By Matthew Klein

July 26th, 2017

Here’s a fun fact: stuff actually happened before the internet existed. No, for real, there are pics.

The before internet times had many of the things we know and love today–trees, shandies, etc. There were also companies, products, customers even. But wait, you ask: did fidget spinners exist? And how did they go viral with no Instagram? Answers: No, and they didn’t. Fidget spinners were the imaginary nonsense they sound like and things were better.

However, hula hoops, better than fidget spinners but still not great, did go viral before the internet. As did many other products that people didn’t even buy for the ‘gram. There were two ways that this could happen. 1. A novelty song and accompanying dance move about the product could sweep the nation, searing your product into the hearts and minds of teens for life. 2. Word-of-mouth marketing.

Keep an eye out for our forthcoming guide to writing the perfect novelty product ditty in 2017. Today, though, we’d like to discuss word-of-mouth marketing. What is it, is it relevant in the digital age, and what do you need to do it well?

Digital channels=greater word-of-mouth power
Is word-of-mouth marketing relevant now? Yes, more than ever. Word-of-mouth marketing is about harnessing the power of customers talking to other customers to drive enthusiasm and adoption of your product.

And what is the internet but a huge engine of talk? Social media, in particular, is essentially comprised of people (and bots) gabbing. Some of this talk involves people recommending products, trashing products, or subtly mentioning their ownership of products in order to appear cooler than they are. They do it every day! In a way that can have a significant impact on your brand and its sales.

That impact can be particularly large because people trust word-of-mouth product recommendations far more than they trust other sources of information, and rely on them all along the purchase process.

The most trusted source of information across the purchase journey
McKinsey looked at the importance of word-of-mouth marketing at different points along the purchase journey. In mature markets, consumers looking at mobile phones considered word-of-mouth as one of the top three factors they took into account at every step of purchase. In developing markets, word-of-mouth was the single most important factor in decision making at every step, from initial consideration to moment of purchase.

Word of mouth recommendations are also the most trusted source of information about products. Nielsen research shows that 83% of people “completely or somewhat trust” word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know, and 66% completely or somewhat trust online consumer product opinions (word-of-mouth recommendations from strangers). This compares with 43% who say the same about ads on mobile phones. Talking up your own products is nice because you can polish your copy till it gleams, but you’ll never have the sweet, sweet, cred of someone offering their unbiased opinion.

So what, exactly, is word-of-mouth marketing? First, there are a lot of activities that are adjacent to word-of-mouth marketing but shouldn’t be confused with it. Here are some things that aren’t word-of-mouth marketing.

  • Big product launch campaigns that generate buzz before release
  • Paying celebrities/influencers who don’t actually use your product to recommend it as if they do
  • Making an ad so cool that people share it a ton and talk about it (The Jean-Claude Van Damme split ad was good marketing, not word-of-mouth marketing)

Traits for success
Word of mouth marketing is quite different from other marketing activities because it can happen without any effort on your part at all. People who interact directly with your product or have experiences with your brand and then tell others about it are the core of word-of-mouth marketing. If your product (or the experience customers have in your store or on your website) is so great that won’t stop raving about it, your marketing budget could be $0 and you’d still be driving huge growth via word-of-mouth. So, the number one trait that will help build your brand and revenue via word-of-mouth marketing is the ability to create products, services and experiences that people love.

That said, there are a number of ways, particularly on social channels, for you to actively improve your word-of-mouth game and use it to grow your brand. Here are the key traits that will help you drive word-of-mouth marketing success on social.

Ability to amplify
While the foundation of word-of-mouth marketing is people talking with their own network about your company and its products, capitalizing on those interactions fully means bringing them to a wider audience. Being able to pick up on people who are saying good things about you (like via social media listening) can help you spread word-of-mouth messages on your own branded channels. This could take the form of retweeting or regramming people’s positive messages, or even incorporating their good words into your ads (it’s a good idea to contact people and get permission before doing this.)

Community-building capabilities
Word of mouth marketing is ideally something of a positive feedback loop: the more people have good experiences with your brand, the more people they tell, those people have experiences, they tell even more people. While you can’t force them to say nice things about you, you can accelerate the feedback loop by building a strong, tight-knit community around your brand that allows the strongest nodes (the most enthusiastic recommenders) to connect, reinforcing the sentiment and spreading it even further.

#Tip Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews
We hosted a webinar with review site Trustpilot, one potentially game-changing insight was that brands that have asked customers for a review saw 83% of respondents give positive feedback. Comparatively, if customers were left to review on their own, the split was 50/50 for negative to positive reviews. Your customers are ready to support you…all you have to do is ask.

If you would like to learn more about that, watch the webinar on how to channel customer feedback to increase conversion.

word-of-mouth marketing

Listening skills (and tools)
Word of mouth works both ways–people can have and share bad experiences too. Knowing what people are saying on review sites, social channels, blogs and beyond, allows you to pick up on your brand’s weaknesses and fix them, ideally in a way that not only neutralizes the bad, but ends up in a net positive.

Inroads with influencers
Relationships with influencers are strongest as word-of-mouth marketing when they happen organically. If someone with clout (aka a widely read site or huge social media following) likes your product and talks about it with their fans, that’s word-of-mouth gold. Offering free, no-strings-attached products to people who review or talk about your category can also be powerful, but there’s risk involved. If they love your product and tell people so, you can expect a big boost. But be prepared for the possibility they might not.

Instagram has become the channel of choice for influencer marketing, and you don’t need A-listers to get noticed. In fact, Markerly found that it’s the influencers with ‘only’ 10,000-100,000 followers have the greatest impact

word-of-mouth marketing

Be cool
This one’s more of a state of mind than a prescription to follow. Having beautiful, well-curated aspirational content on your social channels (particularly Instagram), leaving some room for others to do the talking about your products for you, even creating some scarcity, or the appearance of it, around your products, can all add an element of excitement around your brand that encourages positive word-of-mouth. People recommend products partly to look cool, and if you can craft the right image and persona for your brand and products, you will be well-rewarded, word-of-mouth-wise.

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