Word of mouth is a beautiful thing. We tell our friends about something we like, we hear about stuff that works from peers and colleagues. That's how most of us make purchases these days. Actually, that's how many of us always made purchases.
Here's some background information about word of mouth for those of you who consider this a modern construct, the product of marketing.
Columbia sociologists Lazarsfeld and Katz estimated that word of mouth was seven times more powerful that newspaper or magazine ads in motivating brand-switching as early as 1955.
In 1975, the Roper Organization showed that word of mouth was mentioned as the best source of information about new products and services 67% better than advertising at 53% or editorial content at 47%. Now that is interesting information for those of us who think media relations should be the stronger component of integrated marketing strategies.
A 2003 Cap Gemini study (cited by AdAge in TV Ads Don't Sell Cars) into the influences on car purchases showed that 71% of the 700 respondents pointed to word of mouth compared to only 15% for television ads. That is probably easier to explain - think about it, who would admit they buy a car from a TV ad? Would you? Do you? McKinsey estimated that word of mouth drives two thirds of the US economy. [hat tip to Mark Earls in Herd]
Given that more of us are replacing our trust in traditional authorities with trust in each other, how would you change the way you do marketing? Let's talk about one aspect of marketing that has never gone out of fashion - permission. Remember that the filter - each other, peers, friends, etc. - has more power today.
How can you work with that?
- Ask before subscribing customers to newsletters and see your bounce rate go down and your subscription rate become more meaningful. Don't assume that just because they financed a car with you three years ago, you can still use their email address to send unsolicited information.
- When in doubt, choose opt in vs. opt out. If you touch those who can influence media buys, it's a good idea to give them the option to subscribe to your emails. Forcing people to unsubscribe leaves a bad impression, especially when your output volume is high.
- Let your customers see what people bought, there's no need to be pushy about it. Make it available to them on your Web site. You know that testimonials and reviews are great - think of Amazon, for example. Bad reviews are good, too. They help your customers see that you are transparent about it. Take reviews a step forward by allowing individuals to talk with each other and comment on other people's take.
- In fact, enable comments in many areas of your site. If you have a blog, turn the comments on. The whole point of social media tools is to show you are listening, open, and curious to learn from your customers. Hire marketers and communicators who use these tools personally, then let them do it right in your organization.
- Let the first time your customers hear from you not be a blatant sales pitch. Figure out a way to make yourself available to them by participating to conversations where you can add value. If what you have is worth talking about, they may already be doing that. If it's not, ask why.
- Allow your customers to rank your content and vote for usefulness. This will make really obvious to the internal stakeholders what your customers care about vs. what the organization may be hung up on.
- Encourage constructive criticism - internally and externally. When in doubt, educate, build upon ideas, and help discover content stars among your peers and customers.
- Take everything one step at a time and nothing for granted. In my talks I share how to build permission ladders where you earn the interest and attention for the next conversation.
- One answer does not fit all. Questions work much better. Give your customers a vote of confidence by assuming they know what they want. Chances are they do, even when they may not know how. Regardless, it's your job to connect the dots for them on how what you do could help them.
This is part of 100 Marketing Conversations series. What unnecessary materials and actions can you eliminate, consolidate, or replace with permission considerations? How good is word of mouth for your products and services?
[image inspired by Kevin Robert's attraction economy diagram]