I heard it through the grapevine

People have shared their stories and advice for many thousands of years. Whether through discussion, paintings, tapestries, or the written word, we continue to pass on our recommendations, stories and guidance to family and friends through word of mouth. An essential tool for marketers, word of mouth is often cited as the most effective form of marketing, and it’s clear why.

Firstly, we are more likely to trust our peers as opposed to recommendations from strangers, or the product or service itself. If you make a recommendation, it is a reflection on you, so people therefore tend to be careful and need to be fully convinced before they align their name to any brand, product or service.

Secondly, word of mouth is also extremely targeted. You would only typically make a recommendation if you knew a friend or family member was in the market for that product or service.

Finally, it is a relatively low-cost form of marketing which is 15% more likely to result in a purchase compared to other marketing methods.

The problem with word of mouth is that it has traditionally been very slow to acquire, ad-hoc and not easy to control. It used to be that you were reliant on new customers to hear about you through the grapevine over dinner, at the pub or by the water cooler, which of course took time to convert. However, as marketers and business owners, you can now more than ever before, actively influence and encourage your grapevine to shoot in the right direction and hit the target first time, more of the time.

Give them something to talk about

Now, word of mouth really does depend on having a strong foundation laid by the company or product, and you want to be sure you are facilitating positive exchanges, rather than negative experiences or views. You need to be confident that you are giving them something great to talk about, something valuable that they would want to share in the first place.

This could simply be an amazing product or service, that’s great value or provides something new. Or it could be experiences, such as exemplary customer service, super quick response times or unexpected ‘wow’ moments. Brands such as Coca Cola or Cadbury have made marketing itself, their very own wow-moments. We all engaged heavily with Coca Cola’s personalised coke bottles and Cadbury’s drumming gorilla helped lift sales by 10%.

Choose your channels

In order to branch out to new customers, you need to know how they communicate with each other. Word of mouth is no longer restricted to conversations that happen over the fence or on the phone, interactions online over email, search and social media are far more frequent and commonplace. As the saying goes, if it isn’t on Facebook, then did it really ever happen?

With endless methods of communication, it is important to understand, evaluate and select which channels will be the most effective. Over the past decade, hundreds of new ways to communicate have been introduced and your grapevine may need to shoot in new, unchartered, directions. Fortunately these days, the most popular platforms will already have tools you can use to support your digital word of mouth.

Capture authentic reviews

Capturing authentic and believable reviews or testimonials is often an after-thought, but it is important to build this into the sales process. Getting customers to record their thoughts immediately after their wow-moment or first experience using the product or service, is not only easier to secure, but also more emotional and powerful than when they’ve become over-exposed.

Digital powerhouses Google and Facebook allow users to provide reviews on a brand, product or service, as do Amazon, Trip Advisor and many other merchants. Choose your channel and encourage your customers to leave feedback there through post sale calls, emails or even incentives.

As well as carefully picking your channel, you should also try and develop a consistent format. Whether you wish to record your customers’ testimonials to provide quotes for a press release, or write a simple online review, the format needs to be consistent.

Share the love

To help spread the love further, you can also introduce tools which assist customers to share your digital word of mouth. There are plugins available that help your website visitors share a page, product or service to their social media channels for example, or you could simply encourage customers to forward your newsletter to colleagues, friends or family. The important thing here is to make it as easy as possible for people to champion your business.

Finally, don’t be afraid, too modest or shy about blowing your own trumpet. Take these testimonials, reviews and other forms of feedback and use them in your marketing, or when you meet potential customers. Make sure they know what people are saying through the grapevine about your business.

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