Word-of-mouth recommendation is a highly effective form of advertising because it is persuasive, credible and free. Kate Horstead finds out how you can influence others to spread the word about your business
"A consumer will only recommend something if they are prepared to put their reputation on the line," says Steve Barton, president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.
The accepted way to make this happen is to provide such a good service that customers spontaneously talk about you to friends. "But only about 15% of your customers will actually be 'influencers'," says Barton.
"It doesn't matter if they don't buy your product themselves," he adds. "What matters is that they talk to 20 people about it. You need to get these people involved."
Understand your influencers
Your regular customers, business connections, friends and family are likely to contain a host of influencers. But even if you don't know who exactly is spreading the word, you can still mount a word-of-mouth marketing campaign. What matters initially is understanding why people will talk about your business, and then how you can coax them into talking more.
"Word-of-mouth marketing works best when you've got something new to say - not necessarily a new product, but perhaps an innovation with a product," explains Barton. "The key is to identify the 'talking point' - what your influencers want to talk about, rather than what you want to say."
Spreading the word
Face-to-face networking is a good way to reach potential influencers - and a key tip is to give out two business cards so new contacts can pass one on. But you could also send out an email newsletter, publish a blog, talk to potential customers on social media, invite customers to preview new products, attend industry events - and so on. Every opportunity to communicate with people who might talk to potential customers is a chance to generate word-of-mouth recommendation.
Over time, word-of-mouth marketing should become highly targeted; the key is to identify influencers and market specifically to them. Doing this requires a way to measure the success of your word-of-mouth campaigns.
One way is to offer a discount to customers who introduce friends to your product or service. With an incentive like this, the influencer will identify themselves alongside the new customer; an email newsletter will enable you to track recommendations through a "send to a friend" option. And you should always ask new customers how they heard about you.
The marketing that leads to word-of-mouth recommendation might cost, but, as Barton says: "It's more important to focus on the return on that investment, which can be phenomenal."