Like most business owners, especially small business owners, you probably spend a substantial amount of time and money on attracting customers.  Consider spending more of your efforts focusing on building referrals, it may be more worthwhile and cost-effective.  According to a global Nielsen survey, word-of-mouth marketing is the most trusted form of advertising, and consumers are far more likely to use a service or product recommended by a friend than just seeing an advertisement. 

Word of mouth is more important than ever in our online-oriented society as online reviews are available for everythingBrightLocal found that almost 90% of consumers read online reviews of local businesses, and 72% said they use reviews to determine whether a business is reliable.  So what can you do to grow your brand through positive word of mouth?

Know Your Brand

The first thing you need to do before using any sort of marketing tactics is to know your brand.  Having in-depth knowledge about your brand and mission statement can help you effectively present your products and services in a way that resonates with consumers.  Ask yourself:

·         What is your brand about?

·         What are your values?

·         What does your product or service do?

·         How can it help people?

·         Why should consumers care?

For your brand to be notable there needs to be something about your business that consumers will remember.  You need to offer something that people want to talk about.  Identify what makes your brand unique; if you are like every other name in your industry, consumers probably won’t remember you.

Maintain a Positive Image

This means remembering that your brand is never “off” and that you need to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, not just customers in front of you.  People love to tell stories about jerks they've encountered and your behavior will affect your business’s image.  So, don’t go around cutting people off in traffic while driving with your business logo emblazoned on the side of your car. 

Don’t worry, good word of mouth travels, too.  Whether it's a photo of you handing a check to charity or a tweet mentioning an event you’re sponsoring, publicity puts your business in the forefront of people's minds and makes them much more inclined to spread good word about your brand. 

Good publicity doesn’t have to come in a form of sponsorship or donation.  Customers will also tell others how organized your merchandise is, what state your restrooms are in, and how friendly your staff is.  Online, this means having search functions and site organization that make items, information on products or services, pricing, ordering, shipping, and returns easy to find and understand.

Add a Human Touch

To build a strong connection with your audience, focus on what you can do to help them, more than, on how they can help you grow your business.  Let consumers know they’re interacting with a person and use social media to humanize your brand.  If you create an excellent experience for a customer, there’s a better chance they’ll share their positive story.  So, forget about an immediate quid pro quo and focus on being as helpful as possible, you are likely to see your efforts pay off in referrals. 

Monitor Your Online Reputation

As many of the conversations about your business are online, it is important to monitor your online reputation and see what kind of word of mouth is spread.  Whether it’s positive or negative, being responsive when followers engage with you is a great way to humanize your business’s social interaction and an excellent way to keep connected with your customers.  For example, Wendy’s does a great job of establishing a human connection with their followers.  They are quick to respond to fans showing their appreciation, unhappy customers tweeting a complaint, and poke light-hearted fun at the competition.

Build an Engaged Social Community

A community of followers on social media is a necessity for successful word of mouth marketing.  You need to understand your target audience to determine where and how they like to communicate online.  Determine what social media channels your target audience is most active on and use those platforms to engage.  Consider conducting some research to help you understand how you can speak to them.  What kind of humor appeals to them?  What type of language do they use?

Identify and Engage With Influencers

According to Augure, 75% of marketers consider influencer engagement one of the best word-of-mouth marketing strategies.  This works because you’re reaching out to consumers through people who already have an influence on purchasing decisions.  It’s best to pick influencers (e.g., bloggers, social media stars, industry leads, and existing customers) who are relevant, engaged, and authentic.  Remember, you do not have to stick to your own industry’s community for influencers, just look for names that have a large following and engagement rate.

Give Lessons or Seminars

While giving sessions will involve some planning and effort to execute, the word of mouth from the experience can give your business an edge over the opposition.  The secret to success for providing courses is to select a topic that your followers are interested in, but limited enough to be manageable.  You don't want people walking away unhappy because they didn’t get what they came for or only got some of it.

Provide Good Customer Service

Customer service should be a primary concern for any business owner, and when it comes to referrals, you want to go beyond what is necessary.  According to a survey by ClickFox, over half of disgruntled customers will tell friends and family about their poor customer service experience, and 32% will take their business elsewhere.  Analyze every aspect of your interaction with customers.  Is doing business with you convenient?  Do smiling employees greet customers?  The little things make a huge difference. 

Engage Customers on Social Media

Don’t know how to improve customer experience?  That is okay; just ask.  Regularly collecting feedback will make customers feel valued and offer insights you never would have thought of on your own.  Repeatedly telling everyone what great products you have or service you give is going to do nothing for positive word of mouth.  Instead, develop a strategy that will engage customers and entice them into saying good things about your business.  Do this by showing your customers that they are important to you.  Listen to complaints and concerns, learn from them, and train your employees accordingly. 

Make It Easy for Customers to Contact You

Poor communication practices, such as a phone that rings and rings, will drive away not only the customer that was trying to reach you but also the other people they tell about the frustrating experience.  Equally annoying are websites that do not provide easy access to contact information or hours of business.  If you want positive word of mouth, your business has to be reachable.  Answer emails and voicemails promptly, as well as use call forwarding to connect callers with the right person on your staff. 

Ask for Referrals and Testimonials

Testimonials and referrals from satisfied customers are powerful endorsements.  How many people have had a great experience with your business, meant to spread the word about you, but got busy and forgot?  Get in the habit of asking for referrals and testimonials and make the process as simple as possible so you can capitalize on their satisfaction before they get overwhelmed and forget.  Once you get testimonials, use them to maximum effect: post them on your website, social media accounts, advertising, store window, etc., wherever they will be visible and seed a positive image of your business.

Be Direct

Some clients will be so happy about doing business with you that they will spread the word or bring referrals on their own.  However, many others are willing to do so too, if you gave them a little nudge—just ask.  When a business contact or satisfied customer asks if there is anything they can do, do not be afraid to ask for a referral or testimonial.  A popular method to do this is at a “high point” in your interactions, such as when the customer thanks you for your help.  So why not try it?  The worst someone can say is “no.”

Reward Loyalty

Capitalize on satisfied customers’ loyalty by making them want to share their great experience with friends and family.  One of the most effective tactics for doing so and turning customers into loyal brand advocates is by offering incentives.  By offering more than just gratitude with special discounts or exclusive content, shows customers you appreciate their recommendation and make them feel special.  Some of the more popular enticements are:

·         Cash

·         Discounts or store credit

·         Exclusive access to upgrades or new products

·         Free merchandise (t-shirts, coffee mugs, tote bags, stickers)

Conclusion

Whether you’re trying to increase brand awareness or expand your reach, word of mouth marketing can be the most powerful way to do so.  Word of mouth marketing has never been more important as thousands of marketing messages a day overwhelm consumers; they’re desperate to find someone to trust.  When used correctly, this can be the most effective way to promote your brand.  It’s all about creating buzz. 

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Divergent Web Solutions creates high-quality websites and is a full-service web presence firm, which supports small businesses, by creating space and focusing on their design, marketing, social, and/or development platforms where they do not have to pay the price of hiring a custom developer.  Contact us for a free consultation, and we'll develop a customized quote tailored just for your unique needs and budget at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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