Most everyone agrees: There's no better advertising than word-of-mouth. After all, a customer who calls you following a personal recommendation from a friend or colleague is more likely to buy. And that makes the pursuit of positive word-of-mouth every entrepreneur's holy grail.
Today, marketers have created a science out of winning word-of-mouth, or WOM. There's even a Word of Mouth Marketing Association for marketing professionals charged with building word-of-mouth for their companies. The truth is, the right kind of talk doesn't always come cheap, and you have to actively pursue WOM. For maximum results, build a formalized WOM program using at least one of the following three major tactics.
1. Marketing to influencers: Every community has them. Whether they're into electronics or fashion, "influencers" are at the head of every trend. Not only do they know which restaurant has the "in" chef or where to shop for the perfect athletic shoe, they're also happy to tell all their friends and associates about them.
How can you find influencers and get them talking about you? Open up dialogue by listening to customers and welcoming their comments--both positive and negative--through your website. Then identify the most active participants and invite them to become part of an influential group that's first to gain information on or access to new products and services. Another option is to pinpoint organizations or groups whose members will be receptive to your message, and seek out the influencers within them. For example, the manufacturer of a new flavored water enhancer focused its message on how its product helped people drink the recommended amount of water for good health without extra sugar or artificial ingredients, and it sent samples to dietitians and nutritionists across the country to distribute to their patients.
2. Winning PR coverage: Information found in editorial coverage is generally considered more credible than the messages consumers receive in advertising. And PR placements can play an invaluable role in a WOM campaign. There are dedicated publications as well as thousands of websites run by aficionados covering every imaginable subject, so it's simply a matter of identifying the top editors or journalists who write about what you market. Tailor your message or stories specifically to them, then send your press releases or pitch letters. Follow up by phone or e-mail where appropriate.
Editorial reviews are particularly critical to fueling new product buzz. But just about any kind of favorable product or service mention in the right media can get people talking--particularly influencers who may avidly read everything from blogs to magazines looking for the latest news to spread. Best of all, media coverage is often self-perpetuating. An interesting item covered in a popular blog, for instance, may be picked up by many others.
3. Seeding viral marketing: Have you identified a single, clear idea you want to communicate through WOM? Viral marketing succeeds when you have a topic that motivates customers to talk and you give them the means to share that conversation. Provide an infrastructure, such as an interactive website dedicated to creating a strong online community, and facilitate connections by using a company blog, message board or forums. Or give customers something interesting they can pass along. When you put a special offer in an e-mail, for example, it becomes an easy-to-forward means of building buzz.
In addition to e-mails, blogs and message boards, some companies are creating special websites with everything from online movies to downloadable games that draw customers by the thousands. Try adding an element of fun, mystery or excitement--with a built-in product or brand message--and WOM will surely follow.
Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author ofMaximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business atwww.smallbusinessnow.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur atwww.smallbizbooks.com.