Remember the last time you experienced something and just had to tell your friends about it? It might have been a new restaurant or shop that just opened, or the latest gadget you’re starting to use.

Whether you’re talking or tweeting about it, this excitement to share is what drives word-of-mouth marketing (also called WOM marketing, WOMM, or word-of-mouth advertising).

64% of marketing executives believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing. And although word-of-mouth marketing depends on your customers and fans, it’s not out of your control. There are many ways to further your word-of-mouth strategy.

Below, we cover everything about this powerful marketing strategy, from basic terms to what sets word of mouth apart from all other types of marketing.

What is word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM marketing) includes any ways that people talk about your brand, products, or services in dialogue with others. It also includes any actions your business takes to encourage people to share their experiences with your brand and recommend others on your behalf. Usually, word of mouth is prompted by a positive, above-and-beyond experience someone has had with your brand.

With word-of-mouth marketing, your customers and other fans are essentially doing the marketing for you, at little to no cost to your business! They are promoting straight to their network, usually in person or on social media, which makes word of mouth not only cost-effective, but highly valuable.

the power of word of mouth marketing

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Why is word-of-mouth marketing so important?

Word-of-mouth marketing stands out because of its high level of trust.

Why do people trust word of mouth?

Usually, word-of-mouth recommendations come from friends, family members, and others within someone’s close circles. When someone sees a friend or family member raving about a particular brand, they’re much more likely to buy. That’s because peer recommendations are seen as especially valuable.

Word-of-mouth marketing benefits

According to a Nielsen report, 92% of people trust word of mouth referrals from those they know, above all other advertising.

Plus, thanks to social media, what someone shares can reach millions in mere seconds. And word of mouth doesn’t just stop after one interaction – one person will tell another, and another, and so on.

With every share, repost, or retweet, word-of-mouth marketing carries the potential for exponential growth. All this happens at a very low cost to your business – often, for free.

wom statistics

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How successful is word-of-mouth advertising?

These word-of-mouth marketing statistics further prove how successful word-of-mouth marketing can be:

  • 83% of Americans say that word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know make them more likely to purchase a given product or service.
  • According to Nielsen, consumers are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend.
  • When it comes to products they have purchased, 74% of people identified word of mouth as a key factor in their purchase decision.
  • Marketers rate the quality of leads brought in by word of mouth as a 4.28 out of 5.

word-of-mouth-marketing-statistics

What are some examples of word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing (word-of-mouth advertising) can be divided into two main types or categories.

The first type is amplified word-of-mouth marketing, which is directly encouraged by your business via a marketing campaign. Within the campaign, businesses will usually use some sort of reward to motivate this word of mouth. Amplified word of mouth strategies are also easy to track, since it’s tied to a campaign.

amplified word of mouth marketing

Examples of amplified word of mouth include:

The second type is organic word-of-mouth marketing, which occurs when someone recommends your brand naturally and without direct prompting from your business.

It is much harder to motivate and track. But this type of word of mouth isn’t fully out of your control. It is usually triggered by an event experienced by the customer. Whether that’s amazing customer service or a free gift with purchase, triggers set your brand apart from the competition and keep you top of mind. Plus, they make for great talking points and organic word of mouth.

organic word of mouth marketing

Examples of organic word of mouth include:

  • Spontaneous social media sharing (user-generated content)
  • Customer reviews and comments
  • Natural sharing of a product through any type of conversation
Learn more about specific types of word-of-mouth marketing.

How to use word of mouth marketing: 6 strategies for any campaign

With the right strategy, you can successfully create a steady stream of referrals and repeatable word of mouth for your brand.

Fortunately, there are plenty word-of-mouth channels at your disposal: referral programs, influencer programs, brand ambassador programs, affiliate marketing, and many more. Whichever channel you choose, however, it’s important to develop an overall WOMM strategy to encourage organic sharing.

Here are a few proven WOMM strategies to help get you started:

1. Create triggers for word of mouth

Triggers are little cues that remind your audience about your brand, even without any actual advertising.

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger gives this example: What immediately comes to mind when someone says peanut butter? Was it jelly? In this case, peanut butter acts almost like an advertisement for jelly.

This is the type of association you want to create for your brand. One famous example is a KFC campaign that ran in Japan in the 1970s. Translated to “Kentucky is Christmas,” it promoted a party barrel of fried chicken as Christmas dinner. The campaign was so successful that until today, many families in Japan order Kentucky Fried Chicken when the holiday season rolls around.

kfc japan christmas

Create your own triggers by finding something your audience sees or does on a regular basis. By associating your brand with these, you increase the likelihood of people remembering and talking about you.

