Spread the word! How to encourage word of mouth marketing.

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A friend of mine recently took his family to Disney World for vacation. While waiting in line for a ride, my friend was approached by a woman who had been standing a few spots ahead. The woman had noticed my friend’s shirt, which advertised the small, boutique web design firm he owned. She had heard good things and was interested in hiring his company to help redesign her site. When my friend asked how she had heard about him, she mentioned she recently attended a small business conference in Arizona (where his company is based) and many attendees had shared stories about his company. And where was she from, he asked? New York. My friend had neither attended the conference, nor had any clients in the New York area, but this small act by a few happy customers expanded his client-base to a whole new coast.

Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool for growing a business. Think about the last time you needed a service—a hairdresser, accountant, dentist, cleaning service, etc. Most likely, you asked your friends and neighbors for recommendations, or used online reviews to help narrow down your options. You’re not alone—84% of consumers agree word of mouth recommendations from friends and family are the most trustworthy source for engaging a new product or service. And though word of mouth is one of the oldest forms of marketing, it isn’t until recently businesses have been able to effectively plan, measure and replicate word of mouth campaigns.

To get an idea of how to optimize this medium, I picked up “Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing To Drive Brand Growth.” Written by Fizz Marketing CEO, TED Wright, the book shares a number of stories about clients successfully using word of mouth to grow their brands, as well as tactics businesses can use to grow their own word of mouth campaigns.

Word of Mouth Marketing vs Advertising

Unlike traditional advertising, which tells the consumer exactly what they should think about your product or service, word of mouth marketing assumes your audience is smart, and capable of making decisions based on the information you provide. Instead of delivering short, carefully tested soundbites highlighting only the best elements of your product, word of mouth marketing focuses on the story. To be successful at word of mouth marketing, you must craft your story and get it into the hands of the right people.

Takeaway #1: Influencers Are the Key

Influencers are defined as folks who enjoy talking about their passions with friends, family, even strangers. Influencers often possess a large network, and are a trusted source of information.

Before engaging influencers, it’s important to know what motivates them. For example, the book shares the story of a private school struggling with their referral program. The school offered a $500 tuition discount to parents who referred new students, but few claimed the discount. Fizz discovered the parents weren’t motivated by money, instead feeling the discount gave the impression they were only referring the school in order to receive the reward.

Influencers are often driven by a desire to be “in the know” and build connections with others. If you share a compelling story, influencers will come to you.

Takeaway #2: Craft Your Story

Before embarking on a word of mouth campaign, determine what is special about your brand. Simply put, what’s your one thing? This one thing doesn’t focus on a product or service, but instead reflects the soul of your company.

Once you’ve found your “one thing”, it’s time to craft your story. Fizz outlines a good story must be three things: relevant, interesting, and authentic. Think of your story like you would a good book—it should be comprised of a situation, climax, and a resolution. Forbes has a great article which identifies some of the most common types of brand stories including: the Founding Story, Pivotal Stories, Teamwork Stories, and Great Work stories.

Lastly, rehearse this story internally. Have your employees sit down and take on different personas. Then, practice telling your story in different ways. For example, what would be the relevant points for Persona A versus Persona B? What interesting facts would draw in one audience compared to another? Your story should also be reflected in other aspects of your business—your website, your business cards, even how you answer the phones. Once you and your employees have internalized the story, you’re prepared to begin sharing your story with others.

Takeaway #3: Trust Your Influencers

It may seem scary, even counterintuitive, to open up to your customers. After all, we’re used to sharing only what we want or need them to know. This approach won’t work with influencers. To jump start your word of mouth marketing, provide influencers with as much information as you can and allow them to craft their story accordingly. Just as a good sales associate adjusts their pitch to address different business problems, your influencers should be able to tell the most relevant story to the person with whom they are speaking.

One way we show our trust is to ask influencers to serve as references. Prospective Ruby clients often request a list of current clients to speak with before signing up for our service. By serving as a reference, our influencers can speak openly and honestly about their experience. Another option is to provide influencers with a number of outlets for sharing their story. When a client agrees to serve as a reference, we also invite them to review us on Yelp or Facebook, write a 2-3 sentence testimonial to be included on website with their headshot, or share their story with a friend through our referral widget. Again, we don’t ask for a good review, merely give them the opportunity to pass along their experience.

Be Patient

Despite advances in technology, the majority of word of mouth marketing is still done offline, face-to-face. Tracking word of mouth can be tricky, and often takes time to see results. Yet, the evidence shows customers are more likely to trust a business referred by friends, resulting in stronger customer relationships. Be patient. Continue to ask customers how they heard about you, and take time to go out into the community to hear what folks are saying about your business. You may find your story is being told in places you never expected.

For more insights into word of mouth marketing, check out Fizz’s blog, as well as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

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