When it comes to marketing, there are a lot of opinions about what works and what doesn’t: sales funnels, lead generators, email campaigns, social media advertising… the list goes on and on! Depending on what you sell, some avenues work better than others. But there’s one non-negotiable. Word of mouth is a huge deal. Words are powerful, irreversible, and easily shared with the masses. Use them to your advantage.
Some businesses have never stepped foot in the digital marketing space, yet have established client bases. They have no website, no Facebook page, no sales funnel, no blog, no email campaign - yet they’re thriving. Why? Word of mouth. They’ve built positive reputations in their marketplaces. This BigCommerce article states, “According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over any other type of advertising.” Organic word of mouth is FREE, effective advertising - and depending on your industry / business / target market, this may be all you need. But, if the organic conversations about your brand aren’t happening frequently enough, or they aren’t pushing people from “awareness” to “conversion” in the marketing funnel, you can use digital marketing strategies that aim to increase conversations about your brand. Whether you’re allocating marketing dollars to “word of mouth marketing” or not, the goal is the same: do everything you can to make the words about your business positive.
There are three simple ways to make sure “word of mouth” helps your business, rather than hurting it: treat your customers well, treat your employees well, and build genuine relationships within your network. These are very easy concepts! Let’s break them down.
When you have a great experience with a company or contractor, what’s the first thing you want to do? Brag on them! That “bragging” may start by telling your spouse you were impressed with their work. Maybe you were encouraged by their punctuality and professionalism. Your experience could become a Google review, or maybe you share the company with a friend who needs that product / service. You want to share about your interaction with that company. What about when you have a horrible experience? The same thing applies. You will share your frustration with others.
Think about it from the standpoint of a business owner. Once you (or your business) provides a customer with a good (or bad) experience, you can’t erase that experience or pull it back in. That experience will shape the way the customer thinks about you and talks about you to others. It’s up to you to make those words reflect positively on your business. Sometimes the simplest things can be a “make or break” for your reputation. Do you start your appointments on time, or do you keep people waiting? Do you acknowledge when you make mistakes? Do you listen to your customers and get to know them / their needs, or do you treat them strictly as a business transaction? Are you kind and honest? Are you meeting the customers’ expectations? Think about how your customer is interacting with your business.
In a fast food industry filled with seemingly-miserable cashiers, I’ve never encountered an unpleasant Chickfila worker. It doesn’t matter how many cars are in the drive through; I know I’ll have my food delivered by a smiling face in 10 minutes or less. Chickfila’s customer focus is obvious and their reputation speaks for itself. They consistently give customers an experience worth talking about, and their business is booming as a result.
This point is so logical that it seems silly to include; however, having worked for places that didn’t treat employees well, I know that this problem is still out there. Guys… you have to be kind to your employees. One of the most common “small talk” questions is, “How’s your job going?” Employee responses to this question matter. People do not want to support businesses who work their employees to death or disrespect their staff. Don’t be that employer! Employees can ruin your reputation in an instant. However, if you treat your employees well and run your business with integrity, your employees (current and former) will want to speak positively about you and will naturally refer people to you. Your staff will talk about your business more than anyone else will - so, again, make it count! Focus on a strong workplace culture, flexibility (one of the most important factors in employee satisfaction), and transparent workplace relationships that encourage collaboration.
There’s a common saying in the business world that “people do business with people.” We do business with people we like, people we trust, people who are genuine, people who get the job done, people who respect our time, and people who are easy to be around. When you fit those descriptions, people in your existing network will want to spread the word about you. Other small business owners may be the most “productive” word of mouth referral sources that you have, especially if you can establish mutually beneficial relationships with businesses in a similar industry.
The key takeaway here is this: if the word on the street is that your business is awesome, business will follow.