can get more of your customers’ conversations about your brand to happen in channels that raise your profile. That increases the odds of new customers hearing about you and their early awareness of your brand coming from a source they can trust.
Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of consumers say they trust brand recommendations from friends. But that trust in other consumers goes beyond the people they know personally. Ninety-one percent of people ages 18 to 34 say they trust online reviews just as much as they do people they know. Hearing from a fellow consumer that their experience with a brand was positive is powerful. They have no reason to lie, and if they’re happy enough to talk about it or post about it online, that says something about the quality of their experience.
When customers share their experience with your brand, they bring a human element to your marketing. When a real person you can picture tells a story about how a product helped them, it’s easy to see yourself in their place and picture how the product can help you too. And when customers share specific details about their experience and the things they like about a product, it makes what they say more real and tangible than what marketing copy can achieve.
The value of word of mouth for businesses is obvious, but the tricky thing about word-of-mouth marketing is that it depends on your customers. A marketing team can’t create word-of-mouth marketing from scratch sitting in the office — it requires an ingredient your whole company has to work to earn: customers that love you.
But that doesn’t mean marketing is powerless when it comes to finding ways to encourage more word of mouth. Here are six top secrets to creating and executing a word-of-mouth marketing strategy.
This part might not be much of a secret, but it’s too important to leave out. For everything else on the list to matter, your products or services have to deliver what your customers want, and your customer service has to be consistently exceptional. While the marketing department doesn’t have total control over all aspects of the customer experience, you do have a role to play.
In particular, you can ensure that the messaging and materials produced accurately reflect what customers can expect from your products and services and that your targeting focuses on the people who are most likely to benefit from them. In other words, make sure your marketing isn’t focused on trying to get everyone to buy regardless of need (like selling ice to an Eskimo, as the old adage goes), but instead makes the case to the people who genuinely need what you offer — something inbound marketing is particularly good for.
If your company is doing the work to be exceptional, then you’ll have customers who absolutely love what you offer. These are your customer advocates — the people who use your product all the time, rave about you to friends and, most relevant for our purposes here, will be excited to work with you if you reach out to them.
Delighted advocates can become partners in your marketing efforts. They can be the focus of case studies, co-presenters at conferences, or examples you highlight in blog posts. Intuit highlights customer stories on their blog, including a video interview and transcript to help readers get to know the people who use their products, and why and how they use them.
Your customers are the best place to start your word-of-mouth marketing program, but influencer marketing is a good way to expand it. A recent survey found that not only do consumers trust influencers more than brands, but 37 percent of people trust brands more when they pair up with influencers for sponsored content.
Do some research to identify some of the top influencers in your industry — the people your audience is paying attention to — and reach out to suggest working together. Prophix leveraged influencer marketing in creating their interactive AI in Finance eBook. The content is full of quotes from leaders in the industry. Their involvement lends both the content and the brand credibility.
A big part of a good word-of-mouth marketing strategy is finding ways to get your customers talking about you more. User-generated content campaigns are all about giving customers a reason to talk about their experiences with you in a public way.
Buffer created an Instagram strategy based around encouraging and promoting UGC made by members of its community. They promoted the hashtags #BufferStories and #BufferCommunity on the platform, and followers started using them with the images and stories they shared. As a result, the company’s account grew by 400 percent in a year.
Customer referral programs reward your current happy customers for sending new customers your way. They’re a win-win-win situation: you get a new customer, and both the referrer and referred get some kind of discount or reward. Referral programs get impressive results. Leads that come from customer referrals are 30 percent more likely to convert and have a 37 percent higher retention rate. Even better, the results are exponential — customers that come from referrals are four times as likely to refer new customers to your brand.
Dropbox encouraged users to spread the word about its cloud hosting service by offering additional free storage space for every new user a person referred. The program helped increase its user based by 3,900 percent over a couple of years.
A good referral program that rewards customers for helping recruit new leads for you is a powerful way to both grow your customer base and keep your current customers happy.
As a final ingredient in your word-of-mouth marketing plan, create a strategy for using the positive feedback you get in your marketing. Use social listening to find examples of your customers talking about you around the web. When someone shares a positive experience, help others see it by sharing the post through your own social accounts and on your website.
Highlight positive reviews on your site and social accounts as well. Adding reviews to your website has been found to increase not only traffic and conversions but also more reviews, which keeps the positive cycle going.
Part of word-of-mouth marketing is getting people to talk, but a lot of it is finding ways to make sure others will hear what your happy customers have to say.
So many of the decisions people make are influenced by the input of others they trust. Brands can work hard to earn customer trust, but ultimately people will listen to and believe the opinions of other people more than they will the words of a business. Smart marketers can find ways to make that belief work for you. By incorporating the words of customers and influencers into your marketing efforts, you can gain trust and make a more persuasive case for your brand.