How to Encourage Word-of-Mouth Marketing and Grow Your Business

Word-of-mouth marketing has never been more important.

Because your potential customers are overwhelmed by thousands of marketing messages a day (many of them outrageous), they’re desperate to find someone to trust.

That explains why a staggering 92 percent of people rely on their family, friends, and colleagues to help them. Word of mouth is even more important for small businesses because 85 percent of their customers discover them that way.

Most of us would love to have more word-of-mouth marketing, but we aren’t sure how to get it. We assume that it’s entirely an organic process that happens on its own.

This does – and will – happen for you if you do a great job. But there are things you can do to encourage word of mouth. You can’t grow a tomato plant yourself, but you can water it, fertilize it, and make sure it gets enough sun.

Let’s talk about how.

Here are five easy ways you can drive word-of-mouth marketing for your own business.

1. Focus on Delivering an Incredible Customer Experience.

Every day, your customers are having average experiences at the grocery store, the salon, and the coffee shop. They’re desperate to find a business experience that stands out!

You can deliver this – if you’re willing to make the customer experience foundational in your business. A great product or service is necessary, but not sufficient. But when you pair a great product with a great experience? That gets people talking.

Go beyond whether your customers are getting a good value for their money. Analyze every aspect of your interactions. Are customers greeted by smiling employees in a comfortable (and spotless) store? Is doing business with you convenient? Does it make people feel special?

The little things make a huge difference. My local jeweler (where my wife and I bought our wedding rings) always greets us with a smile and a cold sparkling water. He cleans our jewelry for free. In addition to being super knowledgeable in his trade, it’s those little things that have driven me to recommend him to half a dozen friends.

Don’t know how to improve the customer experience?

That’s okay; just ask. Collecting feedback as a regular part of your process will make customers feel valued. It will offer insights you never would have thought of on your own.

Imagine sending a handwritten thank-you note to a new customer. She sees it in the mail when she gets home from work. And when her friend comes over for dinner, she spots it on the kitchen table. They get talking and voila. That’s the power of word of mouth.

2. Ask!

Some people will be so thrilled about doing business with you that they’ll spread the word on their own. But many others would be willing to do so – if you gave them a little nudge.

All it takes is to ask.

“I’m so pleased you had a great experience! Let me know if I can ever help you with anything else, and if you have any family, friends, or colleagues who need help with (the problem you solve), please let them know about my business. I’d really appreciate it.”

This is technically referral marketing, a subset of word of mouth. But it’s amazing how many small businesses forget to do this.

Different people have different philosophies about when you should do this. My personal preference is to do so at a “high point” in your interactions, once you’ve settled payment and the customer thanks you for your help. That phrase above landed me my second-largest client. All I had to do was ask.

So why not give it a try?

The worst thing someone can do is say “no.”

3. Use Valuable Incentives to Get Customers Talking.

Some customers will tell their network about you on their own. Even more will do it once you ask. But if you really want to get your word of mouth going, offer a valuable incentive to spread the word.

An incentive shows customers just how much you appreciate their recommendation. By offering more than just your gratitude, you fertilize the soil for your word-of-mouth marketing plant to grow wild.

What you choose for your incentive is only limited by your imagination. Some of the more popular ones are:

  • Cash
  • Discounts on future business (for the advocate, new referral, or both)
  • Exclusive access to upgrades or new products
  • Gift cards (even if they aren’t meant for your business)
  • Store credit
  • Swag (t-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, USB drives, etc.)

These incentives require your time, money, or both. But they are some of the best investments you can make because of the incredible power of word-of-mouth marketing. Remember, the people who receive the referrals are much more likely to buy because they already know and trust their referral source.

4. Streamline the Referral Process.

How many people have had a great experience with your business, meant to spread the word about you, but ultimately got busy and forgot?

It’s impossible to say, but I’d wager it’s a significant number. Lots of missed opportunities.

Let’s tackle this from the customer’s perspective. We have to assume they’re busy, stressed, and completely overwhelmed. How can we encourage them to spread the good news about your business?

By making the referral process as simple as possible. And capitalizing while you’re still top of mind, before they get overwhelmed again and forget about you.

One way that can work is to pre-print referral cards and give them to customers when they leave your store. These cards are easy to share, and they have all the contact information needed for the referral recipient to take the next step. An incentive (see step three) can make the sharing compelling.

Technology can also help. You can use tools like Wufoo to create a referral form online, then link to it in your receipt and/or thank-you emails to happy customers. This gives customers the chance to handle referrals now instead of later, when they’re likely to forget.

5. Decide to Always Stay Proactive.

Some small businesses see word of mouth as a completely organic phenomenon. So, they ignore it.

We can’t afford to do this, though, because word-of-mouth marketing works both ways. News of negative experiences ripples through your community just as fast as positive ones. Often even faster.

This happens online too. The popularity of dedicated review sites like Yelp (or sites that feature reviews, like Facebook and Google) give every customer a massive platform to share their experience.

You can’t make a negative review disappear, but you can do your best to always address them. You can reply to customers directly and rectify the issue – or offer their money back. This approach can show the people reading the sites (a whopping 81 percent of potential customers) that you’re at least trying to fix things. No one is perfect; people appreciate the effort.

Just as you can salvage negative reviews, you can reward positive ones. Thank them on the review sites. If you can, email them and offer them discounts or other incentives for future business. Make them feel special for going out of their way to talk about you.

We can’t just let word of mouth grow like an untended weed. We must get proactive about it, and firmly weave that into our company culture. Don’t just let your employees see you putting out fires. Set an example by being proactive about improvement.

6. Give Your Customers Something to Talk About

We live in a time of extraordinary innovation. New virtual communities and marketing channels pop up all the time, and we can drive ourselves crazy trying to keep up with every one of them.

Plenty of those channels can work well. But we can’t afford to overlook the oldest strategy in the small business marketing playbook: word of mouth.

Keep these five tips above in mind, and above else, focus on delivering an unforgettable customer experience. Give your customers something remarkable to talk about!

What do you do to encourage word-of-mouth marketing? Have you noticed any effects on your business? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses get more attention and customers online. He's captivated by storytelling's power to build strong emotional connections between brands and customers – regardless of the industry. When he's not pounding away at the keyboard, he loves training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and getting outside to explore nature.

See all posts by Corey Pemberton
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