Building word of mouth from the ground up

Building a successful word of mouth marketing machine is a dream for nearly every small business. If you can get your customers talking to their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors and even total strangers, they’ll take care of marketing and branding your business for you. Essentially, once you’ve built up your small business’ following to a point where they’re a self-sustaining marketing machine, you can attract new customers without spending a dime.

Given all the attention we put on things like SEO, digital and traditional marketing, events and all the other tools in the small business marketer’s toolbox, it’s easy to forget about how powerful word of mouth marketing is. That may be because it’s not a “marketing” activity in the usual sense of the word.
The numbers back this up: A study recently done by Small Business Trends found that 85 percent of small businesses said their customers learn about them through word of mouth, a mark that was far and away the most common means through which new customers walked through their doors (or visited their websites).

Word of mouth is about making your product and customer service so incredible that people can’t help but talk about it. Thus, the product/service and marketing aren’t considered separate entities, but actually one and the same. Sure, there are things you can do to facilitate word of mouth, but it really starts with just blowing people away from the first interaction onward.

Here are a few tips for building up a self-reinforcing word of mouth marketing campaign for your small business:

Start with some social listening
If you want people to talk about you, it’s helpful to know what they’re already saying. Comb through your listings on search engines like Google and Bing. Look at what’s being said about you on various social media channels (especially Yelp) to see what the general consensus is on your business.

Read your customers’ reviews and posts and get an idea of what you’re doing right and wrong. Remember, it’s all about wowing your customers to the point that they just have to talk about you, and all of that starts with a great product and level of customer service. Online reviews are candid and honest and will tell you what you should keep doing and what you need to change now.

Directly ask your customers what they think
When an interaction with a customer is over, ask them to fill out a short survey about how their transaction went. Small Business Trends wrote that one great question to ask is “How likely are you to recommend our product/service to your friends and family?”

The ones who are very likely to recommend you are valuable because you’ll learn a lot about what you’re doing to turn some customers into raving fans. The people who answer negatively are also important because they should give you a pretty clear idea of what you need to fix if you want to have everyone walk away with a positive experience.


Get the influencers on your side
Unless you’re doing something so brand new and trailblazing that there are no existing voices in your space, chances are there’s a few influencers that already have the eyes and ears of the very people you want to reach. This is a great opportunity to get a lot of results out of a little bit of effort.

Reach out to the influencers in your vertical and show them how what you’re doing is interesting or valuable. If you can impress them, they’re sure to give you some love on their platforms, which will immediately give you an audience primed to want what you’ve got. But don’t feel like an influencer necessarily has to be a prominent blogger or even a celebrity. Today there are thousands of social media stars who command massive followings in every space imaginable.

A great example of this in action is what fashion retailers are doing today. They send free clothing and accessories to these social media mavens who then don them on their Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook pages. By providing a bit of value to the influencer, you’ll be able to activate their followers and make them your own.

Stress the value of the customer experience to every employee
Every time a customer interacts with a touchpoint in your business, it’s a chance to impress and delight them. All of your employees should understand this and internalize it. Whether it’s a knowledgeable sales floor manager who can provide expert advice tailor-made for each customer, or a back-end product developer working to incorporate your customers’ feedback, everyone needs to know the customer comes first.

Use your social listening and surveys to find out exactly where you’re lacking and be sure to fix it as quickly as possible. Getting a word of mouth campaign to spread like wildfire is only possible if there are no weak points in your service.

Incentivize your customers to talk
Sometimes your customers will be so in love with you that they won’t need any prodding to start talking about you, but often, you’ll have to do something to sweeten the deal. Offer coupons or promo codes to anyone who refers a new customer to you. You could even have a tiered system to encourage more participation: One referral nets them a coupon, two to five gets them a better coupon, five to 10 referrals could lead to a free visit or bonus prize. Each business will have its own ways to do this, but tiered reward systems encourage even more sharing.

Additionally, let your most vocal fans – the ones who bring in way more business for you than the rest – know just how much you appreciate them by giving them rewards and access that others don’t get. Feature them on your social channels and give them a platform to talk about how you fit into their lives. By making them feel like they’re a part of an exclusive group, it will be even more motivation to keep spreading the word about what you do.

There are countless tactics that businesses have used to generate incredible word of mouth, but the truth is that none of those individual tactics matter unless you can deliver at a high level. You really have to set the stage for it by having an amazing, unforgettable product and customer service. From there, it’s just a matter of giving people the space and soapbox to sing your praises. How can you build a ground-up word of mouth campaign for your small business?

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