What role does word-of-mouth marketing play in today’s media landscape?

Katie Ashford - General Manager, Group Marketing & Communications, Ovato

What is said about your brand can have a significant impact on commercial success. But having a unique identity in today’s fragmented media landscape is increasingly difficult, as decades of irrelevant and intrusive advertising mean audiences have less trust in branded content. There’s a huge opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves with more meaningful engagement.

This means word-of-mouth recommendations are an essential part of the marketing mix. In fact, they’re the primary driver of purchasing decisions for many Australians. Nielsen found that 92 per cent of consumers trust suggestions from friends and family over all forms of advertising.

Traditionally, word-of-mouth spreads from one person to another in conversation, but it’s evolved to encompass all forms of direct communication – including those shared publicly and privately on social media.

So, what is word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing is usually in the form or positive reviews and recommendations of your brand by customers. In the past, marketers talked about the ‘pub test’ – whether campaigns or initiatives were talked about by normal people in their day-to-day. Now, with social media ever-present in our lives, all consumers have a wider platform to have these conversations.

Positive interactions with products and services are often shared on social media, building the reputation of brands through customer goodwill. These kinds of organic engagements are powerful. They grab the attention of the intended audience, often on a global stage, and make your brand seem more trustworthy. In turn, this can lead to increased revenue and sales.

For example, the viral ‘Chewbacca Mum’ video of 2016 led to an increase in sales of Chewbacca masks by a whopping 916, 298 per cent on Amazon. And with 62 per cent of consumers searching online for reviews before purchasing a product, it’s essential to have good customer feedback and engagement online.

Shaping your brand narrative

However, it’s not just about organic impressions – this type of engagement can also be paid for and spread through effective, targeted marketing campaigns.

Using influencers or superusers to market your products is nothing new – but we’re now seeing the growth of ‘micro influencers’, everyday people with a tightknit, like-minded audience. Because customers are more likely to trust people that appear authentic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, these micro influencers are a strong marketing force.

The trick is identifying the right partners, who resonate with your audience, have the reach you’re looking for and are relevant to the product or service you’re promoting. As with any campaign, continual testing, analysis and optimisation are critical to understand what works and drive success.

Building a sense of credibility

Of course, before you can get people to talk about your brand, it’s the role of marketing to create something that’s worthy of discussion. Whether it’s a campaign, a new product or a piece of content, consider whether it’s unique enough to generate conversation in the first place - and remember conversation is always a two-way street. Listening to what your customers have to say is just as important as sharing your message. They’ll provide insights into what’s working, what isn’t and whether your efforts are resonating. Word-of-mouth recommendations will ultimately tell you why customers are engaged with your brand, so you can continue to invest in the strategies that work.

Once you’ve implemented a successful, conversation-starting campaign that generated results, you can use another form of word-of-mouth marketing: customer testimonials and case studies. These are powerful signals of trust, effectiveness and credibility. The key is asking the right questions, from “how much money did you save using our product?” to “why did our brand stand out?”. The more specific it is, the more genuine it will seem – acting as proof for potential customers that they’re making the right decision by purchasing your product or service.

Once you’ve got a set of case studies or customer testimonials, they should be featured front-and-centre on your website and other digital and physical touch points, letting the whole world know about the positive experiences they’ve had with your brand. Use them in your email marketing, share them as visual assets or videos on social and get them printed on collateral like brochures or event banners and stands.

Applying it to your business

Word-of-mouth marketing can be applied in all sorts of ways. Consider Amazon’s algorithms, which suggest products customers like you also enjoyed, or Facebook showing you a page that 20 of your friends have already liked. These are all forms of recommendations that give customers an incentive to find out more. Whatever the format, the key to word-of-mouth is maintaining relevance for your audience and providing a seamless, positive customer experience that encourages them to become advocates for your brand.