Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM): The Unsung Hero of Brand Awareness

Written by: Paula Ferrai

In today’s fast-moving hyper-connected world, brands have a plethora of tools and platforms available to target and engage with customers. AI and automation algorithms play an increasingly significant role in modern marketing.

However, many get so overwhelmed by data and analytics that they forget the tried and tested approaches that worked remarkably well before society’s digital baptism. 

In a world of pervasive marketing across our digital and physical worlds, penetrating through to savvy customers requires sophisticated and nuanced approaches. But when marketing and brand awareness comes from the people you know via word of mouth, it cuts through the noise and resonates on a personal level. 

This is why word of mouth marketing remains a crucial element for any modern business.

What is word of mouth marketing?

Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) refers to the process of influencing organic discussions about a brand. This happens when satisfied customers recommend a brand or product to their family and friends, essentially making a free advertisement and marketing tool for brands via word of mouth.

Involved customers often recommend products and brands to their contacts and also rely on recommendations to influence their purchases, leading to increased lifetime brand loyalty.

Traditionally, word of mouth marketing relied on recommendations spread from person to person. Modern word of mouth marketing involves target approaches that result in naturally occurring instances where customers share their positive engagement with a brand.

Word of mouth recommendations have existed since the origins of human language (“Hey Caveman Dave, try out these strange mushrooms…”) but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was leveraged in a marketing context through psychologist George Silverman’s first-ever focus groups.

Since then, word of mouth marketing has played an important role in brand awareness and marketing but it experienced a dramatic spike in the early 2000s thanks to the rise of social media. Today, customer product reviews and recommendations are common.

Types of word of mouth marketing

There are two types of word of mouth marketing: organic and amplified.

  • Organic word of mouth marketing: occurs when delighted customers actively recommend a product or brand to their contacts.
  • Amplified word of mouth marketing: is when brands drive campaigns aimed at encouraging word of mouth recommendations in various communities, including their own, often through user-generated content and influencer marketing.

The impact of word of mouth marketing

Even in today’s digitally enhanced, algorithmic-pervasive world, a peer-to-peer recommendation can have a greater impact than a straightforward marketing campaign. This is why marketing campaigns actively aim to encourage word of mouth recommendations via exciting and engaging promotional tactics. 

Why? Because it works.

A Nielsen statistic claims that over 90% of people are more inclined to trust recommendations from people close to them, such as friends and family, over other types of advertising. Furthermore, the International Journal of Market Research states that the element of trust gained from familiar peers significantly influences the decision of people to purchase a product or choose a brand.

The perceived element of trust is crucial to word of mouth marketing: people value and trust the opinions and recommendations of friends and family who share the same values and outlook as they do over brand advertising. This is because relatives and friends have no financial interest in the product or brand and therefore will provide opinions based on experience rather than profit, unlike traditional advertisements.

But product recommendations don’t always have to come from a relative or close friend to drive a sale. A whopping 93% of consumers rely on online reviews from other people to influence their buying decisions.

Word of mouth marketing also ensures better audience targeting. This is because people are more inclined to recommend products or brands according to people’s relevant interests. For example, a happy customer who just purchased the latest hairdryer won’t recommend the product to a bald person. In this way, customers play the role of marketers in the sense that they target their product referrals to relevant audiences.

The benefits of word of mouth marketing

The first and major benefit of word of mouth marketing is that it is free. When happy customers spread the word about a product or brand, they are effectively playing the role of a marketer, promoting to friends and family leveraging the crucial element of trust. So, brands save on advertising campaign costs and marketing team salaries. This is why many startups with limited budgets rely heavily on word of mouth for promotion to build up their reputation before more capital comes in.

Another perk of word of mouth marketing is that it lasts a long time, well after the initial recommendation. When a customer is sufficiently satisfied they often tend to continue talking about and promoting the product/brand for a long time — often leading to lifetime customer loyalty. 

Word of mouth also provides important information via customer feedback which serves to help businesses improve their services and offerings. This develops strong brand credibility in the long term which is crucial to any business’s longevity. Peer-to-peer recommendations ensure trust and credibility that helps brands connect with audiences on a more meaningful level.

