Let’s Talk About Word-of-Mouth Marketing

How you can use the power of brand love to boost sales

Felicia C. Sullivan
Oct 9 · 9 min read
Licensed from Adobe Stock // Drobot Dean

Imagine a scenario where everyone is buzzing about your product, and you didn’t have to break the bank to get them to do it. They’re snapping selfies with it, hashtagging their picture-perfect life into oblivion while using it. You’re getting all of the love without the P&L heartache.

Word-of-mouth is the holy grail of marketing because it provides the ultimate form of brand validation — social proof. Whether it’s in the way of glowing five-star reviews or photos of them living their best life with your products and tagging your brand while they’re doing it, word-of-mouth has tremendous business impact. Why? Because people want to hear the real story about your brand from peers, celebrities, experts, crowd chatter, and friends and family. And the data proves the story.

According to a seminal McKinsey study, word-of-mouth influences 50% of purchase decisions throughout the customers’ journey, generates more than 2X the sales of paid media and is the most disruptive to consumer decisions. Your prospect could be doing all the research on the level of forensics about a particular product, but if a trusted peer interrupts with a story about how your product did nothing more than take up shelf space, believe that your prospect will move on to the next.

When faced with a tough choice, people follow the crowd because they believe someone else has all the answers and they’re headed in the right direction. In Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seminal book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he defined social proof as one of six principles of influence that are hardwired into our cognitive thinking.

To show peer influence in action, he cites a clever tactic often used by hotels — the linen “recycle card.” Housekeeping will place a card in bathrooms encouraging guests to reuse their towels as a way of reducing environmental impact. The strategy is effective with a 35% compliance rate.

However, here’s an intriguing insight: 75% of guests who check into a hotel for at least four nights will reuse their towels. In a study where hotels shifted the language in the card to communicate, “75% percent of people who have stayed in this room have reused their towel,” they experienced a 33% boost in reuse. The social proof theory demonstrates that instead of relying on our power to persuade others, we can highlight what the masses are already doing. Cialdini notes,

“We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”

Here’s a heart-stopping stat: 93% of people rely on online reviews to make purchase decisions. Your customers want proof from other unbiased people who’ve purchased and used your products — not from the brands selling their goods. So, the question isn’t whether social proof can bolster conversions, it’s more a matter of selecting which tactics work best for your business.

You achieve word-of-mouth in four steps:

  1. Create an experience worth talking about.
  2. Arm your customer with the tools for chatter.
  3. Ensure social sharing is simple.
  4. Reward them for their brand love.

But how do you get them talking? Here are four ways to make conversations about your brand contagious:

1. Give your customers the star treatment

People immediately talk about the moments of surprise and delight, the times when a brand went above and beyond to make their experience memorable. From search to post-purchase communication, make sure your customer experience is seamless and delivered with the highest care.

You’ve seen the rage blackout tweets and 2-star reviews were customers take a brand to task on their lack of customer service more than a faulty product. People want to feel special and heard. For example, Loews Hotels’ “Travel for Real” campaign traded actors as smiling hotel guests in favor of real customers. The combined elements of un-staged photography and social proof made Loews’ UGC campaign compelling. Prospective guests gain real insight into the hotel without the professional airbrush.

2. Ask for the love

You don’t get what you don’t ask for, right? Invite your brand fans to share their product and brand experiences. What features did they love? What problems did it solve? How did they feel after using your product? What memories were forged as a result? You can ask them via your website, social media posts, newsletters, targeted post-purchase remarketing campaigns, brochures, and collateral.

Share branded or community hashtags and your social media handles easily and often, so customers know how to call you out in their posts.

Glossier showcases its social handle on its packaging. Credit: Glossier’s Instagram

3. Offer “gram-worthy moments”

With Instagram’s cultural dominance, brands are priming for their close-up. Flamingo wallpaper, neon signs, checkered floors, clean, modern lines or natural light can transform a product or in-store experience to a social media destination. Think about the pop-up shops and museums sprouting up in major cities of the Glossier store or Paul Smith’s pink wall in Los Angeles — they’re spaces designed for photographing.

But breathe it out — you don’t need to go overboard to attract the smartphone-toting crowd. Make your space irresistible by dedicating areas in for snapping photos in natural light or showcase décor that’s kitschy, colorful, and individual to your brand’s taste. Or opt for “selfie spots” or stations so customers can snap their #soblessed selfies in their best light.

For example, the Riad Yasmine’s monochrome tiled courtyard has abundant greenery and an emerald pool replete with swan-shaped inflatables, making it one of the most Instagrammed hotels in Morocco.

