Word-of-Mouth Marketing: How to Get Happy Customers to Advocate for Your Business

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If you’ve ever recommended a restaurant or sung the praises of your favorite clothing brand after receiving a compliment on your outfit, then you intuitively understand what word-of-mouth marketing is — and how powerful it can be. 

Did your friends and family take you up on your recommendation? Perhaps after doing so, they became loyal customers themselves and spread the word to their loved ones in turn.  

One of the most untapped (and inexpensive) marketing channels in existence, word-of-mouth marketing occurs when a brand wows a customer to such an extent that they tell their friends. And while these conversations may seem entirely out of a business’s control and may even backfire — customers won’t hesitate to disparage brands that provide a poor experience — you have several strategies at your disposal to get people talking about your business in a positive light. 

Amplified word-of-mouth (WOM) is when marketers launch campaigns designed to encourage or accelerate these naturally occurring conversations within their existing customer base. 

Here’s how to use word-of-mouth strategy to your advantage.

Create an Epic First Experience

Offering a standout customer experience that overshoots people’s expectations is the surest way to get them to rave about you. In addition to providing a stellar product that solves a major pain point — these days, that’s table stakes — consider throwing in a personalized ‘Thank you’ note and free gift along with their online purchase.Whatever you do, aim to impress. Providing an average or negative experience will not motivate customers to advocate for your business. 

Sell quality products.

Sourcing and selling quality products are crucial to providing an outstanding customer experience. Attentive customer service, an effortless buying experience and products that perform as advertised are the key ingredients for a WOM-worthy experience. 

Make sure the experience you provide measures up to the branding. For example, if your restaurant bills itself as a family-friendly establishment serving healthy food, don’t ruin the experience by not providing enough space for baby strollers in the dining area. 

Seamless order process and site UX.

On average, only 1.53 percent of ecommerce website visits convert into a purchase, which suggests that most brands aren’t getting site functionality right. 

Don’t let a poor user experience cause would-be customers to abandon their shopping carts out of frustration. 

One of the most common reasons for cart abandonment are an un-intuitive shopping process and lack of information. Make your site easy to navigate by enabling customers to self-identify their needs. 

For example, you can provide a chatbot or intake form that asks new website visitors what product category they’re searching for and filter items by price range. Provide thorough product descriptions, videos or photographs of the product in action. 

Run a tight operation.

Incorrect orders, late deliveries or appointment no-shows will motivate customers to spread the word about your business — but for all the wrong reasons. Data shows that 58% of consumers stop doing business with a company because of a single poor customer experience. 

Use just-in-time inventory management (using historical data to reorder supplies ahead of anticipated demand) so you’re never over- or under-stocked, and partner with a reliable supplier who can fulfill large orders with a short turnaround. 

Finally, make it easy for customers to get in touch with a human for complaint resolution. 

Go above and beyond for the customer.

Exceeding customer expectations looks different for every business, but it can be as simple as working with a customer to create a custom item, sending a personalized thank you note or performing an act of kindness. 

Case in point: a Trader Joe’s in Wayne, PA, delivered a week’s worth of groceries free of charge to an elderly gentleman who was stranded at home during a snowstorm. 

Note: Trader Joe’s doesn’t usually provide delivery, but they made an exception. Complaint resolution is another key factor in the customer experience. Sometimes you can turn a bad situation around and blow the customer away in the process.

Spark WOM Among Influencers

Having your products reviewed by credible influencers is a surefire tactic to increase brand awareness because influencers have the power to sway their followers’ purchasing decisions. 

A recent study by Sideqik found that 7 out of 10 consumers trust influencers’ recommendations just as much as the opinion of real-world friends. 

If you have the budget for influencer marketing, you can even hire a brand ambassador — someone who acts as the “face” of your company by regularly talking about your products and services rather than just doing a one-off social media post.

Send products for free.

Identify relevant influencers, send them your product, and see if they review it. However, note that some influencers are regularly deluged with freebies and may not wish to review your product unless they truly like it, so don’t expect reviews from every influencer. 

Instead of focusing exclusively on big names with a massive amount of followers, try working with micro-influencers — bloggers, videographers or DIYers with a smaller following whose goal is to share subject matter expertise by producing tutorials, shout-outs, how-to-guides, day-in-the-life vlogs and so on. 

Connect with a worthy cause.

According to IBM research, 40% of consumers said they seek out companies that align with their values, such as sustainability or racial equality. Influencers also want to show support for causes they believe in, so associating your brand with a purpose will give influencers additional reasons to partner with you. 

In 2020, Starbucks launched the #WhatsYourName campaign to illustrate the journey of a young transgender person who was struggling to embrace their name change — until he walks into a Starbucks one day. 

The barista asks for his name — “James,” he intones confidently — and writes it on his cup, sealing James’s new identity as a male. The ad was inspired by real-life experiences of people who were transitioning and found Starbucks to be a safe space where their new name was accepted. 

Solve a real challenge (yes, even influencers have them!).

The best products solve customer pain points and leave a lasting impact. For example, social media users routinely post about LARQ, a self-cleaning water bottle that uses UVC-light to sterilize the bottle, and how it makes it so much easier to stay hydrated while traveling.

Building Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategy

Rather than leaving WOM marketing up to chance, create triggers that will make people want to talk about your brand.

Here are some ways to launch your own word-of-mouth marketing campaign:

Set up word-of-mouth triggers.

