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Things we take for granted #1 – Word of Mouth Marketing


First a few truisms (based on experience and, I think, on common sense):

  • Humans are essentially social creatures and we like to share our stories – particularly the scary or bad ones
  • When bombarded with too many or too few marketing messages, we often rely on recommendations made to us by people we know and trust
  • Social media hasn’t replaced verbal WOM communications but it has amplified it by a huge factor.
  • This is the same for businesses, charity and indeed public sector organisations

All of this means that word of mouth marketing (WOM) is more important than ever to organisations looking to get their message across to both Old women talking targeted and broader audiences. I know several successful entrepreneurs whose businesses thrive on word of mouth recommendations. One even boasted recently that she hasn’t spent a penny on marketing in over two years because of the strength of this source of revenue.

I think she’s doing herself a disservice and potentially missing a significant point about what marketing her organisation is all about.

Recommendations only come about if we give the customer, donor, volunteer, staff member etc a reason they care about to recommend us in the first place. My colleague and her team have worked very hard at getting their service right and consequently are  able to exceed client expectations. This isn’t easy and generally isn’t free either but it is actually the first and most important step in successful WOM marketing – making sure you are walking the walk.

A linked but often missed step is to be self-critical and honest when looking at your organisation. Is it delivering on the promises made in your marketing and communications? If not, no amount of WOM incentives or clever campaigning is going to generate a sustainable level of recommendations.

Once these cornerstones are sorted, there are lots of things we can do tactically to encourage WOM recommendations – here are just a few of the ideas we’ve seen work time and again:

  • Focus on consistency of behaviours amongst your people – if your brand is all about welcome and fun, then you need to make sure there are no long faces in front line positions.
  • Make it easy for people to recommend you by putting in place simple channels for them to use at their convenience. For example relevant, online review sites, accessible  social media accounts or good old-fashioned suggestion boxes.
  • Ask! It’s not very British I know but most people will say good things about your organisation if asked and if there is an easy way for them to do so.
  • When you are recommended, thank the referrers whenever possible. This might mean giving people specific coupons or cards to pass along which have trackable details included. You could use hashtags on twitter or embedded email links if your technology allows. A well-timed or even a tangible thank you like a voucher or gift is a good way to encourage even more recommendations.
  • Why not incentivise WOM? I’ve been criticised for suggesting this before but I still maintain it’s not unethical to ask people to recommend you if you have exceeded their expectations. It is unethical to try to put words in their mouth (although don’t Twitter retweets do this to a certain extent?) or to in any way penalise them for not doing so.  Two real-life examples of this last point:
    1. Golf courses will reward members with free lessons for recommending the course professional to other people who then take  lessons – nothing unethical in that.
    2. I volunteer for Make-A-Wish Foundation purely because there were recommended to me by someone close who worked there and told me all about what they do. This has been reinforced over time by a new Volunteering team who support volunteers as much as possible. And now I’m recommending them to you.

So, conclusion, if there is one – don’t leave WOM to rumble along in the background.  When we all have so much competing choice, I believe it will be the organisations that walk the walk AND proactively market for recommendations that will have a sustainable future.

What great examples of word of mouth could you share?

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