Word of mouth is by any measure the best form of marketing. Recommendations from friends, colleagues, and even strangers lend credibility and are far more cost-effective than tedious advertising.
This is increasingly true as younger generations or ‘digital natives’ are becoming increasingly impervious to advertising.
In a digital world, word of mouth takes on a new dimension as user opinions can reach thousands of potential customers through likes and shares on social media platforms. Experiences marketers like Tyler Anderson have called word-of-mouth on social the new organic, and they may be right.
What customers say about your product or service is far more important than your ad campaign, whether it’s offline or online.
Surprisingly, very few brands have a word-of-mouth strategy
You have a strategy for Facebook, and overall digital strategy, an advertising strategy, but very few businesses have a word of mouth strategy. Although word-of-mouth is the oldest and most effective form of marketing, I’ve never seen a name card saying “Chief WOM Officer”.
Competency Does Not Equal Conversation
Many brands think that as long as they run a good business, improve customer service and user experience, people will talk about the brand and word-of-mouth marketing will take care of itself.
Sadly it’s not that easy. In a recent interview, Jae Baer put it succinctly: competency does not mean conversation. Just because you had a satisfactory experience with a brand does not mean you will run around telling everyone about it.
Word of mouth marketing means that there must be not a good, not an adequate, not a memorable brand experience, but one that makes people talk about your brand. Marketers call that a “talk trigger” – a specific action you take as a business that makes people come back for more.
Getting people to advocate your business is hard, and most certainly deserves a strategy. Growing your business is all about getting your satisfied customers to talk to new potential customers. If you need to advertise, you are not doing a good job growing your business, because you are paying people to pay attention. True growth and customer retention don’t come from snappy adds, but from customer experiences that become talk triggers. Your happy customer, your fans, are your best asset, so use them.
One way to embrace word-of-mouth marketing is by engaging micro-influencers. Read more here: Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs
Why Don’t Businesses have WOM Strategies?
One reason is that most businesses believe that it is too hard to get people to talk about your brand, and any desperate effort to do so may backfire. That is in a sense true; according to Jae Baer and other marketers’ research, only about 1/3 of customers are willing to talk a great experience with a brand.
Yet it does depend on the industry or service provided. In the B2C space, a lot of word of mouth is happening online. Younger generations, in particular, are more willing to share a great experience on their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts.
In the B2B, B2G or even public services space, on the other hand, offline is still dominating. Many industrial brands rely on the testimonial of influencers and satisfied customers to gain market share and new customers
Word of Mouth is King in B2B
That’s because B2B is all about trust. If you are spending thousands or even millions on a machine or solution, you have to know that it will work for you. B2B customers are worth more than B2C customers. They usually for longer-term, more engaging relationships with a brand (think of service contracts for machinery or other equipment, repeat purchases of materials, etc.) and thus their testimonial is worth far more than that of a casual B2C purchase.
Word-of-mouth is more impactful because most B2B companies are bad at marketing anyway, want to keep the details of their business deals secret, or simply follow the example of their industry leader. They copy the strategies of the GEs and Siemens’ of this world without ever thinking what kind of word-of-mouth strategy would be more suitable for their market niche.
Yet, according to Jae Baer, 91% of purchases in the B2B space are influenced by word-of-mouth. Compare that to the fact no no B2B company I have ever come across has a word-of-mouth strategy or someone in charge of WOM, there seems to be a crass misalignment of priorities here.
Personally, I admire the marketing of Kuka Robotics. The German-Chinese robotics company manages to surprise with creative marketing for their line of otherwise boring orange industrial robots, creating talking points and word-of-mouth strategies that are unique in the industrial space.
How to Craft Your WOM Strategy
The first thing to remember as you embark on your WOM adventure is that it doesn’t pay to copy other brands and businesses. You need to come up with something memorable and unique as a talk trigger, an experience that offers both excitement and/or value to your potential customer. Baer calls it that “strategic operational differentiator”, I like to call it simply the thing that makes people talk.
Sometimes finding that unique thing means going back to your customers and finding out what they really like about your product. I did this with a server manufacturer and found that installing updates to certain software was the biggest headache for them. Simply by creating a much better update process than the competition, they probably saved millions in advertising, because the hassle-free update created a “talk trigger” – an experience with the brand that made people talk about it. And that’s the key to word-of-mouth marketing.
Restaurants know this well. In the age of Instagram, business success in the food industry is linked to exceptional experiences. You want to have that food presented in a way that makes people reach for their phones and take a picture of their plate, then share it on social media.
Hotels know this. I recently stayed at a spa hotel where instead of having to worry whether I had left my bathrobe in the room so they wouldn’t charge me for it, they presented me with a free bathrobe at check-in. It’s a real talk trigger – I have told every one of my friends about that unique experience and excellent service.
A good word-of-mouth strategy both reflects what you as a brand are good at, and what your customers really value about your brand. It should be consistent across the brand’s touchpoints and easily repeatable.
Encouraging the Creation of User-Generated Content (UGC)
Whereas in the B2B space offline word-of-mouth seems to work better than online, every brand should have a strategy – or at least think about – strategies to encourage UGC.
User-generated content is a testimonial to the success and popularity of your brand. Whether it’s on Instagram or Youtube, younger generations in particular love seeing content generated by their peers and are easily influenced by that content to make actual purchases. Creating talk triggers in B2C should be at the core of every B2C business’ marketing strategy.