I’m renovating my master bath and am amazed by how helpful people I’ve never met are in speeding my decision process.
That is, comments and online reviews by other shoppers have persuaded me to choose things and alerted me to issues, such as a tricky cabinet assembly or that an item’s actual color differed from its seller’s description. One helpful soul even posted his renovation pics that gave me an idea of how to combine a company’s products that the company itself didn’t bother to explain.
This phenomenon has a name: “Word of Mouth Marketing,” also the title of Andy Sernovitz’s 2012 book. Unfortunately, WOM gets overlooked when marketing is measured because it’s not classified separately as a marketing tool.
WOM Is Your Most Important Marketing Tool
This “hidden statistic” is actually the largest driver of new sales, Sernovitz says. When you consider where most new customers come from, it’s usually a combination of WOM from friends, coworkers and existing customers. Other sources such as advertising, direct mail and sales lag behind.
Only 20 percent of WOM actually occurs online, according to Sernovitz, but I think of it as a chain of events in which people talk both online and offline about what they love or hate. The online piece is a link in this chain that you can strengthen with the tips Sernovitz provides, listed below.
What happens online doesn’t determine WOM; it reflects everything else your company does, whether it’s sending a thank you coupon or hanging up on a difficult customer. Make sure it’s a flattering reflection by pleasing customers. Lousy customer service equals lousy WOM.
Your Online Reputation Depends Upon WOM
When I meet someone I’m interested in doing business with, I typically check out his or her online presence (and expect that mine is being looked at too). But that doesn’t outweigh my personal impression or what my peers say. If someone I trust says something negative about “We Rock Home Renovation,” I’ll take its marketing with the proverbial grain of salt. I’ll bet you do too. But if the company supports good causes and the local community, I notice that.
Online WOM cements your reputation and amplifies it, but what you do offline matters most. That’s the other 80 percent, and Sernovitz makes a convincing case that all the online stuff you invest precious resources into—your lovely website, your email campaigns, your impeccable blog–is just noise if you have bad WOM.
Bad WOM Will Destroy Your Business
Even if you have a monopoly, if your customers hate the way you do business (cable companies, this is you), they’ll jump ship as soon as they have alternatives. Your advantage won’t last forever.
If you mistreat or mislead your customers, you’ll pay for it online. As the world grows more connected, with marketers’ voices being countered by the voices of actual consumers, WOM becomes ever more potent. People are skeptical of advertising, but trust their peers for referrals, as Carol Lynn Rivera explains here.
Andy Sernovitz’s Essential WOM Tips
“If you ignore the rest of this book,” says Sernovitz, do these:
- Ask people to spread the word. Have a friendly call to action everywhere: email newsletters, email reminders, receipts, website, blogs, signs, social media.
- Put everything in an email, the “fastest, most portable, most effective WOM tool ever invented.” Write it so people will forward it: with humor, your company’s message and links and graphics that you’ve tested.
- Put a tell-a-friend link on your website. Make your forms easy (no captchas or passwords) and protect privacy. YouTube became the biggest video sharing site, he claims, simply by being easier to use than its competitors.
Every successful WOM program has “Five Ts”:
- Talkers: find the people who’ll tell their friends about you, and treat them like VIPs.
- Topics: Give them something to talk about, something unexpected, exemplary, exciting. Just having excellent customer service these days is enough to get you attention.
- Tools: Accelerate your WOM with online tools, discussed above.
- Taking part: Participate in online conversations, don’t stand on the sidelines.
- Tracking: Online tools such as HootSuite make measurement simple and automated.
Has Sernovitz persuaded you yet that WOM is the best marketing? Here’s the kicker: it’s free. That makes it the most profitable marketing tool there is.
As for my bathroom, ask me about my contractor in a month.
Do you have any WOM stories to share? Do you agree or disagree that WOM is the most important part of marketing?