Hacking Word of Mouth Marketing

You Can’t Plan It. Or Can You?
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Word of mouth is the world’s oldest (and best) marketing scheme. Before billboards and the classifieds, people had their social networks to tell them about good, new products. It’s also the most trustworthy (and cheapest) form of advertising; people trust their friends to give them good advice, and it costs the company nothing.

However, word of mouth has evolved from happenstance -- two people talking on the street -- to something more visible and manageable. Those casual conversations are still happening, but much of WOM advertising has migrated online. According to a 2010 Harris poll, about ¼ of all tweets are about dissatisfaction with companies, companies the consumer likes, or product recommendations. Now, marketers can track exactly who their customers are sharing their business with via things like social media and referral links.

But how can marketers encourage their customers to spread the word and the love? The first step in hacking WOM advertising is understanding why customers recommend your product to begin with. The answer might sound surprisingly simple: according to the same Harris poll, nearly 2 in 5 adults want to influence others when they share their preferences online. They want their friends to take their advice. In other words, people want to seem trustworthy, smart and cool to their friends -- and it’s a marketer’s job to make their customers look good when referring their company to a friend.

A Basic Guide To Word Of Mouth Marketing

  • Make your business worth talking about. Good customer service and a positive customer experience aren’t enough. If you want people to go out of their way to mention your company or product, you have to stand out, big time. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Create traditions. Around Christmas time, people visit the department stores in big cities just to look at their window decorations. Obviously, people do more than just looking while they’re at Macy’s. Maybe it’s Trivia every Wednesday night, or funny videos posted weekly to your website, but give your customers something to look forward to -- and something they can tell their friends about.
  • Be generous. Especially with influencers in your target market. A restaurant near where I live gives people an entire bottle of their signature drink if they come on their birthday. Since they didn’t advertise the free gift, people felt cool telling their friends an “insider” tip. Now, this restaurant has tons of young people in big dining groups every time I walk in the door.
  • Make memorable media. And yeah, there is a formula for this: make it funny, and make it beautiful. A video or media campaign doesn’t need to be expensive to be both. Take this library’s campaign to keep themselves open. All it took was a Facebook page and a couple of signs, and they had national news coverage. Also, your media doesn’t necessarily have to advertise your product--your brand identity is actually more important. Take an April Fool’s Day prank from Bonobos Jeans; it wasn’t an actual ad for the company, but it’s the second most popular video on their YouTube channel. So, if you’re a fun company, show it! People will share your media for you.

Troy Library from Jennie Hochthanner on Vimeo.

  • Get social. I’ve already written plenty on the power of social listening, but it’s important to treat social media as a platform for engaging with customers. Your memorable media needs somewhere to go, and sites like Facebook and Twitter make sharing your product easy for customers. Take Warby Parker, a glasses company, for example. Their Instagram is flooded with cool pics of their product, they always make Facebook events for in-store appearances and they consistently reply to mentions on Twitter. Essentially, they help create major buzz about their product by making themselves available and visible on platforms where customers (and their friends) talk.
  • Treat customers like brand ambassadors. You’re engaging with your customers and giving them plenty of reasons to brag to their friends about your business -- now it’s time to make spreading the word easier. Create an engaging shareable (like Lay’s Do Us A Flavor competition). Maybe you put a new product name up to a vote or create a video contest for customers. People will want to share your product if they think something’s in it for them (even if that “something” is just a little fun!). Another good but elaborate example is Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” game. The release video has reached over 14 million people with Chipotle’s promise for more sustainable, wholesome food.

Of course, many of my examples come from big companies with huge advertising budgets, but most subtle word of mouth campaigns can be done without much effort or money. Brainstorm ways in which you can insert yourself into a customer’s conversation, or better yet, ask your customers how and why they talk about you! You might already have a network of customers talking about you, and it’s important to identify who your influencers are.

Want more tips on creating buzz for your company? Check out these other articles from our blog:

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