Some standout businesses seem like they grew with little to no effort. But usually, one of their big secrets is word-of-mouth marketing.
You've probably told a friend about a favorite restaurant or emailed a new hire about your top SaaS tools. These casual chats are what make word-of-mouth marketing a potent opportunity for your business.
But because word of mouth seems like something that just happens, it can be a little confusing. In this article, we'll cover what word-of-mouth is and how to create a strategy that works for your business. Let's get started.
What is Word of Mouth Marketing?
Word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) relies on audiences that organically share the word about brands. WOMM takes many forms. It often includes a customer mentioning a product to friends or a conversation about a brand between family members.
Word of Mouth Marketing Statistics: Why Your Business Needs WOMM
Word-of-mouth marketing is valuable to businesses and customers alike. This is because buyers invest in the opinions and experiences of the people they trust.
92% of Nielsen-surveyed consumers believe their friends and family over any kind of advertising. And a 2021 Active Campaign and Dynata survey says that 42% of consumers learn about Black-owned businesses through word of mouth.
According to an RRD survey of 1,000 consumers, 55% learn about products through word of mouth. 40% made purchases based on those recommendations. 28% would rather use word of mouth than any other form of discovery.
But only 7% of marketers believe that word-of-mouth marketing impacts buying decisions.
What about influencer marketing?
2021 research from Engagement Labs says that 66% of word-of-mouth marketing happens face-to-face. But there are other ways to get people talking organically about your business. 2022 Sideqik data says that 7 out of 10 consumers trust influencers' opinions as much as their face-to-face friends. 66% say that influencers have more impact on their buying choices than the people they see in person.
And influencer marketing isn't just impacting B2C. Surveyed B2B clients say that they have more trust in influencer content than data that comes directly from vendors.
According to 2022 HubSpot data, 68% of marketers work with influencers. And 34% of businesses are investing in influencer marketing, spending $50-500K a year.
For more insights, download the HubSpot State of Marketing report.
But only 4% of marketers recognize the value consumers place on word-of-mouth marketing. If you want your business to stand out, it’s time to start building some buzz.
Types of Word of Mouth Marketing
As the ability to connect with consumers online grows, so do the options for word-of-mouth marketing. These are some of the most popular forms that WOMM might take for a business.
Publicity focuses on public visibility and awareness. It's the process of attracting and shaping media attention. It can also include crisis management, brand awareness, and reputation development.
This type of word-of-mouth marketing improves viral awareness of a campaign or product. Buzz marketing strategies spark passionate conversations in social circles both in-person and online.
This type of marketing relies on a select audience to slowly spread awareness about a product or brand. Viral campaigns usually meet business goals when they reach a wide public audience beyond the initial target group.
Both viral and buzz marketing rely on word-of-mouth. But viral marketing should build over time.
Viral marketing can also grow because of a negative reaction to messaging or content.
Blogging can include writing, video, or other media that businesses self-publish online. This public forum gives brands a chance to develop customer trust and loyalty. It also helps them connect more deeply to the lifestyles, habits, and beliefs of their audience.
Emotional marketing messages focus on specific human emotions to influence consumers. This type of word-of-mouth marketing is often image-based and created in response to current events or recent news.
Referral marketing offers incentives to customers in exchange for promoting their products by word of mouth. This lets your referrers share their opinion on any channel where they can connect with potential customers.
Social Media Marketing
Word-of-mouth marketing includes both digital and offline outreach. One popular channel for digital word-of-mouth is social media. Social media marketing uses a range of social networks to connect with consumers.
And HubSpot Research shows that social media is effective for businesses.
Because social media is so influential, there are several ways that it has affected word of mouth.
5 Things That Changed with Social Media Word of Mouth Marketing
1. People trust each other more than brands.
Trust in peer suggestions is only helped by social media. For instance, Facebook has a function that lets users make product suggestions.
Facebook Product Suggestions is a WOMM tool within the website.
Keep in mind that even though other social media sites may not have a specific WOMM tool, that doesn't mean its users aren't using them for that purpose.
Now, let's talk about how you can stay in the minds of customers to increase your chances of being recommended.
Monitor and encourage reviews or a net promoter score (NPS) from customers — they are your word-of-mouth marketers. Keeping customers happy, monitoring brand image, and fixing grievances from reviews will help you generate more satisfied customers.
2. Influencer marketing is on the rise.
Influencer marketing spending grew almost 34% in 2021.
Influencer marketing is only growing and helps businesses gain brand awareness, increase sales and conversions, and reach new audiences. Audiences trust influencers and they’re able to engage directly with that audience as an ambassador for your brand.
While influencer marketing, in most cases, isn't a free venture, what you can do instead is reach out to a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) for a product review. What a KOL review will do is give a new audience a description of your brand and how your products fit into their lives.
For example, technology guru and video producer Justine Ezarik (iJustine) has been posting technology reviews on YouTube since 2007.
