What Is Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

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This post is based off the free Cision white paper “Build & Evangelize Your Community With Word-Of-Mouth.”

  • What separates the brands that simply have customers from those that have loyal brand advocates?
  • Why do brands that cater to existing customer bases more easily attract new customers?
  • How can your brand build a community that engages and converts organically, online and off?

These questions all have the same answer: word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM).

WOMM is the art of using your target audience’s online and offline conversations to build a greater presence within stakeholder communities, strengthen reputation, increase brand awareness, attract prospects and, ultimately, drive sales.

According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMM is a strategic action that businesses can use to facilitate target audiences communicating the benefits of their brand in order to generate awareness.

Forbes contributor Kimberly A. Whitler offers more insight, saying that WOMM should engage, equip and empower community members:

Give your fans the gift of you. Engage with them. Listen to what they are telling you. … Give them reasons to talk. It can be amazing products, great service, insider knowledge, social elevation, incredible stories, unbelievable facts or even funny disclosures. … Give consumers different ways to talk and share. Let them know that they are important to you and that sharing their opinions is important to you.

[…] If you can master these, you can become the most beloved and talked about product in your category, which will ultimately lead to increased sales.

Benefits of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Whitler talks generally about the benefits of word-of-mouth, but The Word of Mouth Marketing Association and others have shown the tangible benfits of WOMM. Its most recent study shows:

  • WOMM creates $6 trillion in annual consumer spending.
  • Despite our dependence on technology, offline word-of-mouth produces two-thirds of measured business impact.
  • A single offline word-of-mouth impression creates 500 percent or more sales than a paid media impression.
  • Word-of-mouth amplifies paid media by 15 percent.
  • Word-of-mouth provides a quick impact. A significant majority of online and offline word-of-mouth’s impact occurs within two weeks.

Nielsen shows equally encouraging word-of-mouth benefits:

  • 84 percent of buyers trust word-of-mouth recommendations more than ads, blog posts and other types of branded content.
  • Word-of-mouth claims the top spots in what drives buyers to action. Eighty-four percent of consumers would take action based on a recommendation from a peer, and 70 percent would take action based on a consumer opinion posted online. Ads on TV drove the third-most action at 68 percent.

“Word-of-mouth marketing is a part of successful public relations, and always has been,” says Stacey Miller, Cision’s senior social and media relations manager.

Some think word-of-mouth is the product of luck or inherent traits of certain industries like Apple or Red Bull. Though certain brands and industries might have an easier time generating word-of-mouth, communicators still have a lot of control in generating conversations among its target audiences.

Insurance, for example, isn’t something that people love to talk about, but GEICO’s “Hump Day” ad got everyone sharing its content and talking to each other.

Wharton School professor Jonah Berger recently authored the book “Contagious,” which discusses why this ad has generated so much discussion.

It’s not a particularly clever ad, but it did really well. When I looked at the data further, there was a spike on social chatter… every Wednesday. People talked about that ad on Wednesday because they were reminded of it.

Why does WOMM have such a profound effect? Stacey has the simple answer that the above Nielsen data supports: “People trust people who are like them.”

In 2006, it was estimated that we see 5,000 ads per day, a number that has likely gone up in the last decade. Why did “Hump Day” stand out and become a cultural phenomenon? Friends, family and members of social networks discussed it, repeating the punchline ad nauseam.

As Jonah points out, the ad may not be particularly clever, but it created a shared experience. GEICO has reaped the benefits.

About Brian Conlin

Brian Conlin is a content marketing manager for Cision. A former journalist, he enjoys researching and developing accessible content. When not writing, you will find him watching baseball and college basketball, sampling craft beer and enjoying Baltimore. Find him on Twitter @BrianConlin13.

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