Want to know the world’s most trustworthy marketing strategy? No, it’s not pay-per-click ads, product placements, Super Bowl commercials, or celebrity endorsements. The most trustworthy marketing strategy comes straight from other people—perhaps people you don’t even know. It’s word-of-mouth marketing.
A Nielsen study found 83% of respondents trust recommendations from friends and families. Years prior, a similar study saw 92% of individuals trust recommendations from people in general, even if they’re a complete stranger. Shocking, right?
That’s a lot of trust in other people, especially when you consider only 42% of consumers trust banner ads, 46% trust social media ads, and 56% trust billboards and other outdoor advertising.
Trust impacts more than just perceptions and reputation—studies found that 31% of US adults say brand trust has a great deal of influence on purchase decisions, and 37% agreed it had a lot of influence.
With word of mouth being such a key influencer in your consumers’ purchasing decisions, it’s a no-brainer to make it a marketing priority in 2020. Don’t worry—word-of-mouth marketing isn’t an elusive “go viral” tactic. It’s much more concrete than that. You’ll see why below.
What is word-of-mouth marketing?
Word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM, WOM, WOM marketing, or word-of-mouth advertising) is the spreading of brand information, products, or opinions from one person to another via conversations.
Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t a collective marketing campaign. It’s a small component of a marketing campaign that packs a big punch. As you’ll see in the strategies and examples in this article, word-of-mouth marketing plays a critical part in any cohesive marketing strategy—whether that’s a product launch, email marketing campaign, or social media growth strategy.
Word of mouth marketing happens both organically and through amplification.
For an organic example, look at Tesla. Tesla doesn’t advertise, but everyone knows about its latest product releases and company news because people are fanatical about the brand.
They love to write, tweet, and chat about it—no marketing necessary.
For an amplified example, look at Spotify’s latest year-in-review 2019 Wrapped campaign. When Spotify released it, everyone talked about the results, sharing on social media and texting their friends and family. This was all organic, but Spotify added some extra amplification to the campaign by promoting it with TV commercials, billboards, and digital ads.
If you have a gigantic cult following like Nike, Disney, or Trader Joe’s, word-of-mouth advertising comes easy (or at least easier). You simply say the word, and the masses spread the news in an uncontrollable chain reaction. However, if you’re a smaller business, you’re going to need to get clever with your word-of-mouth marketing strategies.
Top 6 word-of-mouth marketing strategies
If you don’t have a massive brand following already, word-of-mouth marketing isn’t going to happen on its own. Then again, if you build it, there’s no guarantee they will come.
Even if your company does something amazingly philanthropic or mind-blowingly innovative, no one will talk about it if they don’t know about it. You’re going to need to light some sparks to get the wildfire going—that’s where these strategies come in.
The following strategies aren’t entire campaigns—just the sparks to ignite your word-of-mouth advertising fire.
1. Experience marketing
One of the best ways to capitalize on word of mouth is to create experiences that get people talking. With the rise of social media, this has never been more relevant. People love to share their experiences, whether that’s through Snapchat, Instagram stories, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other popular mediums. Create a shareable experience, and you’ll inherently spark word-of-mouth marketing.
Experience marketing can be as big as Burning Man and Coachella or as small as a virtual reality headset and augmented Pokémon in your backyard. Think of the hibachi grill experience—sure, the food is good, but people go for the hilarious chefs, flying shrimp, and exploding flames.
A great example of a small business executing experience marketing to perfection is EKR, a marketing agency in Provo, Utah. They drive word-of-mouth marketing in the Utah community without a crazy budget. EKR holds an annual post-Halloween Slash Bash, where it gathers employees, clients, and the community for good food, good times, and good pumpkin smashing. Nothing will spark word-of-mouth advertising quite like pumpkin catapults, pumpkin-drop cranes, and a pumpkin-filled obstacle course.
If you want to get people talking, create experiences for them to talk about with others.
2. Social media
Everyone’s on social media, and there are ways to engage them on those channels to spark word-of-mouth marketing. And, no, it doesn’t require you spending 6-figure sums on annual social media marketing ad spend or creating a viral blue-or-white dress debate.
Take Wendy’s, for example. Wendy’s has amassed over 3.4 million Twitter followers, thanks to its wit and downright savage Tweets—no marketing spend or follower-growth strategies required. Just one, or perhaps many, talented writers are required.
.@McDonalds So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) March 30, 2017
Trending hashtags are another way to amplify your word-of-mouth marketing. By intentionally creating a hashtag for a product, event, or campaign, you give your audience a straightforward, cohesive way to chat about it.
Employee advocacy programs are a great way to spark word-of-mouth advertising on social media channels. In a nutshell, you get your employees to share information on their personal accounts with their followers. These posts have the potential to reach broader audiences and start new conversations.
3. Customer reviews
Reviews matter. Research shows that 95% of people read consumer reviews before making a purchase, and 88% of people trust reviews just as much as personal recommendations. Customer reviews are word-of-mouth marketing at its purest—it’s literally customers marketing your product (for better or worse) with their mouth.
Encourage your happy customers to leave reviews of your business and products on Facebook, Google, Amazon, Yelp!, G2 Crowd, or other niche-specific sites that your target audience visits. Some people love to leave reviews—no encouragement necessary. Others need a gentle push or a little incentive (maybe a 10% off discount?).