Ezarik uses her platform to help her followers make buying decisions. She’s built a reputation for being a KOL in technology and her loyal fanbase trusts her content because of that.
3. Social media likes don't necessarily mean a recommendation.
While a successful tweet is great, it could also mean that the tweet was well-crafted and enjoyable. Granted, a well-performing tweet shows that you know your audience — but it doesn't guarantee a recommendation.
Are you looking for an alternative to likes? Drive your audience to the comment section by including language like, "Let us know what your favorite new feature is in the comments below" or "How has our new [product name] helped you?"
Indicators of successful WOMM include:
- People recommending your product to other users
- Users tagging their friends to try your brand's products or services
Instead of promoting your brand through a sponsored tweet, try running a social media giveaway. Offer an incentive in a social media post and make the rules of entry include following your page, then tag a couple friends who would love the giveaway.
Let's look at an example. Vegan accessory company Pixie Mood ran an Instagram contest, partnering with three other brands to do a giveaway. One of their rules was to follow all of the four partnered brands. By doing this, fans of Pixie Mood and their partners are increasing the community of each brand.
Offering a prize, like the chance to win something, entices the followers you have to be active word-of-mouth marketers.
4. Online product research has made WOMM more relevant.
People trust online reviews that feel authentic. In fact, 89% of consumers are more likely to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews.
By encouraging your customers to give reviews of your business on social media you'll attract customers who are drawn to reviews and scores.
Skincare company frank body is great at this. Check out these recent Instagram comments:
Fans of the company leave comments on posts about why they love the brand, and their team responds to satisfied customers showing off their products.
5. User-generated content is more important than ever.
Once, I tweeted about how much I love Southwest Airlines, and when they tweeted me back, I felt like a celebrity. By using my social media account to create content that communicates brands I love to my followers, I'm participating in using user-generated content for word-of-mouth marketing.
User-generated content is potentially more effective than paying influencers. For example, according to Nosto, 79% of people say user-generated content highly impacts their purchasing decisions.
To encourage user-generated content, make followers aware that you support it in posts. A simple "Tag us in a picture of you loving your new phone to be featured on our feed," encourages your followers to exercise their brand loyalty in hopes of getting a shout-out. This practice also builds community on social media.
Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy
1. Create personas to learn about your audience.
Create personas that exemplify who your target audience is. These should be ridiculously specific. You'll have more luck inciting a ground-up movement if you speak to a very specific problem facing a niche group.
The more specific the problem, the more personal it is to your target audience. This means you need to solve a problem that strikes a chord with your audience so that they bring you into their lives and become brand evangelists.
To be clear, this problem doesn't need to be particularly emotional to be personal. Solving a personal problem simply means addressing something that is so specific to your audience it's easily overlooked by the average person.
2. Know your product, service, company, and industry.
Know the ins and outs of your industry and your product. This means getting your product marketing team, support staff, and engineers involved with your word-of-mouth marketing campaigns.
You also need to really "get" your company and its mission statement. Have you established your brand's position on the hard-hitting issues that are plaguing your industry? Do you know your competitors and their points of view on the questions and controversies that commonly arise?
Be ready to speak to any facet of your product, service, company, or industry that may arise from conversations with your prospects and customers. These are the traits of a thought leader; they are qualities that elicit the feeling of trust that is necessary to create word-of-mouth buzz. You're asking people to put their reputation on the line for you, and there's no way anyone will do so if they don't trust you and know you are the best in your field.
3. Build a close-knit social media community.
This requires a deep understanding of your target audience and how they like to communicate. What social networks are they using? You might find it's not what you think. Do some research and figure out if a smaller, more niche social network like Quora appeals to your community more than, say, Facebook.
Building a close social media community relies on nuance, though. Establish the right voice to use, and ask yourself:
- How do these folks like to be spoken to?
- What's their sense of humor?
- Are they all business all the time, and want you to be straight to the point?
- Or are they there for some conversation?
Monitoring and interacting with your social media community has to become a regular part of your life so you and your community are actually friends. Their success should be intertwined with your success and vice versa. This is how you build a following that will not just speak on your behalf, but also shout.
4. Identify community influencers.
If you've built a close social community, you know them well enough to know who among them are the influencers. But don't forget to also look for influencers outside of your community.
There are influencers in the world that could benefit from what you have to offer, and it's your job to introduce yourself to these people. Some common qualities of influencers are early adoption and large social media followings, and they are probably bloggers or creators of original content in some capacity and always on the front end of the news. Get these people on your side, and use their reach to market your product or service.
5. Who influences your influencers?
Your influencers are independent thinkers, but they get their information somewhere.
- Which news outlets do they flock to for information?
- Which publications do they read religiously?
- What communities do they interact with?
- What podcasts do they listen to?
Make sure you're not only up to date on what these influencers are saying, but that you also market your brand to them and make connections within those communities.
You should be a contributor or guest and interact on a regular basis with these groups to get your brand the exposure it needs to create word-of-mouth buzz.