Triggers are memorable experiences or feelings that make people want to talk about your business — think of it as your ‘X factor.’ 

Take it from luxury hotel chain Ritz-Carlton, which often makes headlines for its reputation for going the extra mile for its guests. 

When a young guest at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida lost his beloved stuffed giraffe, Joshie, hotel employees not only mailed the giraffe back but they sent pictures of Joshie lounging by the pool, getting a massage at the spa and driving a golf cart to reassure the little boy that his beloved stuffed animal had been well cared for in his absence. 

The giraffe even received a Ritz-Carlton ID badge and was made an honorary member of the Loss Prevention team. 

The Ritz-Carlton viral marketing example shows that WOM triggers needn’t be expensive or extravagant. Simply demonstrating empathy and creativity can go a long way. 

Use visual triggers.

Create remarkable visual experiences so customers will want to take photos and share them. 

For example, ‘Instagrammable’ restaurants have one thing in common — they provide an aesthetically pleasing environment that makes people want to share their dining experience on social media. Providing visual triggers in a digital experience is trickier but doable. 

One of the best word-of-mouth marketing examples comes from feminine product brand, Always. 

As part of its #LikeAGirl campaign, the brand pushed for more gender-diverse emojis on mobile and social media platforms. Before, the female emojis on instant messaging apps showed girls dancing in bunny ears or walking down the aisle. The Always campaign introduced new girl-power symbols, like female doctors, athletes, chefs, wrestlers, soccer players and so on. 

Do or create something unique.

Selling a unique product, using a different business model or bucking industry norms are other ways to harness the power of word of mouth. Standing out in a crowd, whether it’s with your product or shipping method, could prove to be beneficial.

Emotional provocation.

Tapping into people’s emotions can be an immensely powerful way to generate shares.

In 2019, Dove launched the #ShowUs campaign partnering with women and non-binary individuals to create a collection of 10,000+ stock images that offer a more inclusive vision of beauty for all media and advertisers to use. 

By enabling people to feel seen, regardless of race, body type or gender, Dove expertly tapped into people’s emotions by making them feel like they were a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Encourage user-generated content (UGC).

According to UGC marketing platform Offerpop, 85% of social media users say they trust UGC more than they trust branded content. 

However, brands don’t want to appear pushy, so only 16% provide specific directions on how consumers can create and share content. UGC builds trust by establishing social proof — the notion that something is desirable because other people like it.

Encourage satisfied customers to share UGC by hosting giveaways on social media for people who post pictures of your products alongside your branded hashtag. Similarly, if you offer a loyalty program, you can tie rewards to UGC, thereby encouraging your most loyal customers to post photos or videos of your products. 

Push ratings and reviews hard.

Customer reviews are the modern WOM marketing. Set up feedback channels to collect testimonials — Yelp reviews, emails, feedback surveys  and website analytics. Collect and prominently display honest reviews of your business in as many places as possible — review websites, social media posts, online marketplaces and your own website. 

Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business and 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Create an official referral program.

Referral marketing is a form of marketing that encourages happy customers to advocate on behalf of your brand in exchange for incentives. Sometimes called refer-a-friend programs, referral marketinghas become a go-to method for ecommerce stores looking to grow their sales while minimizing the cost per action. 

By providing customers with incentives to talk about your brand, you increase the likelihood of WOM. 

Rewards can be anything from:

  • Discount off first-time purchase.
  • A gift card or coupon.
  • Cash payments or cashback.
  • Free gifts.

Know your Customer Lifetime Value (LTV).

Average customer lifetime value refers to the amount of revenue a single customer brings in over the course of your business relationship. The LTV metrics tells you how much money to spend on customer acquisition. 

For example, if a customer typically spends $200, then your WOM initiatives should not exceed this amount, otherwise, you will end up losing money.

The Final Word

Word of mouth advertising can be an impactful yet relatively inexpensive strategy for growing your online business. But before busting out the bells and whistles, start with the fundamentals. 

If you provide a positive experience and run a tight operation, you’re already halfway there.

FAQs Word-of-Mouth Marketing

What are the Advantages of Word of Mouth Marketing?

Word of mouth is a type of marketing that helps brands build trust, credibility and loyalty. 

Brand loyalty

Customers who like your brand enough to tell their friends and family about it are more likely to remain loyal and have a higher lifetime value. 

Brand trust

Word-of-mouth recommendations help brands build trust with new customers more effectively than traditional advertising because the recommendations come from a trusted friend. 

Creating a buzz

The most effective word-of-mouth triggers generate hype about your brand, be it on social networks or offline. WOM triggers that go viral on social media can have a lasting impact beyond the marketing campaign itself.

How to Deal with Negative Word of Mouth?

Investigate the root cause of the problem. If customers are dissatisfied with late shipments or faulty products, switch suppliers or work with a different fulfillment company. 

Next, contact the aggrieved customer directly. If the complaint was made on a public platform — a social media site or review website — issue a public response so that existing and potential customers will see that you take customer feedback seriously and are resolving the issue.

Organic Word of Mouth vs. Amplified Word of Mouth

Organic word of mouth occurs when customers naturally mention your brand in conversation without any specific effort from you. Amplified word of mouth consists of a series of strategies designed to encourage customers to spread the word about your business, such as providing a stellar customer experience or starting a referral program.

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