For the past couple months myself and an associate have been on the road doing in-depth interviews with the branch locations of an economic development organization to explore their marketing practices. This organization operates in communities across Canada and have been around for 25 years providing financial assistance, training, and personal support for entrepreneurs operating in rural areas that banks typically would avoid or turn down. This is actually an organization that wants to give entrepreneurs loans and is understanding if you can’t pay it back on time. They’ll even give you free advice and personal coaching to help you find a way to pay it. Seriously, it’s like getting a loan from a fairy godmother.
After completing about 25 hours worth of interviews with the various offices about their marketing practices, one thing that was completely universal among all of them was their response to the question “How do you get most your customers?”. It wasn’t advertising campaigns, nor was it their slick website, neither was it direct marketing via mail or telephone. The answer was always “word of mouth“. Time and time again every office would say they got most of their business from previous customers telling friends and/or referrals from other businesses. Despite this truth last year they spent thousands of dollars on a billboard campaign. They underestimated that their best marketing actually resides within the abilities of their office staff and the community networks they support.
It’s very well known that word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways a business can get customers. In fact, people will trust the opinion of a complete stranger more than they’ll trust the claims made in an advertisement. In the age of the internet, word of mouth is incredibly amplified such that one person’s opinion on Facebook can reach 250 or more “friends” in an instant. Personally, word of mouth is how I get most of my customers and I imagine it’s the same for many other businesses. I often struggle with what my next proverbial “billboard campaign” needs to be so that I can reach more people, get more requests, be featured in the media, and become a household name. Yet by worrying about the next big splash I’m ignoring the importance of my personal network. Compared to doing a billboard campaign, radio ad, direct mail, or trade show it’s far cheaper and more effective to devise a marketing strategy around getting referrals and fostering relationships with those who actually matter.
To take full advantage of word of mouth marketing, the online channel and social media can play a critical role. Consider setting up a referral program, incorporate an online tool on your website to make it easy to refer a friend, provide special incentives to business partners where you offer complementary services/products, be an active participant in social media networks, and last but not least showcase your best and biggest customers so that they help spread your name while sharing their own success story.
Do you want to determine how you can use social media and online tools to do a better job of word of mouth marketing? Send me an email or leave a comment below. Alternatively, please share your own experiences, it might help get you some word of mouth ;-)