Word of mouth - What is word of mouth (WOM)?

Word of mouth in marketing is the unpaid spread of information from one person to another through conversation, specifically advising on a particular business or product.

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Word of mouth is used to describe the result of a marketing strategy that causes customers and a business’ target audience to discuss the product or service in everyday conversation. 

Word of mouth can occur as the result of a positive experience, an innovative new product or high-quality customer service, for example.

The aim of word of mouth marketing is to create a product or experience that will result in customers sharing the details with their friends, family or colleagues. Lately, businesses have been looking for new ways to optimise this free source of promotion and lead generation.

Why word of mouth is important

Experienced marketers will tell you that word of mouth is one of the most effective and valuable forms of marketing for a business. 

After all, it’s one of the oldest ways that businesses gain recognition - a happy customer shares their experience with 3 friends, each of which shares with 3 of their friends and so on. As you can see, the numbers have the potential to multiply quickly, bringing you more business.

It’s been around since selling began and is one of the oldest ways that information about a product or service is spread. However, businesses have started to recognise its importance and make attempts to capitalise on what has naturally been a free and effective source of lead generation.

Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM)

With the rise of websites and e-commerce, it’s not surprising that word of mouth has transitioned to the digital space. It’s easier than ever to endorse and suggest products and/or services not only to friends and family but also to acquaintances on social media, for example.

From ‘Liking’ a business page on Facebook to sharing an Instagram post with a friend, this type of advertising has been a big part of the spike in social media marketing. Reviews of products on Amazon, for example, can also be considered part of eWOM.

An effective eWOM strategy from a business can lead to what’s known as ‘going viral’. This refers to ads that seem to catch the attention of the public and are shared widely across the internet at a rapid speed, reaching usually millions of viewers in a short period of time.

eWOM harnesses the far-reaching nature of the internet and allows information and recommendations to spread easily not only between friends, family and acquaintances, but also between strangers.

However, this can mean that eWOM is inherently less trustworthy than traditional WOM for potential customers. While they might trust the opinion of an aunt or close friend, they’re more likely to take the opinions of strangers with a grain of salt, so eWOM for businesses can be tricky.

How businesses optimise word of mouth

Due to the power of WOM and eWOM, it’s understandable that businesses would aim to include them in a marketing strategy. However, this has also led to dishonest attempts at WOM campaigns. Therefore, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has laid out some guidelines:

Word of mouth marketing should be: honest, social, able to be repeated, respectful and provide measurable results. It should be forthcoming about the business’ identity, the opinions held as well as what/who is being represented. 

In other words, although WOMM ultimately aims to create a viral effect to reach and convert customers, this should not be done in any way that is misleading.

Tips for businesses creating a WOMM campaign

While there’s no set formula for creating a guaranteed word of mouth marketing campaign, experts have identified some of the main factors that contribute to a successful WOMM strategy. These include:

  • Going above and beyond: not just meeting expectations - it must truly be unexpected and grab the viewers’ attention while also providing a clear indication of the product/service

  • Focus on non-verbal: images have a stronger impact - those that show movement, striking architecture or display a company’s generosity to its customers

  • Don’t put words in their mouths: while you want WOM to occur, the viewers must still form their own opinion and spread it as they choose (don’t give them a line that you want to be spread, it won’t catch on)

  • Understand your budget: whether it’s a small amount or requires a bigger investment in the company, it’s important to know beforehand how much might be required to genuinely give your campaign a shot at success

When focusing on WOMM, just getting the ‘likes’ is not enough. A campaign that successfully converts customers will require a deeper insight into their needs. Keeping the word out there about a business is the first step, but gaining new customers takes a lot more careful planning and consideration.