How many local businesses have you visited in the last year based on the recommendations of others, social media or online directories? For most business owners, local business recommendations occur by way of word of mouth. In fact, BrightLocal survey findings published in June 2012 revealed that 79% of U.S. consumers – that’s almost 8 out of every 10 people – have recommended a local business to friends, family, co-workers or other acquaintances in the last 12 months.
While word of mouth is cited as the biggest source of local traffic referrals for businesses, it’s worth pointing out that word of mouth marketing doesn’t happen by accident, nor is it a marketing strategy outside of the business owner’s ability to control, or at least influence.
Many business owners cite word of mouth as their best source of local business referrals, many people don’t really understand what word of mouth marketing is. Many business owners sit back, fingers crossed, hoping that customers will spread the word about them. Others are even more confident that their customers will tell friends, family and co-workers about their businesses and must be even more confused when referral traffic fails to magically appear.
When it comes to stimulating word of mouth marketing, it’s not enough to sell products or services, even products or services not easily obtainable elsewhere or which are totally unique. In addition, you must do so in a way that is unique and valuable to your customers. You must craft and deliver a customer experience that is outside of what clients expect – a customer experience that is better, bigger, easier, faster, happier – in ways that are actually meaningful to your customers.
For most business owners, there are other local businesses that provide the same or equivalent products or services to the ones they sell. There may even be competitors with similar or equivalent products which also offer them at better prices.
If you want to win the word of mouth marketing game, you must focus on the customer experience itself. The customer experience your business provides may in fact be your most important point of difference, and may become your unique selling proposition, if it is unique and special enough.
In the study, men and women both indicated the types of factors that make them more likely to recommend one business over another to people that they know. The factors that influence word of mouth referrals included, in order of importance:
- being reliable and professional
- being cheap (inexpensive for the price)
- being friendly and welcoming
- offered a unique and original experience
- offered a good promotion
- the business asked for recommendations
Word of mouth marketing is not sitting back and hoping that your customers will talk about your business. Word of mouth marketing is unlikely to occur unless you actually give your customers something to talk about!
It’s also worth pointing out that there is more than one type of word of mouth marketing. Here are four of the most common forms of word of mouth marketing (also known as buzz marketing or viral marketing):
- Word of Mouth Marketing: the passing of information about your business from person to person.
- Buzz Marketing: exchanges or interactions where a business tries to make the exchange of information with customers appear spontaneous, rather than scripted.
- Viral Marketing: “…is an idea that spreads… and while spreading actually helps market your business or cause.” (Seth Godin, sethgodin.typepad.com)
- Cause Marketing: cooperative efforts of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.
Here are a few of the important take-aways from the BrightLocal report on SearchEngineLand.com:
- The ability of Social Media to drive local business referrals is increasing significantly.
According to this study, perhaps the biggest winner was Facebook, which experienced a 5% gain over 2010 numbers and Twitter, which gained three percentage points (a 33% net increase). While other social networks were not cited, the emergence of popular social networks like Pinterest ensure that social media will continue to play a major role when it comes to the facilitation of recommendations for local businesses. Take Away: Local businesses can not afford to leave out social media when it comes to their formal marketing plan and communications strategies.
- Men and women don’t use all of the channels equally.
Women are more likely to make word of mouth referrals, while men are more likely to do so via Facebook and Twitter. (Which might come as a surprise, if you mistakenly believe that women are the only people using Facebook!) And while men make recommendations via Google Maps and Google Places, by and large, women don’t. Businesses need to know who their real customer is. Who makes the decision about where to purchase the types of products or services your business provides?
365 Days of Marketing is a treasure trove when it comes to marketing ideas to help you garner more word of mouth marketing referrals. Whether you use it or not, be as strategic and thoughtful when it comes to creating a word of mouth marketing strategy as you are when it comes to any other part of your operations. You will improve not only the number of recommendations made by your customers, but you will also ensure that more people who would be part of your target markets or who you would identify as your ideal client types will be included among them!