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What’s the word? How-to tips on diving into word-of-mouth marketing

What’s the word? How-to tips on diving into word-of-mouth marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing has been around forever, far before the advent of advertising. When you tell someone about that new restaurant in town or spread the word about a spot remover that “really works,” you’re engaging in word-of-mouth marketing. For small businesses, the challenge is to foster those valuable word-of-mouth recommendations with the goal to get people positively talking about your business.

The beauty of word-of-mouth marketing is that it magnifies consumer interest and confidence in your product. No other form of marketing is as powerful; it’s that simple. So, how do you get started? In this e-newsletter, we’ve compiled a few easy-to-follow steps to get you moving in the right direction:

Step 1: Be interesting
You know your business is cool, but the fact of the matter is that there are a lot of really cool companies out there. Rather than just “cool,” you want to be different. For example, take the lead from restaurant Tomato Street in Spokane, WA. There, rather than the usual crayons, every child receives a small, fresh batch of homemade play-dough and dried pasta shapes to play with. Likewise, in American Girl cafes, dolls get their own chair, tea cups and menus!

Whatever your distinction, be sure to let people know. Make up a catchy phrase that sings its praises and imprint it on your business’ relevant promotional gear. For example, if your small business focus is speedy service, consider using giveaways like travel mugs or pedometers screened with your logo and the phrase “In and Out, and On the Go at Kaycee’s Dry Cleaners!”

Step 2: Join the conversation
You don’t need to publish your own blog or launch some extensive campaign to be a word-of-mouth marketer. You just need to have a two-way dialogue and be timely in your responses to your customers. And, the best way to do that is to go where your customers are online and offline.

  • Begin by reviewing and acting upon any internal customer feedback forms. Also encourage and train frontline staff to seek customer feedback at all times. Reward customers who participate in your research with small tokens of appreciation that have the potential to create buzz, like eye-popping cooler totes or geometric drawstring sport packs.
  • Continue your monitoring by turning to the web. Look for any mentions of your company name in blogs, forums or on Twitter. If people are complaining, jump in, apologize and offer to do something about it. If people are singing your praises, post a heartfelt thank-you. Also consider signing up for Google Alerts to ensure you’re notified each time your organization’s name is mentioned online.

Step 3: Connect with the influencers
Influencers are the people talking about your products or your industry. Their opinions sway others, and they are most engaged in their workplaces and communities. Connect with them both on and offline:

  • Online—Target influential bloggers in your industry and offer them something valuable they can share with their readers. Never “spam” their comment stream by leaving blatant link-backs or unrelated information, because relevancy is key to gaining their trust. After you’ve established an ongoing relationship, you’ll feel much more comfortable pitching future ideas or topics.
  • Offline (local influencers)—If most of your customers live within a limited radius, chances are that much of the conversation is happening offline.  Connect with your best customers and encourage them to spread the word by giving them extra business card magnets or providing a discount incentive or cash reward when a customer sends someone your way.
  • A great way to foster positive relationships is to hand out “review us” cards, or link to an online survey after a site visit with a message like “Thank you for visiting us today. If you had a good experience, please visit CitySearch.com and rate our [restaurant, repair shop, store, etc.]. If your visit could be improved upon, please let us know so we can correct it.”

Step 4:  Make it easy to share
The last task for word-of-mouth marketers-to-be is to make it easy for customers and influencers to tell others about their product or service:

  • Offline—this includes giving your customers extra brochures, discount cards and grab bags of samples to share with friends. A great example of using samples to generate buzz comes from granola company Bear Naked. In its 2008 Halloween promotion, the company offered gift packs that included multiple samples—just right for trick-or-treaters—plus a canvas tote bag to distribute them. Many of the treat kits were snapped up by customers who happily posted pictures and reviews online.  Meanwhile, Bear Naked got people to hand out their product for free!
  • Online—this can mean providing videos and photos for bloggers and setting up fan forums.  For example, fabric designer Heather Bailey includes a link on her website that directs visitors to a Flickr community where customers can post pictures of the projects they’ve made using her designs. If sharing a link online, be sure to make it short and sweet (and, easy to share!) by cutting it down using a service like www.TinyUrl.com.

We hope that these four steps have helped you join the conversation both online and offline. Remember, word-of-mouth marketing is based on fresh information—a notion that takes constant innovation, big or small. Nearly any unique attribute can have an impact, so get out there and get people talking!

To learn more about word-of-mouth marketing, read our related Blue PaperSM.

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