Word of mouth remains an important and valuable source of great marketing because customers trust their friends and family, but never before have customer testimonials weighed so heavily in the buying decision process. Flourishing beyond the confines of the marketing funnel, word of mouth has evolved into a force that is a much more powerful influencer than the conventional channels of sales and marketing.
The ability of a business to convert a paying customer into a volunteer evangelist has always been more valuable than gold, but word of mouth’s reach has been traditionally limited to person-to-person contact, until recently. In the digital age and with the advent of social media, consumers have found their voice, and it carries far and wide.
Word of Mouth’s Digital Influence
Word of mouth endorsement is one of the most credible forms of promotion because the self-appointed brand ambassadors have nothing to gain from their recommendations. In public relations, there’s power in this kind of third-party validation because when a company’s name is published by an unrelated and trusted news source, the customer’s takeaway is that the brand is credible and trustworthy. In marketing, the references provided by third parties attract new prospects to your company in what is traditionally recognized as the “know, like and trust” principle.
HubSpot’s 2018 State of Inbound survey of more than 6,200 respondents in 99 countries found that in terms of influence on buying decisions, 55 percent cited word of mouth – including friends and social media – referrals followed by customer references at 46 percent. Media articles and vendor content (eBooks, blog posts, whitepapers, case studies) ranked 38 percent in terms of influence. Sales ranked at the bottom of the spectrum.
Word of mouth’s influence in the digital age has risen in direct proportion to the fading trust of not just the advertising medium, but in the brands themselves. When customers initiate their buyer process, they begin their research by seeking out the most reliable and trustworthy sources. As we’ve stated, there’s no more reliable source than volunteer brand ambassadors talking up their superior customer experience and benefits of using a brand’s products and services.
There are two types of word of mouth that inherently overlap, according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). Organic word of mouth occurs naturally or spontaneously when happy customers share their support and enthusiasm for a product. Amplified word of mouth occurs when marketers or advertisers launch campaigns designed to encourage or accelerate customer endorsements in new or existing communities. Amplifying and targeting the voices of volunteer promoters should be Job One for your public relations (PR) and marketing team.
To stay relevant, a large and growing segment of businesses have established and scrupulously maintain an online presence in this brave new media landscape. Wielded by skilled practitioners who possess the nuanced know-how to hone brand ambassador support, the most effective amplification tools include:
- Social media: Word of mouth’s most versatile and powerful amplifier, without a doubt, is social media. While customers voice their experiences (the good and especially the bad) on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, PR and marketing pros use those sites plus LinkedIn and Twitter to extend the reach of their influencer content by sharing press releases, blogs, case studies and videos. To not be social media present is to be invisible, ineffective and irrelevant.
- Testimonials and reviews: Companies and brands shouldn’t be shy about simply asking customers to share their positive experience online. Whether it’s a few sentences on your website, a 280-character social media post or a fully detailed letter of recommendation, testimonials and reviews represent authentic user-generated content at the lowest amplification setting.
- Case studies: Marketers have long used this success storytelling medium to illustrate how a company approached a problem and overcame it. Many case studies originate directly from a company’s testimonials and reviews. These neatly packaged narratives tell the story of a positive customer experience and how the buyer benefited from the company’s product or service.
- Press releases: The traditional communication tool of the PR professional to the media, the press release can disseminate a word of mouth-inspired case study to interested publications. The resulting news article is third-party validation of a positive customer experience. Bonus: More recently, press releases play a valuable marketing role as a record on the company website to list the company’s successes.
- Video: The moving image of a satisfied customer voicing their positive experience is more powerful than 1,000 press releases, case studies or blogs. In the digital era, video is the most effective way to reach audiences, especially on mobile and social platforms. The popularity and importance of video will only continue to grow moving forward.
The company that fails to properly employ a combined PR and marketing strategy to advance a positive customer experience and build brand ambassadors doesn’t just miss a golden opportunity, but it will find itself at a competitive disadvantage.
You can’t control word of mouth any more than you can control the weather. But the customer savvy business – with the help of expert PR and marketing professionals – can harness the elemental force that is word of mouth. If you want to see how an integrated approach to PR and marketing will help you harness word of mouth to positively enhance your brand, please reach out for a time to talk.
Charles Wisniowski is a marketing writer for DPR Group