Friday, February 17th, 2017 | 8 min read
Word of mouth marketing used to be just one tool in marketers’ tool belts. It was often used to supplement large-scale campaigns to support higher priority tactics like print ads and billboards. Sure, it was great if customers recommended products to each other, but it wasn’t the end-all-be-all for brands.
Today, however—in the age of the connected and empowered consumer— hearing what customers are saying to each other and being able to act on what you hear is the most important strategy there is. Founder, Chairman & CEO of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos has said, “Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” With almost 70% of Americans on social media, an interconnected system purpose built to amplify voices, word of mouth has the power to shape or destroy a brand’s entire online identity. If advertisers don’t use this tactic wisely, they’re going to be swept aside by the competition.
Think about it this way: Your customers are your marketing department. They can share their experiences with millions of people at the click of a button. And what they say to each other is more influential than what your company tries to say through ads. As Nielsen found, 74% of consumers say word of mouth is the most powerful type of marketing.
That’s why—now more than ever—you need to deploy an effective word of mouth strategy. Here are four steps to make it happen.
Listening to your customers is the first step of this process. You need to understand where they are online, and what they’re talking about. Chances are, word of mouth marketing is already happening for your business. You just have to harness it properly.
For instance, are your customers discussing your products on Twitter? Are they sharing their experiences in Facebook videos? Are they sending Snaps from inside your store? If you can answer these questions, you can respond to the right people on the right platforms at the right time.
Take the Denny’s Tumblr account. It’s been lauded as “the funniest thing on the Internet” and “the best brand on Tumblr”—all because Denny’s took the time to understand its audience. On Tumblr, weird, wacky, offbeat, visual humor just works. And the brand hired people with film, writing, and creative backgrounds to incorporate that humor into its posts.
After Denny’s developed this approach, its social followings increased overall by 150%, and they generated 15 million engagements in just two years.
“I was in a Denny’s yesterday, and I sat in a booth, and I could hear… a younger group in the booth next to me talking about our Tumblr page,” Denny’s CMO John Dillon told Entrepreneur. “Did they come there directly because of that? … There’s a decent chance that that had a direct influence over it.”
Once you know your audience, you can consider what you want your message to be, and how you’d like to deliver it.
Just look at Oreo’s famous post from 2012. During gay pride month (and just a year after gay marriage was legalized in New York), the brand posted an image of a rainbow-creme-filled cookie on its Facebook page. The caption on the image read, “Proudly support love!”
Within just a couple of days, the post racked up over 38,000 comments and 226,000 Likes. One commenter wrote, “Not only did you make an awesome statement about love and acceptance, but that cookie looked freaking delicious!!”
Oreo’s marketers knew they had an engaged audience on Facebook, and they knew that their audience was tapped into cultural events and progressive movements. By listening to conversations online, the brand was able to put its own spin on a current trend in real-time. As a result, their post sparked heated discussions and went viral within hours.
Before publishing a piece of content, a marketer would traditionally run it through a series of approvals and edits to make sure it was perfect. In the age of social media, however, we simply don’t have time to ask ourselves if something is perfect, or if we’re absolutely sure that it’s ready to go.
Instead, companies have to be nimble; they need to risk publishing unpolished content in order to get it out in real-time. And they need to be willing to learn from inevitable mistakes so they can optimize this process.
For example, during the 2014 Grammy Awards, rapper Pharrell Williams happened to show up in a hat that looked like the one from the Arby’s logo. Without missing a beat, Arby’s quickly joined the conversation with a tweet that earned 75,000 shares by the next morning. And just like that, a sandwich brand became the talk of the biggest night in music.
Word of mouth marketing happens in the moment. And on social media, every second counts. If you’re waiting on six different approvals, the conversation will be over by the time you’re allowed to publish, and you’ll have missed your opportunity to make your mark.
This is the most important part of the equation. If you want your customers to say positive things about you online, you have to deliver positive experiences worth sharing.
You can incentivize people to leave reviews or give recommendations by offering perks or discounts. For instance, Dropbox offers 500MB of extra storage space to customers who recruit new users. This initiative increased signups by 60%, with 35% of all signups now coming from that program.
Ultimately, however, the most genuine recommendations come organically from truly satisfied customers. And that starts with creating exceptional user experiences.
There’s a difference between forcing a word of mouth campaign on your customers, and aligning your messages with customers’ current conversations. You want to do the latter. Contribute to the conversation. Don’t hijack it. Any strategic move to create a word of mouth movement must be informed by what customers and industry influencers are saying online. If you to try to sway the conversation in a particular way, then you’re just talking to your audience, not with them.
Remember that in our four-step process, the first and last tactics are all about understanding and respecting your consumers. If you can listen to what they’re saying, reach them where they’re already conversing, and deliver experiences that they want to share, you’ll be ready to enable a successful word of mouth strategy. Use this foundation and you’ll be ready to go wherever the conversation takes you.