I recently had a meeting with one of my suppliers who is the owner of a thriving printing business, and when I asked him how business was, he mentioned that despite the difficult economic times, his business has been sustainable through Word of Mouth (WOM) as a form of advertising.
It got me thinking about how most businesses overlook the powerful impact of WOM as part of their marketing tactics, most businesses are rather more focused on using expensive advertising tools, whether they be above the line-advertising mediums or below the line mediums for brand awareness, and for getting repeat business.
A strong message
Word of mouth messages can be positive, neutral or negative. For a marketing message to spread successfully through the population, the message needs to be strong enough that it warrants passing on, whereas a weak message can be easily disregarded or forgotten about if not seen as "conversation worthy".
It might sound like a cliché but it is usually the one man business operation or the small to medium enterprise with a limited advertising budget that is more customer-centric in its approaches, managing every customer's touch-points to ensure that the customer gets a return on investment versus a business with a larger customer or client base.
Strong positive conversational WOM almost always results from a good customer experience or convincing message or purely as a result of brand loyalty.
A personal referral to a medical specialist or a specific holiday destination can be more believable through WOM than seeing an actual billboard advertisement for the same product or service. You are more likely to believe a close friend who recommends a smart phone device than seeing an advert on TV.
So, how can you harness the power of word of mouth marketing to promote your business, especially for a small growing business without large sums of money to spend on marketing? There is an active and a passive approach.
Active WOM - encouraging and influencing the message
If you intend WOM to form a major part of your marketing strategy, you can't just sit back, pray and hope that it will happen. Use the tools at your disposal to encourage positive word of mouth marketing. Determine your business objectives and ensure your message, the means of communication and the people you target work together in order to promote your business.
In other words, manage every customer touch point from beginning to end, e.g. enquiry stage to after sale support.
Create the platform for the communication. Develop both message based and conversational methods of communication whether this is a Twitter account, a blog or a chat room, and encourage your customers to use this tool to discuss your brand.
Consider the communication medium and which is most relevant to your target audience; don't just open a Twitter or a Facebook account because everyone else is doing it.
Determine your message and spread it out at a community level. Target specific communities which could include a particular interest group, location or demographic. A great way to seed a message in a community to provide people with an excellent customer experience.
Recruit brand ambassadors.
Actively encourage certain key individuals to generate success stories for you and actively engage with your customers.
Use PR to generate a story - This can be a catalyst to start a discussion. The more news worthy your story the better.
Ensure the message is worth passing on - Motivate people to discuss your brand and spread the word. Make it exciting and memorable.
Create viral ads - These should be interesting, useful, funny, shocking, exciting, emotional, dramatic, or controversial. Most of all they need to be 'chat-worthy' and easy to pass on. E.g this of a latest advert which went viral on YouTube for Sodastream with Scarlett Johansson where she publicly advocates against Coke and Pepsi.
Use opinion leaders and influencers - If possible, find opinion leaders, blog owners, and social media connectors and get them talking about and promoting your brand. According to Keller, author of 'The Influential' these people also tend to adopt new products and technology earlier.
Be honest - If you lie about anything, people will find out and now they'll have the perfect medium to show you up. Personal, honest, communication can lead to tangible marketing results.
Passive WOM - By doing a great job, let your work do the talking
Use the marketing mix to create a customer focus. Ensure all elements of your business are aligned to the vision and the mission of your business. From the people you use to the way you sell and deliver your product.
Satisfy and exceed customer expectations. Add excitement, value, or great customer service to your brand. Never let a customer go without engaging and enthusing them.
Use 'surprise and delight' - Add little unexpected touches which are there simply to give the customer 'a little extra'. Sometimes these aspects of a brand, however insignificant can generate a large amount of WOM advertising.
Manage unhappy customers well. Attend to every complaint. Avoiding negative WOM can be as valuable as generating positive. In addition, a well handled complaint can sometimes create a brand ambassador. There's no quicker way to destroy a brand than by negative word of mouth advertising. Dissatisfied customers are much more likely to post public warnings about a bad product on their blog than a satisfied customer is to recommend it to a friend.
The best way to promote your brand is by using both active and passive WOM. So go out there and get your customers talking about your brand!