Customer Engagement

Five Steps to Galvanize Your Business with Word of Mouth Marketing

There has never been a more opportune time for businesses to leverage word of mouth marketing to gain a competitive edge.

Total U.S. advertising expenditures increased 6.5% to $131.1 billion in 2010 according to Kantar Media. It is increasingly difficult for companies to execute creative advertising campaigns with the necessary frequency and reach to break through massive commercial clutter that consumers increasingly tune out.

Even if you can afford to spend a lot on advertising, however, you might want to consider a more effective and less costly way to build your business.

The Impact of Word of Mouth

In June 2010, Harris Interactive asked the question “What influences your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product?” and found that 71 percent of survey respondents said that reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence. In contrast, research company Yankelovich found that 75 percent of people think that companies purposefully misrepresent the truth in advertisements.

While most business owners understand the advantages of word of mouth over advertising, few have a methodical plan to leverage its positive impact. Here is a five-step word of mouth marketing campaign that will build the loyalty of existing customers while boosting the referrals that they make.

Step One: Deliver Excellence

If you want customers to recommend your business, you need products and service that are outstanding. The best marketing in the world is worthless if the people you serve are unhappy with what they are getting and how it is provided. Thus, before launching a word of mouth marketing campaign, make sure that you meet—and exceed—the expectations of your customers.

Step Two: Measure Satisfaction

Use online surveys to discover what your customers like and dislike – good, low-cost options include SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. Surveys help you spot trends so you can act strategically to improve your business. You shouldn’t need to ask more than ten questions to get a sense of how you can improve.

Step Three: Cultivate Enthusiasm

Service after the sale is an opportunity for you to foster personal relationships that boost satisfaction and increase referrals. Examples include: Follow-up phone calls to address new needs; customer appreciation events (one friend in the furniture industry does far more in sales during his biannual three-day BBQ than any other time during the year); eNewsletters with valuable educational content; and Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts with useful and interesting information.

Step Four: Foster Relationships

Large businesses saturate their markets with millions of dollars in advertising. Yet market research consistently shows that customers prefer to buy from people they know and trust. By addressing the specific needs of your customers in a personal way, you’re building loyalty that will diminish the marketing efficacy of your large competitors.

When I ran my family office’s furniture business, our most successful interior designers were masters of staying connected with customers. They sent handwritten cards to customers throughout the year, from birthday greetings to alerts about new furniture arrivals. Sending cards was our least expensive yet most effective marketing tactic that resulted in a significant portion of our repeat and referred sales.

Step Five: Request Referrals

A common lament from many business owners is that they don’t get as many referrals as they feel that they deserve. I never had a good explanation for this phenomenon until I attended a Word of Mouth Marketing Association conference and learned that 50% of all people need to be asked for a referral in order to make one.

If you feel awkward about asking for referrals, keep in mind that people generally want to help companies that they admire. Thanks to the Internet, it’s even easier to leverage the value of a referral.  You might consider:

  • Asking your customers to “like” your company page on Facebook and encouraging them to write testimonials about your store on their walls. Keep in mind that 64% of Facebook’s users in the United States have “liked” a company page. A Facebook user who “likes” your business and/or posts a positive comment on your wall user generates excellent exposure.
  • Requesting recommendations on LinkedIn and Twitter. Again, your customers are busy and will need to be asked to write a referral—so don’t be bashful. Use the search features that exist on all social media platforms to discover where you customers are active.  Then, ask them to recommend you where their comments will have the widest impact.
  • Directing satisfied customers to influential review websites like Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, Yelp, and CitySearch. Recently, my wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast that we really liked. While checking out, I complimented the proprietor. He thanked me profusely. Then, he whipped out a business card with the URLs for TripAdvisor and Yahoo Travel and requested that I write a review. He told me that his high ratings on both websites were responsible for 75 percent of his reservations.
  • Creating an email signature line that says “Please remember that the greatest compliment I can receive is a referral from you, and I am never too busy for your referrals.” This could link to a page on your website which clearly explains the rewards you offer for customer referrals.


Stop worrying about the advertising activities of your large competitors as they are likely much less effective than you imagine. Instead, create a word of mouth marketing campaign focused on building the loyalty of your customers while boosting the referrals that they make and your business will thrive.

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Category: Customer Engagement

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About the Author: Patrick Galvin

Patrick Galvin, M.B.A. is the chief galvanizer and president of Galvin Communications in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 2002, his word of mouth marketing and public relations firm has increased credibility, visibility, and sales for hundreds o…

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  1. This is a great approach for small business who don’t have the means to keep pace with larger competitors.  Why play the same game as your larger competitors in their arena when you can use the alternative of grass roots and word of mouth to your advantage? They will simply drown out your message.  

    Market your differences and find/use alternative marketing methods.  If you can deliver on these, you can build your own brand “cult like” following that will maximize your budget’s potential.

    • Thanks Dominick for your comment. I agree with your 100% that the best word of mouth springs from companies who do things differently. Word of mouth is the best way for companies of all sizes to get people to notice what makes them unique.

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