Word of mouth: what is this referral marketing strategy?

What is Word of Mouth Use Referral Marketing to Boost Sharing and Sales

Word of mouth has been around since the beginning of human civilization. In the early days, people used language to share information about where to find food and shelter. As our society has advanced, people use what’s called word of mouth marketing to tell friends and family about a great product. Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) happens naturally when people love your product — but marketers can also capitalize on the phenomenon to increase awareness and boost sales. 

What is Word of Mouth Marketing? (WoMM)

Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) or referral marketing is the deliberate process of trying to generate a “wow” moment for customers. There are three elements of word of mouth marketing and creating a “wow” moment that inspires people to share your business and products with others.

  • Create a “wow.” First and foremost, making a great product is essential. People should genuinely feel that your product is better or more unique than your competitors. Otherwise, there’s no real reason for them to talk about it.
  • Seed the “wow.” Word of mouth marketing is like a seed that will grow and thrive, but only when planted in the right soil. Think about how you can plant your seed in the minds and hearts of passionate customers with large audiences who are excited to spread the word. Who are you targeting? What do they love? Start there.
  • Grease the “wow.” People are much more likely to share your brand and product when it’s fun and easy. Make the process simple through videos, photos, and engaging content that spreads joy to your customers and their friends.

There are a multitude of ways that brands and marketers can take advantage of word of mouth marketing, and it’s important to look at successful examples of word of mouth marketing to get inspired.

Elements of Word of Mouth

Word of mouth only works when ideas are worth spreading. When you create brand content that feeds word of mouth marketing, you’re more likely to build brand loyalty and boost sales in a sustainable way. According to author and business consultant Jonah Berger, all contagious ideas share the same principles: triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories (STEPPS).

You can visit our post on contagious marketing for full breakdown of each. In the meantime, here’s a look at three important STEPPs principles — stories, triggers, and public — and how they’ve been used for real-world marketing success. 

How Strong Brand Content Feeds WOM

Strong brand content is essential for generating word of mouth marketing — especially when that content tells a story. One brand that’s consistently told a compelling story is the soap and deodorant brand Old Spice. One of the greatest strategies of Old Spice has been using humorous storytelling to create memorable, shareable ads. 

Most people remember the original Old Spice guy, Isaiah Mustafa, who appeared in Old Spice’s iconic, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad. This ad had the iconic tagline, “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.” People remembered this commercial because it was random, funny, and memorable. It also created a compelling case for buying Old Spice.

The reason Old Spice has remained relevant since that initial ad is because it continues to tell engaging and funny stories. It repeatedly pushes the boundaries of what a brand can do to market a product, and people have come to expect Old Spice to create content that’s equal parts witty and wise.

Humor and hype isn’t the only way to tell a compelling story online, however. You can also send a strong message through a more minimal approach. This is seen in Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore landing page. This product page relies not on smoke and mirrors, but on highlights from the book to keep the potential readers interested in buying the book.

How Customer Satisfaction Feeds WOM

What do you think of when you see the iconic green Starbucks logo? Chances are you think of coffee — whether its frappes, pumpkin spice lattes or plain old espresso — Starbucks triggers a desire to drink something delicious. Starbucks is not only one of the most popular food brands today, but one of the most popular brands, period. 

Their strong commitment to customer service and loyalty has helped customers feel special and cared for every time they visit. Starbucks’ loyalty program is another reason why the brand is so commonly associated with coffee and satisfaction. Since Starbucks is such a large and reputable brand, they were able to create their own app to generate traffic and build a loyal customer base around the world. 

Their loyalty program gives people many ways for being rewarded, and each purchase counts towards a perk or a free drink. For this reason, people are triggered to stop at Starbucks when they see the iconic branding — whether it’s the shop in town or a friend on social media. Buying from Starbucks isn’t just a one-time deal. Rather, each purchase leads to something more. 
Crossfit is another brand that successfully generated word of mouth marketing. Specifically, they create a challenge-based program that keeps people coming back for more. Crossfit’s marketing strategy is in the gym experience itself. They reward people who show up consistently, which in turn helps people get better results and believe in the power of Crossfit even more. While there are many people who don’t believe in crossfit, the ferocity with which its believers follow the regimen means that they’ll always spread the word and stick up for Crossfit when needed. 

How Referral Programs Generate and Increase Word of Mouth

In the same way that starbucks generates repeat business through its loyalty program, Girlfriend Collective drives traffic through its referral programs. Girlfriend Collective made its mark on the athleisure market when it offered free leggings to a customer and their friend in exchange for a referral and a purchase over $95. The premise is simple, but it’s largely unheard of in the clothing market — especially for leggings at such a high price point.

The benefit of this referral program is that it seemed too good to be true. When people realized that they really could get free leggings, they realized that Girlfriend Collective was a company that cares about its customers. This was and still is a shareable campaign — customers are encouraged to share a link with friends via email or social media, which further increases brand reach. This capitalized on the principle of public in STEPPS, because the campaign was shareable and noteworthy.

Moreover, people who receive a free pair of leggings in exchange for the referral are often excited to share about the news on social media, which further spreads word of mouth marketing about Girlfriend Collective. This isn’t the end of the story though. Girlfriend Collective’s marketing strategy allows it to share the fact that it creates leggings from recycled water bottles and fishing nets, which further differentiates the brand from competitors.

Whether you’re new to word of mouth marketing or you’re interested in promoting more talk, understanding how to create a “wow” factor through STEPPS is essential for WOM success.

Image credit : Tommy Creenan


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ECN Team
E-Commerce Nation is The 1st B2B Web Media about E-Commerce in Europe. The team of E-Commerce Explorers help businesses to reach new potential market through delivering useful content. Let us know in comment if you enjoyed this content.