It’s true for nearly every company, school and nonprofit we work with: most of their customers (or students or donors or volunteers) come from positive word of mouth. In fact, it’s not even close. Word of mouth beats the socks off of paid advertising.
So, it’s worth asking the question: “Why do I need to market my business if almost all of it comes to me via word of mouth?” Working in sales, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question over the last five years at North Star Marketing. It’s a valid question. But is it the right question?
Where Does Word of Mouth Come From?
Imagine if Coca-Cola (the third most valuable brand in 2013 at an estimated $79.2 billion, behind Apple and Google) depended only on people talking about their products and didn’t invest any money into marketing their brand. Coke can be purchased in more than 200 countries around the world, and they didn’t get there by hoping people would talk about their product. Coca-Cola has the most recognizable brand in the world due to careful planning through their marketing strategy and placement of ads and products.
Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. Of course, most of us don’t own companies as valuable as the Coke brand, and most of us don’t have a $4 billion dollar marketing budget, like Coke did in 2013. However, what we can learn from Coke is this: real company growth does not come by “hoping” that people will take your brand and run with it. Growth – the right kind of growth – comes in part from careful planning and investment into promotional opportunities that will educate and reach REAL prospective consumers. Don’t wait for your customers to market for you, help them get the conversation started and keep it alive.
For those who say, “Word of mouth is all the marketing I need,” here are a few questions to ponder:
- What am I doing to proactively educate the people who talk about my brand?
- Is word of mouth always positive?
- What if word of mouth doesn’t happen?
- What am I leaving on the table?
Educating your Audience
First, if you’re hoping that your customers will tell other people about your brand, how are you helping them spread the word? This “internal marketing” doesn’t happen on its own. Good customer service and a quality product are certainly baseline starting points, and in today’s economy, those are non-negotiables. However, the power we have to influence our “talkers” goes far beyond our service and the features of our product or service.
Think about your brand – your logo, colors, fonts, tagline, brand standards and message. Have you ever considered your brand as a cornerstone marketing investment? The consistency with which we use our brands speaks volumes about the value we aim to deliver.
What about your website? Is it easy to navigate? Can current and prospective customers quickly find helpful, relevant information? Is the photography professional? Is the messaging matched to the audience?
Are you using broadcast email, newsletters, social media and personal contact to engage the people already familiar with your brand to keep them up to speed? Remember – your brand is only on their mind as long as you keep it there. While you may think about it 24/7, your brand’s value must be constantly built up to your customers – and it’s hard for them to represent you well if they haven’t heard from you in a while.
Fostering Positive Talk
Is word of mouth always positive? The double-edged sword of word of mouth marketing is that we don’t always know whether what we’re getting is helping or hurting our brand. Once our brand is on the minds of our “talkers,” we don’t have control over how they’re going to talk about us. It’s just not realistic to think that “word of mouth” is synonymous with “positive talk.”
In today’s marketing landscape, storytelling is more important than ever. Are you capturing customer stories and telling them through social media and a blog on your website? Are you using video to capture customer testimonials, product updates or project case studies? Are you monitoring social media to see if your brand is mentioned negatively so you can respond appropriately? All of these are ways to manage the message and foster positive talk. These efforts require regular planning and follow-through.
Avoiding The Silence
What if they don’t talk about us at all? What if word of mouth marketing doesn’t happen? It’s a bit presumptive to think that just because we do quality work, that our clients will run and tell all their friends. Certainly that’s our hope, but I would suggest that hope is not a good marketing strategy. If we want our “talkers” to be encouraged to talk about us, we need to provide them with the methods to do so.
Consider one of the most talked-about brands on earth – Apple. Every time they do a product launch, the media flocks to cover the events. Consumers sleep overnight outside of cell phone stores to buy the latest gadgets. And while this culture of Apple would not exist if they put out low-quality products or had poor customer service, effective marketing is a vital pillar in keeping the Apple brand at the top. Apple invests in an incredible amount of print, TV and online marketing. They do more than rely on word of mouth. They invest in telling their own story.
What are you doing to actively tell you story? Are you advertising online? Is your brand participating in industry events? Is it easy to share pages from your website on social media? Are you asking your best customers for reviews? Have you created an easy way for customers to give you feedback through online surveys or paper-based evaluation cards?
What Are You Leaving on the Table?
If most of your business comes from word of mouth, then it’s quite likely you’re not getting all the business you should. Surely, more people would come your way if the market only knew about you. These are the people who are being hotly pursued by newer, smaller companies who are marketing and advertising online and through customer education. They likely don’t have a large customer base to do their “talking” for them, so they are forced to spread the word. This means it’s only a matter of time before they come after your customers – and the conversation shifts to their brand.
The money you’re leaving on the table will likely be claimed by companies who ask for it.
The Better Question
We started with a simple question: “Why do I need marketing when most of my business comes from word of mouth?” You’re right, word of mouth is the best marketing you can have. But perhaps the better question is, “If I want to increase the power of word of mouth, can I afford not to market to my company?” Actively promoting your brand shows people that you have confidence in what you can do. It helps people understand what makes you different, why your product or service is worth engaging and how their lives will be better if they team up with you. And when they give you a try and realize that you made good on your brand’s promise…well, that gets people talking.
Your Partner for Positive Growth
Based in Burlington, North Carolina, North Star Marketing provides marketing consulting and creative services for companies, schools, ministries and nonprofits. We can help with specific projects, such as branding and website development, or ongoing support for both online and traditional marketing. If you have a marketing project or puzzle, we invite you to call (336) 229-6610 or click here to start the conversation.