Encourage word-of-mouth recommendations for your business

Phil Bridgeman
Membership Manager | Business West
14th May 2014

Few things are more valuable than happy customers who recommend you to others.

Make customers happy

Word of mouth marketer Dave Balter calls word of mouth the end result, in that “you must have actual brand advocacy, and people must be willing to go out of their way to share an opinion, an experience, or their passion about a product”. Creating great products or services, continually working to improve them, and providing excellent customer care are keys to creating enthusiastic, talkative customers.

Identify happy customers and encourage them to share

Enthusiastic customers may be happy to recommend you - so ask, and provide easy ways to share. Ask people to share your business cards or flyers, or invite them to join your social network page and share their experiences. Request testimonials for your website, or ask people to post recommendations directly onto review websites. Send loyal customers interesting messages that can be easily forwarded.

Give people reasons to talk: be interesting and informative

People like to teach others, so educate and inform people about your brand, products or services, so they can impart this knowledge to others. And find ways to be interesting, which may mean conjuring up creative or fun campaigns or viral content, or circulating messages that earn you respect, such as details of your innovative methods or green credentials.

Make it easier for people to share: provide tools

Engage with tools that people already use for sharing, such as social networks, discussion forums or ratings websites. Offer a tool on your website that allows people to write and share reviews. Add ‘share’ links to your key web pages. Ensure that product or service information and marketing messages can be easily forwarded. Develop a referral scheme. People share experiences, information and valuable, interesting or fun stuff; what tools can you provide to make sharing these things easier?

Have conversations

People may already discuss your brand, or engage in general dialogue about your market sector. Conversations may take place at events, or online via ratings websites, interest forums, blogs, or social networks. Get involved in existing conversations - or create new ones. Ask what people like and dislike. Share interesting news. Such dialogue could encourage voices of support. Feedback could also generate negative opinions, but remember: continual improvement helps to create happy, talkative customers, so inviting and reacting to feedback could turn negatives into positives.

‘Disrupt’ for effective word of mouth

Word of mouth marketer Steve Knox offers a complex but insightful tip for effective word of mouth. Knox explains that the human brain uses ‘schemas’ - mental models which help us make sense of the world, and ‘disruption’ of these schemas encourages communication. “Effective word of mouth disrupts schemas”, says Knox, but it cannot “stray too far from the foundational truth” of a brand “or the consumer rejects it”. Read Knox’s article for a detailed explanation with illustrative examples.

Use incentives carefully

Offering people incentives to talk about your brand can be effective. But it may undermine the ‘honesty’ value of word of mouth if people perceive recommendations as ‘bought’ and thus biased. If you choose to use incentives to spur word of mouth, consider the middle ground: don’t require people to say positive things; make it clear that people can be positive, negative, or say nothing at all. Never manipulate or deceive. A transparent approach avoids undermining the true value of word of mouth.

Read about related marketing approaches

Search online for information on the following marketing approaches that can encourage word of mouth: community marketing, guerrilla marketing, grassroots marketing, evangelist marketing, product seeding, influencer marketing, buzz marketing, viral marketing, cause marketing.


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