Word of mouth marketing strategies

Modern savvy consumers rely on a number of things to research products before purchasing. They choose brands with the best reputation and care a great deal about what others say about them. 

But word of mouth marketing isn’t just about releasing a product and hoping for a good review. There are a few tactics businesses can leverage to encourage word of mouth.

Social media

Social media platforms are perfectly suited to leverage word of mouth marketing because it seems like everyone at some point has reviewed, recommended, shared an experience or expressed an opinion about a product or business. Social media is usually the first place people go to find out more about a business. 

Social media allows brands to interact with customers on a personal level to reveal their brand personality, which goes a long way in generating word of mouth if done correctly. 

Influencer marketing is another approach to generating word of mouth via social media. Brands can pay or incentivise social media influencers to promote a product to their captive and attentive audience to drive sales. Again, the element of trust is key here as followers intrinsically trust the influencer and will likely accept recommendations made by them.

Reviews

Today, many people enjoy writing reviews online, from restaurants and hotels to products and services. And most customers rely on these reviews to influence purchasing decisions. So, businesses can leverage this by reaching out to satisfied customers and encouraging them to talk about their experiences online. Sometimes, brands create referral campaigns that offer incentives for a good review, such as a discount on a future purchase.

It is important to use social listening to find out how your business is perceived online and make sure to act upon negative reviews. A good idea is to add social media links to product pages to encourage people to share them with their contacts easily.

Content creation

In the marketing world, content is king. The quality, memorability and value of the content work to ensure people can’t help but share and speak about it. When done well or when a piece of content strikes a resonating chord at a particular time it has the possibility to go viral. But brands don’t have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to content creation to promote products or brand awareness.

User-generated content such as product review videos, blogs, and podcasts do an impressive job at brand/product awareness and promotion. More than just a written review, customers create their own content to promote and market a business’s product without receiving any payment for doing so. For potential buyers, it elevates the sense of trust and creates a more memorable and valuable experience that influences the purchasing decision. 

Thought leadership

Although this technically falls under content creation, it requires its own section as it can be viewed as a brand strategy or business ethos. Brands can leverage impressive word of mouth numbers by positioning themselves as thought leaders on a particular subject relevant to their business. 

When a brand speaks with authority on a particular subject and provides valuable information to its audience, it immediately elevates them to a position of power and implicit trust. Using various tools, platforms and channels such as blogs, instructional videos and podcasts that are not aimed at hard-selling a product but rather to provide valuable information, brands can acquire customer trust and loyalty.

How to drive word of mouth marketing

To successfully encourage word of mouth marketing, brands need to ensure they deliver on promises and provide exceptional customer experiences at every interaction. In order to generate customer recommendations, you need to give them something worth talking about.

Here are a few tips on how to drive word of mouth marketing:

  • Generate hype: Create a strategy across your media platforms and tools that builds excitement around a product/service launch. Engaging pre-announcements generate customer interest before a product is released — anticipation can be a powerful marketing tactic.
  • Show off your product: If you want to generate organic word of mouth recommendations it is crucial to display your products/services in exciting and memorable ways that people would want to share on social media. Unique approaches are encouraged to stand out from the competition. For businesses that sell products (as opposed to making them) then think about unique packing or delivery techniques that will impress customers.
  • Keep adding value: If your product delivers on its promise and does what it is supposed to then people will inevitably be impressed enough to recommend it. But products that continuously adapt, improve, and add value to the growing demands of customers are the ones that ensure lifetime customer loyalty. 

Spread the word

Word of mouth marketing is the unsung hero of brand awareness. Unfortunately, it is either underrated or discarded completely in many modern businesses that place too much importance on algorithms and analytics. Of course, technology has taken marketing to unprecedented levels but it is important to remind ourselves of the tried and tested techniques that have served brands for decades. 

When done correctly, the impact of word of mouth marketing is undeniable. Not much can take the place of recommendations based solely on trust. Once brands have the trust of their customers, they have their attention and lifelong loyalty.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to spread the word.

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Last modified: May 23, 2022
Author info
Paula Ferrai
Paula leads our Marketing & Communications team. Her career started 20 years ago in advertising, and she’s since picked up a wealth of experience both in the corporate and agency worlds. She loves scuba-diving and dreams of swimming with dolphins again.
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