As originally published on Forbes.com.
Word-of-mouth advertising resonates further with consumers more than any TV commercial, radio spot or print advertisement. According to Nielsen, 92% of global consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of advertising.
Beyond shaping how others feel about a brand, word of mouth plays a role in purchasing decisions, where consumers choose to dine and even who to vote for in an election. One study indicates that up to 90% of purchases may be influenced by word of mouth.
That leaves a bit of a conundrum for brands. How do you facilitate word of mouth if consumers don’t yet trust you? It starts with creating a strong brand, a sense of community and a robust marketing plan.
Building A Strong Brand
A strong brand is one that is recognizable, not only by its logo and colors but because it builds trust between the consumer and its service or product. It might inspire consumers to take action, foster loyalty, share the same values as its customers or differentiate itself from other companies in its space.
Creating a strong brand starts with a product or service that not only you believe in, but one that benefits consumers or makes their lives better, easier or happier. Think about what your brand offers to its users and why they would want to choose your brand over any other. That’s your brand’s strength. Build on that strength by showcasing it on your product packaging, in any internal and external communications and within digital and traditional advertising.
Think about your favorite company, product or restaurant. Ask yourself why you prefer it over the competition. What does it do better than others in that same vertical? Does it make the best tacos you’ve ever tasted? Maybe it gives a percentage of all purchases to local schools. Maybe it offers a convenience that is incomparable with other businesses in the same market. All of this is part of a strong, solid brand — one that will have consumers talking about it online, at home and in the office. That’s word of mouth in action.
Creating A Community
A strong brand also creates a sense of community, another vital component of gaining word of mouth. A community fosters a platform for brand advocates to speak their voice. Whether it’s a Facebook page, a reviews section on your website or even a loyalty program, a brand can create a place for its community to come together.
However, organic communities arise from strong brands that have cultivated a culture of trust, creating those brand advocates. These dedicated consumers may not always be happy about the brand, but there’s no better way to receive feedback, engage and build that word of mouth than through a community.
Following A Robust Marketing Plan
One way to help build that community is by having a robust marketing plan. From a custom hashtag to incentivized sharing (providing a discount or gift), and even featuring or showcasing your brand advocates, creating a marketing plan dedicated to cultivating word of mouth is an important step.
Finding influencers to kickstart the plan into action can also be valuable. With 40% of Twitter users admitting that they’ve made a purchase thanks to seeing a tweet from an influencer, whether you spend the money to get a Kardashian to promote your product or look for a microinfluencer, utilizing someone who can create an impact can help.
However, if influencers are not in your budget or in alignment with your brand, consider an emotional marketing campaign. How does a consumer connect with your product or service? What difference does your brand make in or to their lives?
The Always #LikeAGirl campaign is a great example of combining emotion and a hashtag to create not only relevant and timely advertising but a community around the brand. Always turned what was commonly seen as an insult into a rallying cry for women of all ages. What this campaign did was create emotion, helped consumers identify with the brand and gave them the space to talk (using the hashtag).
It’s also important that brands monitor word of mouth. While your marketing team can’t join in with every office water cooler conversation, what they can do is become a part of the community and start to engage, track and analyze what is being said about the brand.
Keeping tabs on the positive, negative and neutral sentiment, especially actionable sentiment (something that the company can do to make their product or service better or different) will help to grow the brand and show your customers that you are listening.
Monitoring can also help to quickly address negative word of mouth. From faulty products to poor service, unfavorable reviews and comments can be detrimental to a brand or business. When such criticism is monitored, you can acknowledge it and take action if needed to help ebb the tide of growing discord.
Whether your customers are leaving Yelp reviews, talking about their latest dining experience during a coffee break or posting “unboxing” videos of their most recent purchase on YouTube, word of mouth usually only happens with an exceptional experience. It’s up to the brand to provide the foundation for them.