Word-of-Mouth (WOM) Marketing
What is word-of-mouth marketing?
Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is when a consumer talks about a product or service and recommends it to others. It’s a type of marketing that generally happens for free, and can naturally result from a customer having a positive experience with a specific business. By having loyal customers naturally promote a brand, the goal of WOM marketing is that the positive conversations about your business will start to snowball, leading more customers to your business, service or product line.
Word-of-mouth marketing is arguably one of the most powerful marketing strategies, with WOM impressions resulting in five times more than paid media impressions. It has evolved in recent years as well—what was once thought of as an in-person conversation has evolved to include social media and various forms of internet marketing.
But promoting your business through WOM doesn’t happen on its own. There are deliberate marketing efforts aimed at getting people to talk about your brand. They include providing excellent services, giving customers unique incentives or using guerilla marketing tactics to jumpstart the process by making a positive impression with your brand.
Advantages of WOM marketing
The real value in word-of-mouth marketing is consumer trust. When a potential customer hears about an exceptional value, product or service from someone they know and respect, it increases the likelihood of them researching that product and buying it.
WOM can also produce powerful social proof for your brand, inspiring customers to share their positive experiences and thoughts about your brand.
Other practical advantages of word-of-mouth marketing include:
Free—or low-cost—advertising for your business
Increased publicity or sales
Higher customer loyalty
Greater brand awareness with new audiences
Ability to grow at a faster rate (particularly if WOM makes your brand go viral)
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10 tips for building your word-of-mouth marketing strategy
For most small businesses and brands, the marketing process starts with building up foundational branding assets like creating a website or setting up social media accounts, since people will look to these sources first to find out more about your brand.
After that, it extends to personal and online communication methods, on top of organic and paid marketing strategies. As you think about your own WOM marketing strategy, take these tips into consideration:
01. Create a stellar product
A stellar product or service can in and of itself get people talking. As you build your business, think about how your products or services will give audiences something to talk about. Do you provide bespoke designs or cool add-ons? Is your product more versatile than other products of its kind?
You can create more value for customers by offering something unique and unexpected—or even by shaping a company culture, branding or and marketing campaigns that stand out.
02. Provide exceptional customer service
Nothing will get a customer talking like customer service, good or bad. For example, lightning-fast shipping, a seamless online checkout experience or a neat unboxing experience could spark conversation.
Don’t forget that employees are your ambassadors, too. The way a business treats staff can translate to how staff treats customers, and how customers perceive your brand. A culture of friendly, understanding interactions will trickle down and serve your business in a positive way.
03. Leverage social media
Social media is one of the most popular places to launch your WOM marketing campaigns. Thanks to the evolution of social media marketing, it's a great way to engage with loyal customers, improve your brand’s image and increase your brand’s social value.
For example, a large number of people look to brands, influencers or the friends in their network on social media to ask questions or learn about specific products. This is called social proofing your brand, and it results in people feeling connected to your brand because it’s relatable.
As you post on social media, look out for industry trends—pay attention to rising platforms, and identify those your target audience uses the most (if you’re marketing to an audience that’s primarily Gen Z, for example, TikTok and Instagram reels are the way to go.) Spend time getting to know each platform so you can create a content plan that uses the right formats and language for engaging your audience.
04. Collaborate with influencers
They don’t call them influencers for nothing—84% of millennials say user-generated content from strangers has influenced their purchases, according to Search Engine Watch. Influencer marketing combines word-of-mouth advertising and social proof in a way that gets your brand in front of a wider audience.
The trick here is to work with influencers who genuinely care about your brand and/or products. Avoid blindly sending samples to influencers and expecting them to promote them for money. Rather, nurture relationships with influencers over time, and give them the creative freedom to share about your products in a way that's natural to them.
05. Ask for reviews and ratings
Among the most trusted forms of word-of-mouth marketing are online reviews and ratings. Make an effort to receive product reviews, recommendations and testimonials from customers on your website or social media pages. This can effectively create just enough social proof to turn a browsing site visitor, or someone scrolling through your social media pages into a loyal customer.
A simple tactic to encourage these reviews is to ask customers for feedback after they’ve made a purchase. Include a link to leave a review from your emails and product pages, and keep track of the positive comments that naturally crop up on social media. Highlight reviews throughout your site using testimonial strips, lists and more.
06. Publish user-generated content
User-generated content works a lot like influencer marketing, where regular customers post content of their own to promote your brand. Whether its videos, reviews or blog posts—USG specifically refers to assets your own marketing team didn’t create.
User-generated content leverages the trust factor established within social networks to engage new people with your brand, generating more word-of-mouth conversations and leads. You can showcase USG directly on your website, or using your brand's social media platforms. When a user’s followers see these posts, they’ll learn about your product, and may even become customers themselves.
07. Establish an emotional bond
Part of WOM marketing is knowing how to engage with audiences on an emotional level. Emotional bonds between a business and its customers can drive loyalty, encouraging advocacy for the brand.
To get people talking about your brand on an emotional level, start by making sure you clearly define its core values. Whether that’s improving customer experience, community involvement or sustainable practices—these should be emphasized in your brand’s marketing messaging. Audiences are more likely to talk about and recommend the brands they have shared values with, since they’ll have a positive impression and feel connected to your cause.
08. Create a referral marketing program
Referral marketing isn’t free word-of-mouth, but the return is often worthwhile. By creating a referral program that offers rewards to customers who share about your product or services, your brand can incentivize customers to spread the word.
Depending on your business, referral rewards can include discounts, a points system, exclusive products, free services and more. On top of reinforcing WOM marketing for your brand, a referral program offers a great chance to build lasting relationships with loyal customers.
09. Ask customers directly
Finally, be direct. If you want customers to talk about your product, service or brand, start the conversation yourself. After they’ve made a purchase and expressed satisfaction with your services, you can ask and encourage customers to share about your brand.
It seems pretty simple, but sometimes the easiest answer is the solution. If you ask your best customers to share positive experiences with others, chances are that they will. Once customers give their feedback, you can also ask for their permission to place their review in the form of a testimonial on your site.
Word-of-mouth marketing examples
As you’ll see in the examples below, word-of-mouth marketing is used by companies of all sizes. Some of these examples may be familiar, while others are a new source of inspiration. Let’s take a look.
Jeep launched a # StayOffTheRoad campaign in spring 2020 that emphasizes the brand’s rugged vehicles while taking a stance asking people to stay home during the pandemic. Their pitch: “We understand that every day is starting to seem the same. Stay home. Stay healthy. When this is all over, the trails will be waiting.” The hashtag has been used more than 12,000 times on Instagram with images of Jeeps.
Zappos might be the gold-star case study for customer service excellence for online retailers. There are numerous stories of customers that got expedited shipping due to a lost order or a gift for a customer after a phone call. Human interaction is at the root of the Zappos story and that company culture is a story that’s retold over and over again.
Share a Coke
Coca-cola was on to something more than labels when it launched a campaign asking people to “share a Coke” with the name of the person on the bottle. It was a direct word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
In 2014 and subsequent years, people all over social media were dumping buckets of ice over their heads on video and then challenging their friends to do the same. The ice bucket challenge went viral, and helped raise awareness and millions of dollars for the ALS Association.