How To Encourage Enthusiastic Word Of Mouth Marketing
First, as an entrepreneur, why should you care about encouraging word of mouth marketing and advertising of your business?
The reason is simple: it works!
Numerous studies (for example, see this Nielsen survey) and common sense (think of your own experience) tell us that referrals from friends are the most credible recommendations we can get.
The reasons for this are both obvious and subtle. The obvious reason is that if someone we know is recommending a person or company to provide a service to meet our needs, we trust that recommendation more than if a stranger were providing it, or worse yet, the company itself were telling us how great it is. The more subtle reason is that we are drowning in information and sensory overload these days, and as the Internet and our online existence continue to expand, that situation will only worsen.
That, coupled with the fact that we are busier and busier as time goes on, means that we need a shortcut to find product and service providers to meet our needs.
Word of mouth marketing is that shortcut.
So, if you take it as a given that word of mouth marketing and advertising are extremely important to the success of your business, what can you do to stimulate such activity as much as possible?
First and foremost, you must provide consistently valuable service! Word of mouth marketing can cut both ways! So, if your service is not consistently good and valuable, that word will also travel. And if it’s bad news, it will usually travel faster than if it’s good news. Provide a good customer experience, and when things don’t go exactly as planned, which is bound to happen, make sure that you have trained yourself and your employees to “make it right”.
Create a mindset in your business that customer experience is paramount and that any time there is feedback, positive or negative, that can help improve that experience, it must be taken seriously. Just as communication between customers and potential customers is the essence of word of mouth marketing, effective two-way communication between your company and customers is the foundation of building a great customer experience.
Second, make sure your business is active on social media. These days, a lot of what used to happen on the phone and in person, at least in part, happens online. Make sure that you and your team actively monitor social media, including review sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. – whatever is relevant to your business), and actively engage in the conversation that takes place about your business and the services it provides. Be prepared that not all feedback will be positive, but most importantly, those who have used and are considering using your products and services must know that you and your company take customer feedback seriously. In order for word of mouth marketing to take place as positively and effectively as possible, customers and prospective customers must know that you care and are doing everything possible, within reason, to always work toward improving the customer experience.
Third, be honest. Beyond it being a requirement legally (Google FTC requirements for customer reviews), it’s good business to do what you can to ensure that the feedback that is provided online (and offline), both positive and negative, is valid and truthful. You may have noticed, for example, that Amazon and others will include “Verified Purchase” where possible, to show that the feedback being provided is coming from someone who actually purchased the product. There are strict legal limitations on what you as a business owner can do to encourage people to provide reviews of your products and services. These limitations relate to payments to the reviewers, among other things. Before pursuing any kind of word of mouth marketing strategy, I encourage you to familiarize yourself and your team with these limitations, so you don’t run afoul of the law.
Fourth, be creative. Don’t limit the picture of your company to boring, relatively uninformative one or two line reviews of your products and services. While these are helpful to some degree, and in large numbers, of course, they are a strong signal to the market that your products and services are worth purchasing, it is also very persuasive to see longer stories about the use of your products. Put together (truthful and factual, of course) case studies of real customers using the products and services you provide and don’t be afraid to share these, both online and in-person when you are marketing and selling.
Finally, embrace marketing with stories. This is related to the use of case studies, but it takes it to the next level. Marketing with stories involves developing a mindset that understands and values the reality that humans love a good story. Who didn’t enjoy a bedtime story when they were growing up? Who has not learned extensively from stories told to us by our elders? As humans, we are programmed to respond to and learn from stories. We connect with stories both logically and emotionally. They reach us on a level that few other forms of communication can. This is true especially when they’re inherently visual (think video), but also when they’re simply told cleverly with words. So, if you want to stimulate even more word of mouth marketing of your company and its products and services, teach and encourage yourself and your team to tell good stories. When the story is good, we as humans are likely to repeat it. See this article for some good examples of marketing/advertising with stories.
So, by now, I hope you’re convinced that encouraging enthusiastic word of mouth marketing is worth the effort. To get the job done, first make sure that you are providing a valuable product or service, and make sure you create a company culture that focuses on improving the customer experience. Once you’ve done that, teach your team to be honest and creative in encouraging customers to share their experiences with others, letting them know, enthusiastically, how great it is to do business with you and your company. The stories that your customers and your team tell will be what encourage others to give your company a try.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.