Despite the rise of social media, many recommendations still happen offline, with people sharing their experiences with friends over the phone or face-to-face.

On the surface, word-of-mouth marketing may seem more geared towards large companies, but this isn’t entirely accurate.

“Small businesses have a huge advantage over large companies in word-of-mouth marketing because the distance between company owner and customers is much closer,” says Brad Fay, chief operating officer of Keller Fay Group, an award-winning word-of-mouth research and consulting company, and chairman of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. “There’s an opportunity for customers to have a relationship with management, and so it’s easier to customize offers, to give personal attention, and these are things that tend to raise the level of satisfaction that the customers have and their willingness to advocate [on behalf of the businesses],” he adds.

For example, Fay points out that, typically, local banks have stronger customer satisfaction scores than big banks.

“The reason is that the smaller banks are closer to their customers,” he says. “The customer feels like the bank is more committed to the local community, they feel like they’re getting more personal attention, and they’re more likely to be recognized when they walk into the bank, so that more personalized service is absolutely more likely to lead to advocacy.” Because people want to recommend the companies and brands that they know and trust, small businesses have a huge advantage.

While there are no prototypical word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, the options are limitless. Here are a few that Fay mentioned:

  • An email campaign where you encourage your subscribers to forward a message to their friends
  • A referral campaign where your readers can send new customers your way, perhaps with a discount or perk
  • Creating shareable content on your website
  • Producing event marketing with the intention of having your best customers or clients bring their friends
  • An ad campaign designed to generate conversation

“What all word-of-mouth campaigns have in common is a strategy of encouraging customer recommendations and conversation,” Fay explains.

Here are three highly effective word-of-mouth strategies.

1. Have a good founding story. “When people recommend a company they like to explain the background, the reason the company was started, and so forth. You want to feel a personal connection, and if there’s a story you can relate to, you’re more likely to recommend them.” For more information on creating a compelling brand story, see our post on finding your brand’s content marketing narrative.

2. Treat your customers like gold. Although some businesses like to offer great deals for new customers or clients – offering better rates than they do for their regular, established clients, for example – Fay warns against the practice of sacrificing current customers to try to gain future ones. This can make it more difficult to get referrals from those who are satisfied with your business. Keep current customers extremely satisfied, and it will encourage them to spread the word.

3. Find ways to show that you care for your current customers or clients. Even small gestures can have a big effect. A recent example: I stayed at Magnolia Hotel in Denver, and was thrilled that they offered free milk and cookies before bedtime – to the point that I mentioned it on social media and even texted my husband to let him know my options: regular milk, chocolate milk or strawberry milk.

Fay’s example: a local wine shop called the Princeton Corkscrew. “They keep a record of my past purchases and my credit card number, and it makes it incredibly easy for me to call them up and say, ‘can you please send me a case of wine I got last time?’ and they’ll deliver it,” he explains. “The way they manage the information and the service they have in delivering the wine makes me incredibly loyal, and I advocate them to everybody. Sometimes it’s just providing a really good service and being convenient.”

This is in addition to the personal touch referenced earlier. When Fay walks into the store, they recognize him and give him advice on new wines to try. This personal touch can have a greater effect than social media marketing. “The owner of the shop is very visible. He does have a LinkedIn profile and a LinkedIn group, but I’ve never engaged with them on LinkedIn,” Fay explains.

People are likely to tell everyone they know about a bad experience with a business, but they’re usually thrilled to pass on information about good experiences, too. And that’s what word-of-mouth marketing is all about.

Your Turn: Which small businesses do you recommend to your friends? What did they do that stood out?

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© 2014 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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