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Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth marketing, as defined by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), is the process of giving people a reason to talk about your products or services, whilst also making it easier for those conversations to take place.

In the past word of mouth marketing was always considered to be a process that marketers could not affect. The aim was simply to create happy customers, who in return would hopefully tell their family and friends about their positive experience.

This so-called organic word of mouth marketing, and can be enhanced in a number of ways:

  • Creating an improved product or service
  • Offering excellent customer service
  • Asking for and listening to customer feedback

The process of organic word of marketing is inherently slow and with the rise of the internet over the last decade many companies have turned to what is now termed as amplified word of mouth marketing. This is when marketers develop strategies that accelerate and enable word of mouth activity to take place. These strategies include:

  • Creating communities
  • Providing tools to enable people to easily share information
  • Creating a buzz through marketing activities, such as experiential marketing
  • Identifying and targeting influential opinion leaders

The Effectiveness of Recommendations

The major advantage that word of mouth marketing holds over every other form of marketing is the in-built power of recommendations. People trust the recommendations of others and hold that in much higher regard than anything a company could ever say.

Therefore the holy grail for marketers is developing a huge following of happy customers who actively and willingly promote their product through word of mouth.

Word of mouth marketing is also relatively cheap, in that the marketing itself is carried out by customers. Companies only have to provide the tools and help form communities, which once established require minimum maintenance, yet continue to provide huge ongoing benefits.

Potential Pitfalls

Companies can sometimes come unstuck when carrying out word of mouth marketing.

To begin with, not all products are suited to word of mouth. If you have an extremely niche product attempting to form communities is likely to fail, and even if you do encourage your customers to talk about you they may be unlikely to ever come in contact with another person matching your target audience.

Some products may be essential but are simply dull. Without having an exciting element to your product you’re likely to struggle when it comes to getting people to talk about it.

However, all is not always lost. No one would have considered hoovers as the most enthralling purchase, and yet Dyson turned all this around with his innovative ‘see-through’ hoovers.

If you don’t have a high quality product or service it’s best to disregard word of mouth as a viable marketing strategy. People will be honest and focusing on word of mouth strategies will simply allow your customers to spread their disapproval faster. Concentrating on improving your product should be your main focus.

Outsiders looking in on word of mouth marketing often make the sweeping judgment that companies that encourage people to talk about and ultimately recommend their products and services is unethical. A deeper understanding of the process shows that it isn’t but the boundaries are sometimes pushed, resulting in unethical practices being used. Unethical practices include:

  • Stealth Marketing – where the consumer isn’t aware that they are being marketed to.
  • False Information – knowingly misleading people.
  • Going Undercover – pretending to be an impartial person when recommending your company.
  • Astroturfing – creating the impression of a widespread swell of opinion towards a certain cause.

Despite the opposition to these unethical practices many high profile companies still use them. Some practices such as making the odd anonymous comment on forums can be harmless, but deliberately misleading or ‘conning’ large numbers of people can result in a huge backlash.

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