Word of Mouth: So What Happened?

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Remember the good old days, when the Nescafe Gold Blend couple getting together was a big enough story to warrant a front-page splash in The Sun?

That’s when people used to care about marketing (and newspapers, come to think of it). These days, people don’t just install ad-blockers, they download entire browsers devoted to nuking every last atom of marketing from their online lives. Meanwhile, social networks and search engines algorithmically mess everything up for retailers, sheep-dogging their marketing teams into ‘paid media’ pens where it costs a small fortune to utter so much as an audible bleat. Telly’s a no-go thanks to ad-zapping PVRs, on-demand and piracy. Print, sponsorship, stunts - nothing seems to work like it used to. 

Perhaps there’s too much marketing now. Perhaps there’s not enough. But one thing’s for certain: retailers have had little choice but to continue ploughing the same old fields, even though they’ve started to dig way below the green grass, down into the muck and straight to rock bottom. 

Ironically, though, the answer’s been staring the industry in the face all along....

Once upon a time, back when people actually talked to each other, marketing was all about word of mouth. When people discovered a fantastic shop, or product, or offer, they told their friends and, sure enough, those friends tootled on down to the corn exchange / market square / high street to check it out. That’s how the retail giants we revere - the Tescos and the Walmarts of this world - all got started. These days, with only 10% of people trusting advertising but 70% trusting brand recommendations from their friends, it’s pretty clear that this fundamental dynamic hasn’t changed a bit. So, if we want to sow the seeds for the next generation of retail giants, we need to go backwards to go forwards. We need to put word of mouth back where it belongs: as our number one priority. 

Luckily, while technology has made so much marketing more challenging in so many ways, it’s made world of mouth infinitely easier. By combining instant rewards for customers who get their friends shopping, communal incentives to get entire customer-bases engaging their friends and gamification prizes to supercharge the most passionate customers, we can give existing shoppers messages they can - and will - take out to their friends

That wouldn’t have been possible until very recently but, thanks to the latest tagging technologies, social messaging tools and innovative customer-get-customer solutions now hitting the market, it’s a piece of cake for any retailer to stop marketing to strangers, hoping against hope that some of the mud sticks and, instead, to incentivise the people who already love them to go out and get the people who already love THEM - their friends, family and colleagues - to start shopping, too. 

To get a glimpse of what can be done consider Costco’s recent gamified social ‘introduce a friend’ programme that rewarded members who got friends and family to take out a new Costco membership. Sharing was made easy via a host of integrated sharing tools for social networks, email or IM and members earned $20 worth of P&G branded goods for every person they referred. All successful referrers were shown on a leader board, with additional P&G super-awards awarded to those who referred in most friends.

It’s clever stuff, but it’s actually really simple. If you want more customers, the best place to start looking is right next to the customers you already have.

How we can help you make word of Mouth your top priority

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Image attribution: Creative commons Seeminglee.