4. Reward them for their love

Consider contests strategically to incent customers to post and amp up your UGC inventory. For example, a creative way to run a contest is to ask people to share stories that then you can retell to your followers. Caravelle Resort launched a quarterly #HappyGuest campaign where one winner was chosen for a free 2-night stay.

Applebee’s #Fantographer program invited savvy diners to snap photos of their meals, potentially giving them shout-outs, awesome gift cards, and the keys to the brand’s Instagram account for a 365-day period — all while sharing photography tips and tricks along the way. To date, the campaign drove a 500% increase in followers, a 25% increase in their engagement rate, and a Shorty Awards nomination. It also gave the Applebee’s social team a reprieve since fans were the content drivers of their campaign.

Image Credit: Applebee’s

Now, let’s dive into how you can use what they say to drive revenue.

1. Display real-time stats of their preferences and purchases

There are several simple sales notification plugins that you could easily install on your website to display real-time engagement. Hotels.com informs travelers about hot properties by displaying booking and viewing stats in near real-time. A prospective hotel guest is more likely to check out a property that others deem favorable enough to select them out of a pool of endless search results. Most retail sites showcase “bestsellers,” signaling that a set of particular products are peer-approved. Amazon upsells products by displaying other products purchased by people who’ve browsed the product that’s piqued your interest.

2. Repurpose UGC content

There’s no higher compliment than a satisfied customer documenting their product experience on social media. Their vouch is critical because they valued their purchase enough to whip out a megaphone (in the form of their smartphone) and shout it to the masses. A 2017 TurnTo Consumer study notes that 90% of consumers’ purchasing decisions are based on UGC (user-generated content). A Reevo study revealed that 72% of people searching for solutions online use UGC as a basis for their purchasing decisions.

User-generated content offers rich new storytelling opportunities, and the chance to build trusted relationships with current and potential customers. Consumers believe content from their peers more than they do any other form of marketing communication. Harnessing UGC’s storytelling power can help build brand trust and ultimately resonance.

You can either re-post (with permission and image credit) your customers’ images and posts to your site, in your emails, or on your social channels. Also, you can encourage customers to use a predefined branded hashtag (either on your website or as part of your packaging) so you can aggregate all images and display them on your digital and social properties.

3. Showcase third-party trust badges

Trust badges, third-party certifications or awards such as Consumer Reports, BBB, TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence are one of the highest signifiers of consumer trust because of their unbiased, trustworthy resources, which haven’t been influenced by dollars or clout. And the data supports the story.

According to a report by Actual Insights, 75% of people surveyed believe trust badges or certificates elevate the perceived trustworthiness of a brand. Taking trust a step further, 61% of people chose not to purchase from a brand because they lacked confidence, and studies have shown how badges impact conversion rates.

4. Use social CRM as a retention tool

72% of consumers look to social media for product recommendations and reviews according to a Mintel study. Consumers have recognized that their voice is important and they’re using to express their love or intense displeasure over nearly every brand interaction from airline delays to bedbugs in hotel rooms. Your customers are taking to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other social platforms to air their opinions about your business.

And you should participate in that conversation because customers expect an immediate response and timely solution. If not, they’ll never patron your business again. Respond to negative reviews in a timely and compassionate manner and publicly thank fans of your brand on social media.

If you’ve solved their problems and dealt with them like a person instead of a bot, you might have created a customer for life.

Image Credit

5. Leverage your customers’ ratings and reviews

Consumers want to hear about the experiences of people like them. Nearly 95% of people read reviews before making a purchase decision. Your ratings and reviews can be the clincher when it comes to getting a prospective guest past the evaluation stage to purchase. According to a Podium study, 3.3 is the minimum star rating of a business consumers would consider engaging with.

Example of social proof using ratings. Image Credit: AO.com (via)
Image Credit: Hunter Boots (via)

While managing your product detail page’s ratings and reviews should be a high priority, don’t neglect Google, Yelp, or Facebook — especially if you have brick and mortar locations. Google has confirmed that reviews help bolster your SEO. An independent study discovered that reviews accounted for 15.44% of how Google ranks your business and the figure keeps increasing with the prominence of maps and localization.

Marketers should not only manage their reviews but also display favorable ones on their website, which could amp conversions by as much as 270%.


Bottom line — you’re not in the product business, but in the people business. Your business relies on people — customers, followers, brand champions — and their experiences, thoughts, and mentions of your product to succeed.

The Anatomy of Marketing

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Published Novelist & Marketing Exec. I build brands & tell stories. Newsletter: https://urlzs.com/8CLu Hire me: https://is.gd/uqGWX5; Buy my brain: t.ly/OrgbJ

The Anatomy of Marketing

F*ck faux marketers. You’re getting 21 years of my data-driven marketing & brand experience

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