Opinion: Five Ways to Maximize Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing

opinionThe following is a guest contributed post from Tessa Kohn of Alignable.

Finding a budget for marketing can be challenging and overwhelming, especially as a small business with limited funds. That’s why, according to a study by Verizon and Small Business Trends, 85% of small businesses rely on their customers to spread the word for them – in other words, “word-of-mouth marketing.” That being said, just because you’re counting on your customers to help with your marketing efforts, it doesn’t mean that you should just sit back and hope they do your brand justice. Word-of-mouth requires effort on your part – you have influence over what your customers say and where they say it. Below are five ways to maximize word-of-mouth marketing to ensure that your customers are talking you up in all the right ways.

1. Identify a clear and simple value proposition.

A value proposition is a statement about your product or service that promises value to your customer in an effort to set you apart from the competition. It’s important that it’s as simple and clear as possible – the last thing you want is for your customer to struggle to find value in what you’re providing.

In order to craft your value prop, start by identifying the problem your customer has and how your product/service solves that problem. How do you solve the problem better than your competitors? What benefits does the customer get by using your product/service instead of the competition? This discussion on Alignable highlights some small business owners’ insights to discovering their value props.

Take Comnio for example, a small marketing and customer service business located in Austin, TX.

Without directly stating it, they’re addressing and attempting to ease the struggles of time management throughout various aspects of running a business.

The important thing is to make sure your value prop is clear and simple, so that your customers can easily understand the value and will have no trouble re-stating it in their own words when they’re telling someone else about it. Try this with a family member, friend or colleague and see if they can recite your value prop an hour after you telling them what it is.

2. Encourage customer reviews.

According to a survey by BrightLocal, 92% of consumers read reviews to determine the quality of a local business. Make sure it’s easy for customers to review your business and make sure to encourage it. Add a link to leave a review in your monthly newsletter and email communications, and consider even running promotions and contests for the reviews, such as a monthly raffle for reviewers. Keep an eye on the reviews that come in – it’s important to address any negative reviews quickly and thank positive reviewers for taking the time to leave their two cents. The reviews and your interaction with them will help build trust and loyalty for your brand. Check out the reviews on Alignable for the web hosting service 1&1. You can see how 1&1 has responded to each review of the brand.

3. Get involved in your industry.

One thing that will drive consistent word-of-mouth is becoming a go-to person in your industry or community on an on-going basis, you need to stay top-of-mind. As your content gains value and gets shared, your brand will work its way into conversations more and more. Start by building your online presence, if you don’t already have one. Find and follow other industry leaders on social media, connect with them, and learn from them. Think about what you have to bring to the table in your industry, and start sharing your point of view in the following ways:

If you don’t already have a blog, start one, and begin writing about your areas of expertise. (Check out Alignable user Stacey Riska’s blog as an example of an active, interesting blog.)

Make sure your content is new, noteworthy, and most importantly, your own perspective.
Gain visibility by sharing your content as well as following, commenting on, and sharing other blogs.
Try to produce content at least once per week.
Look for speaking opportunities at local events, even if they’re unpaid, to get your name out there.
Becoming a thought leader of your field will help build your credentials and make you a go-to person in your industry, giving your brand a platform to build on and gain visibility.

4. Create and maintain engaging social communities.

Yes, I’m talking about Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook page for your business, you should. Facebook gives you and up-close-and-personal look at your customers. It’s easy to pass off Facebook as something you don’t have time for, but honestly, it’s worth making the time for. Having a business page on Facebook gives you the opportunity to give your customers a glimpse into your culture, creating a personality for your business. It allows them to interact with you, which in turn helps to develop trust and loyalty, something that is crucial for word-of-mouth.

Start by creating a Facebook page for your business and updating it with a description, website, profile picture, banner image, and any other vital information you’d want prospective customers to know. After your page is set up, start asking people to “like” your page. Add a link to it on your website and in your email communication, and make sure to invite your existing customers to “like” it. Check out this article for further instructions on how to set up your Facebook page.

Once you have your page all set up, it’s time to think about how to engage your community. It’s important to remember that your Facebook page isn’t for one-way communication and soliciting. Update your Facebook page regularly with important announcements, product information, interesting and relatable articles, and even some photos that give your community a glimpse into your company culture. You can run contests that encourage customers to post photos on your page, and encourage reviews or testimonials that will help boost your image – just make sure to respond to any comments you receive on your page.

A great example of a small business with an active and engaging Facebook community is Kitchen Outfitters in Acton, MA. Their page is filled with visually appealing photos and videos, customer interaction, reviews, and content that isn’t explicitly telling you to go buy their products.

You may want to consider creating a Facebook “editorial calendar,” where you can map out when you post on Facebook and what type of content you want to share. For example, you may decide you want to post 3 times per week, run one contest per month, and run a weekly ad campaign. Put that together in a calendar format with a planned topic of each piece of content. You’ll probably have to alter it as you begin to recognize what types of content perform better than others, but if you have a general structure, you might find it a little less overwhelming.

5. Identify and empower your super users to make them advocates for your brand.

When you have a popular product or service, chances are you have a handful (or more, if you’re lucky) of die-hard customers who avidly endorse your brand. These customers should be incredibly important to you and you should do everything you can to empower them to be an advocate for your brand. In a study by Harris Poll Online, it was found that 82% of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase. That means 82% of people are going to listen to someone else’s opinion on your product if they’re considering making the purchase. Equipping your die-hard customers with the best tools to talk about your brand will undoubtedly come in handy when influencing those 82% of people looking for recommendations.

So how do you go about finding those customers and giving them the fuel for free marketing?

Have you noticed any return customers? Reach out to them for their feedback. Ask them why they came back and what they like about your product. Not only will you gain valuable insight from them, but you’ll make them feel recognized – something that helps to build trust between you and your customers.

Send out surveys to your customers. Ask for feedback and recognize the customers who seem to have a lot to share with you. They may be customers who are interested enough to get to know you better. Or maybe they already are a die-hard customer who you didn’t already know about.
Leverage your die-hard customers for beta-testing and feedback. Getting to test a new product or feature early will make them feel more attached to your product and willing to endorse (and give them bragging rights). Does your local wine shop hold weekly tastings of new wine? This is a good example of a small business leveraging their customers for feedback.

Provide free samples, free trials, or early access to your die-hard customers. They’ll feel like they’re part of something exclusive and thus willing to talk highly of you.

Host events and open houses. Interaction between you and your customers is very important and having that personal touch will help build brand loyalty.

Write a newsletter for your customers. Share announcements, industry news, featured stories, etc. Capture the emails of your website visitors and send out your newsletter using a mailing service such as Gmail, Constant Contact, or Mailchimp.

All of the above methods of interacting with your customers and pinpointing your die-hard customers will increase the opportunity for them to spread the word for you in a positive way. The more your customers feel connected to your brand, the more willing they’ll be to share positive reviews to their friends and family.

That’s a wrap.

These are just five of many ways you can work to maximize the potential of your word-of-mouth marketing. Remember to consider:

1. Identify a clear and simple value proposition.

2. Encourage customer reviews.

3. Get involved in your industry

4. Create and maintain engaging social communities

5. Identify and empower your super users to make them advocates for your brand.

It’s great to be able to leverage your current customers and get them to do some of the heavy lifting, but if you don’t consistently influence the way they talk about you, you may be doing more harm than good. Making sure you have a clear value proposition, an easy way to leave reviews, an active community, industry expertise, and some trustworthy brand advocates will help to ensure your brand is being talked about in all the right ways.