Incorporating word of mouth marketing into your customer acquisition strategy

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Word of mouth advertising – marketing where customers share their experiences of your products with others that they know – is an important way of generating awareness in your product and services. While some word-of-mouth advertising will naturally build, this article explores ways of encouraging your customers to share their experiences with others.

Forms of word of mouth marketing

Direct referrals from friends or colleagues

Possibly the oldest form of marketing that there is, is word of mouth recommendations from direct friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances. Essentially every customer that you have provides an opportunity for you to increase your brand awareness and potentially gain sales through them sharing their experiences with others.

Praise from contacts on social media

Social media provides another way of gaining exposure through users sharing their experiences about your product and service. While potentially not as persuasive as a conversation in person, the potential reach of social media is much greater – posts by a customer may be seen by hundreds of other possible customers.

Endorsements of ‘influencers’ on social media

While posts by regular social media users may reach hundreds, or potentially thousands of their friends and acquaintances, there are some users who have significant followings. Posts by some of the most followed individuals can reach hundreds of thousands and for the most famous, millions of users.

While some of these users may praise your product following use – similar to regular social media users – the most connected individuals, or mini-celebrities, can charge for promoting your good, similar to more conventional advertising. Of course, while this is a huge opportunity for some brands to gain exposure, the costs associated with influencer promotions can mount up, while sponsored posts may also not be seen as genuine as more organic user-generated posts.

The power of word of mouth marketing

Social proof

One of the key benefits of word-of-mouth referrals for new companies and products is that it provides social proof of the value or quality of the product. While there are some individuals who like to be at the cutting edge of new technological developments, most prefer validation from others that their purchase will meet their needs.

Seen as more objective and trustworthy

Recommendations from a trusted friend or college can also carry a lot more weight than marketing materials, which by their nature appear self-serving in nature. No matter how many times you tell a potential customer that your new product will transform their lives, a customer referral from an individual that they trust is likely to be far more convincing.

Can be followed up with questions

Referrals from individuals that they know also allow potential customers to enquire about details and ask questions. While a flier or other advertisements are very one direction in nature, direct customer referrals allow interested individuals to ask their referring friend or colleges for further details on the product that they are recommending.

Scales easier than other marketing approaches

The final benefit of word-of-mouth marketing is that it scales well. While it is inherently time-consuming to have to personally introduce your product to customers, if you are able to engage your existing customers to spread the word, you can quickly reach a very large audience.

Ways to encourage word of mouth marketing

Positive experiences

Possibly the most direct way of gaining word of mouth advertising is by providing an exceptional experience to customers. If you consistently provide positive experiences, your reputation as a business will gradually grow, as customers share their experiences with others that they know.

Something noteworthy about the experience

While positive experiences are an essential component of gaining word-of-mouth referrals, it is often not sufficient to get a conversation started. If the interactions with your company are positive, but not particularly noteworthy, it is unlikely to be an interesting story for customers to bring up in conversation.

Having something very unique and memorable about your company on the other hand provides the opportunity for someone to share the story in conversation as an interesting experience that they had. The benefit that someone was not expecting to receive is a great way of generating this buzz – when something unusual happens that we weren’t expecting, we are much more likely to share the encounter with our contacts.

Make sharing easy

Another part of encouraging word-of-mouth marketing is making it very easy to share information about your firm. Maintaining a social media presence can increase word-of-mouth referrals – developing attractive and interesting posts allows engaged customers to share these posts with their contacts.  

Samples to share

Providing samples to share can be a great way of encouraging word-of-mouth marketing. One of the advantages of this approach is that your existing customers can help ensure that the samples are targeted at the appropriate customers – you exiting clients are likely well placed to know who of their contacts would be most likely to benefit from your products or services. 

Benefits for existing customers to share

One way of driving customers to share their products and experiences is to provide benefits to your existing customers to do so. Dropbox is a classic example of this – their referral scheme allowed you to gain additional storage by recommending it to others, with a bonus for your friend when they signed up – thus encouraging the referral process and adoption.

One slight disadvantage of offering bonuses is that it can make the referral appear less organic in nature. If there is a direct reward for gaining signups, potential customers may see through this – reducing the authenticity of the recommendation.

Another disadvantage to be aware of with perks for signing up additional customers is that it can drive people to share their referral codes beyond their acquaintances via discount codes sharing sites.  

Further thoughts: Beyond consumer products

It is easy to think that while word of mouth advertising is clearly important in customer-focused products, it is less critical in business-to-business purchases. While it is true that the reputation of restaurants or hotels may be heavily influenced by word-of-mouth advertising, it is also important for business-to-business firms to also be aware of the role current customers play in business settings. Your customers likely know a lot of colleagues in their fields – potentially from their university training or prior employments, providing significant opportunities for experiences to be shared. Similarly, when individuals move between firms, they can act as a key source of referrals – recommending products that they have previously had experienced with to their new firm.

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