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How to Use Digital Marketing to Drive Word-of-Mouth Referrals

“A simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down from a friend, family member, co-worker, or anonymous online reviewer can easily encourage a consumer to either purchase your brand or sway them toward your competitor.”

By Farshad Fardad, Chief Executive Officer, GlobalWide Media

As consumers, we all have people we rely on during the decision-making process. In fact, 82 percent of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase, according to a 2016 survey by Harris Poll and Ambassador. A simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down from a friend, family member, co-worker, or anonymous online reviewer can easily encourage a consumer to either purchase your brand or sway them toward your competitor.

Most marketers realize that these shared communications, what is commonly referred to as word-of-mouth (WOM), is incredibly influential, but they aren’t taking the necessary steps to harness that influence to strategically create and drive WOM in their marketing strategies. These discussions, that occur both online and off, are not entirely out of a marketer’s control. There are ways to promote all aspects of WOM, even those that happen offline.

Let’s take a look at how word-of-mouth marketing works, what advertisers can do to ignite this type of promotion, and how they can go about measuring their results.

The Evolution of Word-of-Mouth (WOM)

Simply put, word-of-mouth is the act of sharing thoughts and experiences with others — something we have done since the beginning of time. But the ways in which we do so have changed dramatically. As a society, we continue to create more efficient channels to connect with our friends, family, and peers who are not within earshot. In a relatively short period of time, we have gone from talking face-to-face, to writing letters, to talking on the phone, to emailing, to texting, to messaging one another via various social media channels.

We share our experiences everyday — good or bad — through texts, social media posts, online product reviews, videos and more. Every 60 seconds, people share 500 hours of YouTube content, 3.3 million Facebook posts, 65,972 Instagram photos, and 29 million WhatsApp messages, according to research by Smart Insights. It has never been easier to share our opinions with others, and there is really no limit to whom we can share them with.

Influencers aren’t just celebrities and YouTube stars. An influencer is anyone a brand’s prospects engage with and trust, whether that’s a blogger, a friend, their mom or all three. We all have resources we rely on when it comes to making purchase decisions. For example, I’m currently in-market for a new smartphone and considering the iPhone X. A key step in my decision process includes a consultation with my friend Will who is known for keeping up with the latest tech trends across brands. And when I’m looking to purchase a gift for my mother-in-law, I go straight to my wife for advice. This is word-of-mouth: the thoughts and perspectives of everyday influencers — real people — seamlessly shared across channels.

How to Encourage WOM Marketing

A brand can’t force consumers to share their experience, but all brands should encourage that behavior. To help promote WOM, engage with your audience on a personal level. Retweeting, sharing, or liking customers’ social posts is a way to reward them for their loyalty. The more special attention you show them, the more likely they will be to continue to interact with you and promote your brand.

Give people something to talk about by appealing to emotion and designing creative that excites or moves people. Skittle’s Contract the Rainbow concept is unique and memorable — the type of content that people want to share and talk about. No wonder it has been viewed more than 121 million times on YouTube.

Some brands ignite WOM by giving back and making people feel good when they buy their products. TOMS’ One for One® Movement is a perfect example. When a consumer purchases TOMS products, the company provides shoes, vision services, or other charitable initiatives for people in need. Or take BOGO Bowl, which makes it easy for pet owners to help at-risk dogs and cats simply by doing something they are already doing — buying pet food. For every bag of food they purchase, BOGO Bowl donates a bag to a partner shelter. That is a brand people can feel good recommending to their family and friends.

How to Measure the Effectiveness of WOM

Word-of-mouth is the most overlooked channel in digital campaigns. Why? Because it’s not a click, form completion or install. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

They don’t call the buying process the “customer journey” or “path to purchase” for nothing. These phrases exist because there are multiple contributing factors that lead to a customer conversion. Let’s say a woman in her mid-20s is in-market for a new TV. While scrolling through Instagram on her smartphone, she receives a Best Buy ad and clicks it. She is directed to a landing page that provides more information about different TV brands. While on the landing page, she researches Samsung TVs. Later that week, she sees a Samsung ad on her tablet. The next day, because the woman’s family members were also targeted with ads, her brother brings up the new Samsung TV at dinner. They have a conversation about it, and he reinforces Samsung’s message and supports her moving forward with the purchase.

Quantifying just how much each aspect of the buying journey influenced a particular purchase is challenging, making attribution along the path to purchase complicated. Every advertiser measures campaign effectiveness differently. Some rely solely on last-click attribution, but that doesn’t even come close to accurately measuring the effectiveness of each strategy deployed throughout a digital campaign.

What is particularly interesting in the above hypothetical is how the brand used marketing strategies to help ignite WOM. Samsung didn’t just target the woman shopping for a television. It also served ads to her network of influence, which helped to encourage the table talk that contributed to her eventual purchase.

Like any marketing tactic, WOM has to be viewed as part of a greater whole, but you can take steps to measure WOM by looking at metrics like spikes in online references, social media KPIs and increased visits to stores. Just be sure to have a baseline to compare your metrics to, that way you can determine if your campaign is working.

Likely the most referenced quote regarding marketing was stated by John Wannamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” That may have been true for Wannamaker, but not for today’s marketers. Proper measurement is achievable when taking the time to evaluate the complete customer journey. The most successful marketers aren’t using a single measurement tool. They are using a combination of social, behavioral and cross-device data to understand the contribution each marketing strategy makes in the conversion of online actions to offline purchases.

Digital channels make it easier than ever to connect with our friends, families, peers and even strangers with shared interests. The good news for brands is that digital channels also make it easier for marketers to monitor these conversations, join in on the discussions, and ignite word-of-mouth to help drive marketing objectives.

About Farshad Fardad:

GlobalWide Media is led by Farshad Fardad, Chief Executive Officer. An entrepreneur with a history of achievements, he has been involved in the internet space since the late 1990’s as an entrepreneur, investor, and executive.

Prior to GlobalWide Media, Mr. Fardad co-founded Hi-Speed Media, a digital media company and served as its President until December 2003 when it was acquired by ValueClick. He entered the technology space from the financial services industry where he served as Vice President for Bank of America. Mr. Fardad is a graduate of the The University of Virginia Darden School of Business Executive Program.