Many businesses think that if their product or service is spectacular, it will speak for itself; they'll need very little marketing effort for it to take off. But in reality, any companies that seem to have achieved remarkable growth in this manner do indeed have phenomenal products. But it only appears to have been achieved with little or no marketing effort because their fame and fortune was won through word-of-mouth marketing.
Aside from the fact that the companies that benefit from word-of-mouth marketing appear to catapult from nothingness into fame and fortune, this marketing strategy is appealing because it is relatively inexpensive. But successful word-of-mouth marketing takes work and serious marketing savvy, leveraging many components of inbound marketing like product marketing, content creation, and social media marketing. If you're trying to achieve success for your product or service with a word-of-mouth approach, make sure your campaign includes these qualities so you can effectively create buzz around your product from the ground up.
Know 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 demographic. The more specific the problem, the more personal it is to your target audience. This means you're the one solving a problem that strikes a chord with your audience, bringing you into their lives and inciting the passion necessary to create brand evangelists.
To be clear, this problem doesn't need to be particularly emotional to be personal. You don't have to solve deep-seated psychological issues that have been plaguing your customers since childhood. Solving a personal problem simply means addressing something that is so specific to your audience, it's easily overlooked by most people who can't also relate to it in some way.
Know Your Product/Service, Company, and Industry
Know the ins and outs of your industry and your product/service like the back of your hand. This means getting your product marketing team, support staff, and engineers involved with your word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. Additionally, you 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 poised to speak to literally 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.
Build a Very Close Social Media Community
This requires a deep understanding of your target audience (good thing you made those personas!) 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; 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...well, 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.
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 news. Get these people on your side, and use their reach to market your product or service.
Who Influences Your Influencers?
Your influencers are independent thinkers, but they get their information somewhere. To which news outlets do they flock for information? Which publications do they read religiously? With what communities do they interact? 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.
Don't Restrict People
If you're dedicated to word-of-mouth marketing, you need to be comfortable relinquishing 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.
You can, however, guide the conversation. First, make sure you don't have any skeletons in your closet. Get ahead of any potentially bad PR 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.
I just told you not to restrict people, and now I'm telling you to be exclusive. Sounds quite contradictory, doesn't it? Let me explain.
Google+ is the most widely known example of leveraging the kind of exclusivity I'm talking about, but it can also be attributed to companies like Rue La La, Gilt Groupe, Spotify, and plenty of other invitation-only sites. Consider not letting everyone use your product or service when it's introduced. If you're in beta (at a point where it's usable enough to keep users around, of course) 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 it go viral. People want what they can't have, so even if it's out of curiosity, your product will be disseminated to a highly relevant audience. Plus, that audience will have received it from a family member, friend, or coworker that recommended it with their seal of approval.
The success of a word-of-mouth marketing strategy relies, ultimately, on having a great product or service--and frankly a great company--that people can get behind. Ask yourself: are people willing to stick their neck on the line for me? Are they willing to not just use the product or service I offer, but vehemently evangelize it to their friends, family, and coworkers? If you can't say with 100% certainty that they will, get back to work on your product or service and shelf the word-of-mouth marketing approach until you've worked out the kinks that are shirking your confidence.
Do you rely on word-of-mouth marketing to propel your company's success? What tales can you share, positive or negative, from the approach?