6. Don't censor negative comments.
If you're dedicated to word-of-mouth marketing, you need to be comfortable letting go of control of the conversation around your brand. In word-of-mouth marketing, the whole point is getting people to talk about you. But they can say whatever they want to say, to whomever they choose. But you can guide the conversation.
First, make sure you don't have any skeletons in your closet. Get ahead of any PR issues by being the one to break bad news. You can also select the aspects of your product or service that you want to highlight, and promote those more heavily than others.
But remember, people have a way of finding out the juicy details, so try to make sure the positive information outweighs the negative.
7. Consider using exclusivity.
Consider not letting everyone use your product or service when it's introduced. If you're beta testing, invite influencers and highly connected people in your community who will give you meaningful feedback.
They can then invite their community of influencers and help your product go viral.
People want what they can't have, so even if it's out of curiosity, your product will be shared with a highly relevant audience. Plus, that audience will get it from a family member, friend, or coworker that gave it their seal of approval.
Companies That Use Word of Mouth Marketing
To be effective, WOMM needs to be believable, repeatable, and measurable. Most of all, it needs to be social. This combination can be tough to achieve, so let's talk about some inspiring examples of word-of-mouth from standout businesses.
Buyers trust Trader Joe's for its quality products, friendly team, and affordable pricing. And most of their promotion comes from their loyal shoppers.
One way that T.J.'s supports word-of-mouth marketing is "The Fearless Flyer." This weekly sales promotion includes funny copy highlighting enticing products and recipes.
Another word-of-mouth standout is Spotify. They use customer data to give listeners an idea of their favorite songs, music artists, podcasts, and more. Their recap messages are an annual highlight because of their clean design, fun copy, and massive insights. They're also a favorite of music artists who want a better understanding of their listeners.
These recaps spark conversation and engagement while also improving the product experience.
Casper's effective ads and social media presence aren't the only way that they generate buzz. This brand also uses customer focus to improve its word-of-mouth marketing.
A few examples of this include:
- Easy to scan transparent reviews
- 100-day guarantee
- Clear, fun-to-consume content
- Simplified buying experience
These strategies make a big mattress purchase an easier decision. It also leads their customers to share their experiences.
Canva started small and grew fast with user-generated content, social proof, and customer feedback. This product shined a spotlight on people who wanted to create designs but didn't have formal training. With this goal in mind, they started with a small niche group of users.
Then Canva supported its loyal fans as the community grew. They did this by:
- Sharing user-generated content
- Building backlinks with creator and small business blogs
- Developing complementary industry relationships
This business drives word of mouth with powerful and useful content marketing. While it can take time to ramp up a blog or social channel, this strategy can have a powerful impact on customer sharing.
The Ahrefs blog isn't just a source of product knowledge. It's an authoritative and easy-to-understand resource for SEO details like:
- Page speed
- Keyword research
- Link building
Learn more about Ahrefs strategies on this episode of the Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast.
Slack started with a powerful freemium product. Then they used word-of-mouth marketing to grow their business.
Their initial strategy used onboarding to support both word-of-mouth mentions and lead generation. This is important because lead generation can be a challenge for B2B businesses that use word-of-mouth marketing.
Next, they added to the buzz with individualized support. This gave the business a chance to gather feedback and continue to improve its product. This process built a tool that customers love and share with their friends, family, and colleagues.
Types of Word of Mouth Marketing Tools
Depending on your WOMM strategy, there are many tools that can help. Whether you're setting up alerts or building awareness, these software tools can make growing by word of mouth easier.
Social listening is following brand mentions and conversations online. This practice helps you stay aware of trends, topics, and audience ideals to keep your messaging on track. It can also make it easier to find where your target audience spends the most time and who they listen to.
Here are some examples of social listening tools:
This is content that your users create and share about your brand. It might include product review images, pictures, blogs, and more. User-generated content isn’t as polished or branded as the content your business creates, so it can feel more authentic to customers.
It can also be hard to find consistently online. These are some examples of user-generated content software:
Customer Reviews and Ratings
Customer reviews don't just help customers understand how well your product works. They also help customers make buying decisions by highlighting qualities that your business might not think of. For example, Kutol developed the sculpting clay Play-Doh to clean wallpaper, not as a child's toy.
Review management software can make it easier to organize, track, and use your reviews. Check out these examples of customer review software:
A referral program helps set expectations for a continuous stream of great customer referrals for your business. It also makes it easier for your referrers to understand how to connect you to new customers.
Here are some examples of referral tools:
Make Your WOMM Campaigns Shine
Successful word-of-mouth marketing needs a great product or service and a company that people want to support. Are you creating a brand and a product that people love? Do people want to use and promote your products to their friends, family, and coworkers? If the answer is yes, all it takes is a little effort to help your most loyal fans help you grow your brand.
So, join the conversation today. See what word of mouth can do for your brand.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.