2. Appeal to your audience

Like all marketing strategies, word of mouth works best when it puts its audience first. Think of what would appeal best to your audience – would it be an interactive contest, a behind-the-scenes video, or something else? By continuing to give your audience what it wants, you’re able to add to your social currency and generate word of mouth.

Social currency is all about reputation. People share what they think will make them look good in front of others, because every share puts their reputation on the line. They’ll only “spend” their social currency on your brand, and spread the word about you, if they think it will give their reputation a boost. So, make sure you’ve created something your audience loves, and will think it’s cool to share with others.

stepps jonah berger

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3. Provide value to customers

The brands worth talking about are ones that provide value. Whether that means solving a problem with your product or delivering unparalleled customer service, a customer that sees value in your brand will share this with others.

Providing value is also one of the best ways to gain a customer’s good will. If you can offer value – and in a way that stands out – you may just earn a positive customer review and maximize your word of mouth.

Pro tip: Remember that the best way to provide value is to deliver a unique experience. What sets you apart from your competitors?

  • Do you market differently than others in your space, like Red Bull does with its extreme stunts and sports events?
  • Meet a need that no one else does, like Browndages first did with their bandages and wraps made for darker skin?
  • Solve a specific problem (even one that people didn’t realize they needed solving), like Omsom does with “starter” packets that include all the flavors needed to make authentic Asian dishes?
  • Deliver above-and-beyond customer service that competitors can’t match, like Zappos has built a reputation for?

Know, deliver on, and emphasize this unique selling point, and watch the word of mouth roll in.

Browndages

4. Tap into emotion

Emotional attachments are one of the biggest drivers of word-of-mouth marketing. If people feel strongly about a brand or product, they are not likely to drop it, even if a more logical option comes along.

People respond more to emotions, as well. Whether it’s something happy, sad, funny, or otherwise, they instinctively want to share it with others.

If you can create experiences that result in positive emotions, your word of mouth efforts can go a long way. For instance, think of how Always fought against stereotypes and empowered young women with its #LikeAGirl ads.

likeagirl campaign

And if your brand has a unique personality, this can also stir up emotions. Use your personality for emotional appeal, in a way that stands out from the crowd, and customers won’t be able to stop talking. This works especially well if you’re appealing to humor. Think back to Wendy’s – they went viral thanks to their signature snarky, humorous tweets.

Wendy's roast 1

5. Tell your story

Creating a compelling story goes hand in hand with giving audiences what they want, offering value and appealing to emotions. If customers love the “why” behind what you do – your mission and values – and that “why” is packaged in a story that’s moving and easy to tell, customers will share your story with others.

One example is 4Ocean’s story: they pull plastic from the ocean daily to help marine life, and then recycle much of that plastic into bracelets and other products.

4ocean story: pulling plastic out of oceans

6. Create exclusivity

Making people feel like they know secrets or insider information is another recipe for generating sharing. Think of how Starbucks “secret menu” drinks have gone viral on social media, and how In-N-Out Burger got people talking both online and offline with their own “secret menu” items (which were key in driving the brand’s overall success).

in n out menu

Secrets don’t just work for food brands, though. If you share new and exciting products with your most loyal fans first, or create a sale that people can only access with a code you emailed, people will want their friends to get in on the action, too. They’ll tell their friends quickly, meaning more buzz, and more sales, for you.

Looking for more ways to generate more word of mouth and customer referrals? Check out our 8-step guide on how to get referrals.

How do reviews affect word-of-mouth advertising?

As we’ve outlined above, you can build word-of-mouth advertising in many ways. But one of the best ways is by getting positive customer reviews. A majority 90% of people read reviews before deciding whether or not to visit a business, and 72% will only push through with a purchase after reading positive reviews.

Plus, good reviews help build your brand’s social proof and boost your online reputation – both terrific ways to gain exposure and get even more people talking about you.

Customer reviews also allow you to expand into other channels and platforms. Say, someone writes a review about you on Yelp. That review can then be searched and shared across other channels, as well. You can share some of the best reviews on your own social media accounts, or even post them as testimonials on your own website.

great yelp review

Here’s a step-by-step example of how reviews can play a role in word-of-mouth advertising:

  • Winter season is about to start, and Ken and Val are talking about chimney sweeping services.
  • Val tells Ken that she needs to hire someone to come to her house some time in the next few weeks.
  • Ken shares that he’s also been searching for someone and found a few chimney services with good reviews online (thanks to previous word of mouth). He mentions a couple that looked especially promising.
  • Val takes a look at a few of the services, and ends up picking one that did an amazing job.
  • Val starts telling all her friends, including Ken, and even posts a picture of her cozy fireplace with a newly cleaned chimney (further generating word of mouth!).
Pro tip: Reviews might seem unpredictable, but there are ways to encourage more (and better) reviews without gaming the system. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to ask for reviews.