4. Influencer marketing
Don’t confuse influencer marketing with celebrity endorsements. Celebrities are usually recognizable, yet unapproachable, icons. Society has come to expect their endorsements, so we tend to trust them less—one study showed that only 3% of consumers trust celebrity endorsements.
Influencers, however, are generally people trusted in certain circles. They tend to be more relatable and approachable but just happen to have large, more niche followers. According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, 58% of participants admitted to purchasing a product because of an influencer recommendation in the prior 6 months.
Take the Ginger Runner, for example. The Ginger Runner is a nonbrand-affiliated ultrarunner who posts shoe and product reviews on his YouTube channel. If you’re not in the ultra scene, you’ve probably never heard of him, but if you’re part of the community, you likely value and respect his recommendations. Brands send him free shoes all the time in the hopes that he’ll try and review the products. I’ve come across several great shoes I’d never even heard of thanks to his suggestions. Of course, this can backfire if he has a less-than-pleasant experience with a shoe.
The best way to harness the power of influencer marketing is to find influential individuals in your industry who are (or could become) an advocate for your brand. Their influence and reach can spark conversations and interest in your product or brand that’s equal to thousands of dollars in equivalent ad spend.
5. User-generated content
Encouraging and using user-generated content (UGC) is a double whammy—actually, it may just be a triple whammy. Here’s how it works:
- You influence your users to share their content with an incentive. That could be through free products, entries into giveaways, or just a chance to be featured on your blog or social media channels.
- Users share their unique content on their social channels with their followers.
- You repurpose that great content and use it on your channels (after getting permission, of course).
- The original user gets excited that your brand shared their content, and they likely again share your post. Plus, if they’re fanatical about your brand, they’ll probably tell their spouse, mom, dog, and anybody else who will listen. Bam—triple whammy!
6. Free product
When July 11th rolls around, do you know where everyone is? 7-Eleven! Every year, 7-Eleven, America’s largest convenience store chain, gives away an estimated 9 million small Slurpee drinks for the sweet price of free-99. Why? To get people raving about the sugar-loaded icy treats. And, once they’re in the store, customers might as well buy a donut, a Monster energy drink, and a pack of gum for the road.
Obviously, it’s not always feasible to hand out free products in exchange for word-of-mouth marketing, but the right item with the right market can really take off. On average, it costs less than 18 cents to make a Slurpee—would you be willing to pay 18 cents to get a customer in your store tweeting about your product to their hundreds or thousands of followers? I think, yes.
Iconic examples of word-of-mouth marketing campaigns
When you get word of mouth marketing right, everybody knows about it. That’s why you’ll recognize all of these word of mouth marketing examples below:
1. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – word-of-mouth marketing example
Remember that blazing hot summer you spent watching everyone on Facebook dump buckets of ice water on people’s heads? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic example of word-of-mouth marketing.
Participants filmed themselves getting a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads. Then nominated others to do the same in less than 24 hours or forfeit by giving a financial donation to the research of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease). The phenomenon spread quickly across the internet, with everyone from professional athletes to your grandparents jumping in on the action.
In the end, the ALS Association raised $115 million from the campaign to fund further research and increase access to care for people with ALS.
2. TOMS’ one for one – word-of-mouth marketing example
When you buy a pair of TOMS, TOMS gives a free pair of shoes to a child in need. One for One. The product and the mission do the marketing for itself.
When the shoe and model were first released, everyone talked about this new footwear for many reasons. If you saw someone wearing a pair, you were bound to ask, “What are those?” They would then give you the whole spiel, and you’d feel inspired to buy a pair. Plus, it’s a fun-looking pair of shoes that makes you feel good for buying and wearing them—what’s not to like?
This model spread the TOMS magic until just about everyone had a pair on their feet or buried in their closet. Many other brands have gone on to adopt the buy-one-give-one model, but none have seen quite the same success as TOMS.
3. Dropbox offers free storage – word-of-mouth marketing example
OK, so it’s not a revolutionary idea today, but it was a fresh marketing tactic at the time. When cloud storage was on the rise and everyone wondered what this “storing files in the cloud” business was, Dropbox offered 500 MB of storage space to new customers and their referrers.
This free product, combined with a referral program, helped Dropbox take off and acquire loyal customers early in the game. When someone was curious about getting started with cloud storage, practically everyone would tell them to sign up for Dropbox. For a moment, Dropbox was on the verge of becoming the cloud storage verb! Like, how you Uber home or Venmo your friend some cash.
Execute your word-of-mouth marketing campaign
Word-of-mouth marketing is less about coming up with super-witty, viral content and more about offering incredible value that people can’t resist sharing with others. If your brand is small and relatively unknown, you can’t rely on entirely organic word-of-mouth marketing to catch and spread—you’re going to need to add a bit of fuel to the fire. Give these strategies a try to spark the flame to your next campaign.
The next time you plan a product launch, social media growth strategy, or email campaign, think about how you’ll incorporate word of mouth into your campaign. Will the campaign organically spread, or will you need to add a little bit of amplification? Would a free product giveaway give the campaign traction, or would an influencer do a better job at getting the word out?
If you need help adding word-of-mouth marketing to your email campaigns, take a look at our 2020 Email Planning Calendar. Check out each month’s “Email Sending Ideas” section to find creative ways to mix word-of-mouth marketing into your larger email marketing strategy.