Discussion by Samuel Zeller

Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) is arguably one of the most effective, powerful and impactful strategies a company or brand can employ.

But what is it exactly — and how do you do it right?

According to the Chicago-based Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMM is "any business action that earns a customer recommendation." But more broadly, the association notes, WOMM is "about harnessing the power of people to build brand awareness."

As the association explains, "Brands can pay anyone to love their brand publicly, but the real power lies with customers who ultimately choose whether to share engaging content to friends, family, and often times, complete strangers. Most importantly, it's because they love your brand, not because you're paying them."

According to its research:

  • When asked what sources "influence your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand, or product," 72 percent claim reviews from family members or friends exert a "great deal" or "fair amount" of influence
  • 92 percent of consumers worldwide trust reviews from family members or friends more than any other form of advertising, up from 74 percent in 2007
  • On average, Americans speak "positive" about brands during word of mouth conversations 66 percent of the time

So how do you get people talking about your company or brand? We asked that question to some who drive brand awareness every day.

The Question:

How do you create word-of-mouth buzz?

The Answers:

Jim Williams, VP, Influitive

headshot of jim williams

Williams is the vice president of marketing at Influitive. He is a veteran marketer for early and growth stage tech companies and loves bringing transformative concepts to market. Before joining the Influitive team he held marketing roles at Eloqua, Unveil Solutions, Lernout & Hauspie, and several PR agencies. Tweet to Jim Williams.

The first step (and it's a big one) is to create a customer experience that gives your customers something to talk about. 

Delighting customers comes naturally to some companies, but others...not so much. From the very first moment they encounter your brand, through the buying process, to on-boarding and beyond, the customer experience has to be top of mind for everybody. 

If you don’t have delighted customers, then they’re not going to tell their network about you — no matter how hard you try.

From there, develop a plan for nurturing and engaging your customers in a way that is as beneficial for them as it is for you. Not once or once in a while by email: All the time, when and where it’s convenient for them. Forever. 

At most companies, this is called an advocate marketing program. Analysts from SiriusDecisions, Forrester, Gartner and Altimeter Group all agree that advocate marketing is the next big thing and B2B marketing leaders must invest in advocacy now to stay competitive.

What does that look like? 

Start with small asks, such as reading and sharing content, engaging on social media, etc., and work your way up to the big requests: reviews, references and referrals.

It’s your job to understand want your customers would like to receive in exchange for helping — and give it to them. Forget referral or affiliate fees. Advocates want to build social capital in their communities, have influence over the direction of your company, and gain access to exclusive experiences associated with your brand. 

If you can deliver on that, your advocates will be hooked on spreading the word about you.

Jenni Adair, Director, Aerohive Networks

headshot of jenni adair

Adair is the director of public relations, analyst relations and social media at Aerohive Networks, a multinational computer networking equipment company. She builds and nurtures key relationships with the press, analysts and colleagues, develops strategic initiatives and works to publicly advance the image of Aerohive Networks. Tweet to Jenni Adair.

You can create word-of-mouth buzz by making it as easy as possible for your supporters to provide what you need. 

For instance, let's say I want my customers to go to their social media outlets like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to spread the word to their network about why they think my company, Aerohive Networks, has the best wireless solution on the market. One way to make it super easy for them is to write a sample tweet so that all they have to do is cut and paste. 

The key is to have all of your customers lined up so that when you want help spreading the word for a particular launch, all you simply have to do is ask and you shall receive.

Andy MacMillan, CEO, Act-On Software

act-on software ceo andy macmillan headshot

MacMillan is CEO of Act-On and oversees the strategic direction of the company. Before joining Act-On, he held several senior positions at Salesforce. Before that, he was vice president of product management at Oracle and vice president of product marketing at Stellent (acquired by Oracle). Tweet to Andy MacMillan

Word-of-mouth buzz is more impactful in the digital age due to social media and its ability to amplify a message and make it go viral. 

Social media gives everyone a platform to be able to share their experiences (good or bad) with their network of peers, and makes it even easier for interested parties (out of network) to read, discover and learn. As a result, buyers today have greater transparency into the "unedited world" of a business. 

Brands that have a solid employee base of evangelists sharing customer success stories and testimonials, and customer advocates speaking candidly about their positive experiences tend to have greater word-of-mouth exposure. 

It's the collective effort of the advocates going to third party review sites like YELP or TrustRadius or G2Crowd or Angie's List and taking their time to write a review of a business, in conjunction with the employees, businesses, and advocates alike sharing those reviews across their social networks.

We are in the age where the "voice of the customer" reigns king (buyers are highly influenced by other users). If companies are looking to create word-of-mouth buzz they need to inspire their biggest advocates to share their experiences doing business with them and encourage them to socialize those experiences with their networks. The outcomes can be tremendous.