How to build word-of-mouth marketing on social media?

Stop collecting and start connecting. This is a key guideline for any strong word-of-mouth marketing strategy these days.

Sure, you can have millions of social media followers. But to effectively use social media to drive word-of-mouth marketing, you have to be active and engaging.

This means providing valuable information, responding to comments and questions, and even sharing some of your audience’s user-generated content (UGC).

The more connected you are to your followers, the more likely they will become true fans and supporters. And what do true fans usually do? Share your brand with others and increase word of mouth in new markets you may not have been able to reach otherwise.

Social proof and social media: Get others to show, not just tell

People decide what to do based on what they see other people doing. If they hear someone talking about how good your product is, this word-of-mouth will make them more likely to try the product. But when they see someone using your product in their everyday life, this social proof gives word-of-mouth a bigger boost. And social media shares of your product mean many people see how your product is used, all at once.

Ambassadors’ and influencers’ posts using your product, affiliates’ product reviews on social, and UGC images and videos from any customer show off your product and further inspire people to try it for themselves.

Pro tip: How to encourage user-generated content (UGC)? Try:

  • Creating branded hashtags
  • Commenting on UGC posts you love to build connections and thank customers for sharing
  • Featuring the best posts about your brand on your own channels (your social accounts and your website), with the creators’ permission
  • Running contests where the creators of the best branded UGC earn valuable prizes or unique features, as Apple did with their #shotoniPhone campaign

apple shot on iphone campaign

How is WOMM different from referral marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing is all about getting people talking about your brand or business. It looks for the best ways to promote sharing, often through general consumer interest or unique content. WOMM is all about spreading brand awareness to your audience. Depending on the types you choose to focus on, though, you may have difficulty tracking and controlling it.

Referral marketing is a segment of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s common for word of mouth to occur naturally in the process of referring others. But at its core, referral marketing is a proactive way to gain new customers, focused on key targets and specific results.

grover referral program

Referrals occur when someone who uses or knows your brand recommends it to others in their network, usually friends, family members, or colleagues. Since they are sharing your brand with others, they are generating word of mouth. But this recommendation is direct and purposeful, not just casually mentioned.

Combining word of mouth and referral marketing

Most types of marketing use word of mouth in one way or another. Referral marketing is no different. In fact, word of mouth helps companies get new customers all the time – which is the main aim of referral marketing.

Instead of doing a mass shout-out, however, referral marketing allows you to get more personal.

Referral marketing is all about motivating individual customers to share a product or service with others they know, by offering rewards every time these recommendations result in sales. In time, this type of marketing works to build customer loyalty and establish long-term relationships, both among existing and newly referred customers.

shipt-referral-program-call-to-action

Referral marketing also allows you to monitor your conversions, engagement, and other metrics.

With a formal referral program, businesses can incentivize customer sharing and organize their entire referral process. The right referral software can also generate automatic referral links and track each step of the process, so you know exactly where referrals are coming from.

Using referral marketing with other word of mouth strategies maximizes brand awareness and increases the odds of  creating a viral sharing effect. By integrating diverse types of word-of-mouth marketing into your overall marketing strategy, you increase the odds of achieving success.

To learn more about referral marketing, check out our referral marketing guide or learn essential referral program tips.

Other related word-of-mouth marketing terms

As a major business strategy, WOMM can be seen alongside many other marketing concepts. Here are a few common ones you may come across:

  • Buzz marketing: This involves getting key ambassadors or influencers to spread the conversation about your brand. It’s focused on building viral growth around certain products or campaigns, usually using attention-grabbing techniques (i.e., videos, memes) and generating online buzz.
  • Viral marketing: This type of marketing relies on one’s existing network to spread information from person to person in a rapid manner. This often occurs online or using social media, with content so compelling that people can’t help but send it with others.
  • Blog marketing: When used for word of mouth, blog marketing involves blog posts that an influencer or brand ambassador creates. With a few strategic ads or sponsored posts, bloggers create content that quickly travels to their followers, who in turn, share it with their friends. With the right blogs, a business can generate fair amount of word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Social media marketing:  Thanks to hashtags and rapid shares, the content created on social media has a way of reaching people outside of the original group following. And as we’ve seen, shared content has a higher value when it comes from someone people know and trust.

Wrapping up

Don’t sleep on word-of-mouth marketing, because recommendations and referrals are powerful. People trust the word of their family and friends. This makes them more likely to purchase from you when their peers recommend your products.

The best way to use this to your advantage is to leverage multiple types of word-of-mouth marketing, including by encouraging user-generated content, asking for reviews, and starting a referral program.

No matter which methods you use, it’s key to apply the fundamental word-of-mouth strategies: creating sharing triggers, appealing to your audience, offering value and stirring up an emotional response.