How to Leverage Word of Mouth Marketing
Word of mouth is often dismissed as a small play strategy. You’ll ask someone how people hear about their business and they look perplexed as they say “I guess, it’s mostly word of mouth?”
Word of mouth does not have to be a mysterious waiting game. Everyone—from that new hot club opening down the street, to new authors, to giant companies like Google—can leverage the power of people in their ventures. Stop staring at an empty inbox and learn how to drive, encourage and incentivize word of mouth to your advantage.
Whether you’re launching your startup or raising money for a cause, here’s some ways to get your head in the game of word of mouth.
Know who makes up word of mouth
Break word of mouth down into categories. When you bucket everyone together, you fail to track what’s really happening and you miss opportunities to accelerate this approach.
Clients and Customers
Clients and customers tend to come to mind first when we talk about word of mouth referrals, and while they are an important category, they are far from the only group in your network.
Referrers are people who have given you more than one referral or who stand out as hype people in your network. They may overlap with other categories but they are important to track and be aware of as they have already proven their value to your business.
Business partners are other business owners who work with your audience and/or with whom you have established a collaborative or referral relationship.
Friends and Family
Friends and family have your back and even though it’s unlikely they are (or should be) your customers, they should all be armed with the information to spread the word far and wide about what you’re up to.
Champions fit none of the other categories but they are people who consistently support you and your work. These folks may not buy but they will share and support so make it easy for them to do so.
Especially if what you’re doing now is related to what you used to do for work, former colleagues are great people to tap to get the word out about your latest project.
Professional contacts are people you’ve met at events, conferences, associations, online and through introductions who work adjacent to you and ideally also know your audience. This may also include specialized people like PR professionals or journalists who can have an outsized impact on your success.
Hobby contacts are people with whom you share a hobby, like being on a hockey team or in a knitting circle together. You may be overlooking referrals here because they are often given very casually but they’re worth remembering.
You can shift up these categories as it makes sense for your marketing needs. Once you do, you’ll pay more attention to what’s really moving in your network when it comes to word of mouth. The people who make up your word of mouth network are your own personal influencers. Treat them as such.
Expand your word of mouth network
People often overlook their existing network when networking, but you’ll have more success if you begin from a place of trust. Rather than cold blast strangers, ask your existing network for introductions. Work your way from your inner circle outward.
Your inner circle: these are people you talk to frequently. Friends, family, current clients, daily, weekly or monthly professional contacts. People who you feel fairly comfortable making a simple ask of.
Your middle network: these will mainly be professional contacts, past clients, former schoolmates or old friends. They are people who you have at one point had a strong relationship with, but perhaps it’s faded.
Your outer orbit: these are people you have a common thread with. Maybe you’re in the same professional association or you both worked for the same company. This can also include long lost connections.
Write down names for everyone who comes to mind from these three groups and consider whether they know the type of people you want to get in front of. Don’t reach out to everybody. Reach out to anybody you have a connection to who you believe knows your target audience. Be clear and succinct about your intent and avoid selling right off the bat. You want to warm people up first.
Warm up your network for a launch
Think of your word of mouth strategy as an engine you’ve got to keep running. Come up with a system for tracking all these relevant people and what efforts are paying off in introductions, leads and customers.
Create authentic relationships with people you actually like and want to know better.
As you connect with people in your network and bring new people into your network, don’t make everything about you. Create authentic relationships with people you actually like and want to know better. Learn where they’re coming from and see how much space they have for a relationship with you and your business.
When you’re launching or promoting something, warm up your network by:
- Sending some casual check-in notes a few weeks out
- Adding people to an insiders email list and keeping them up to date on what you’re planning
- Inviting people to a behind the scenes event (virtual or in person) to feel included in the launch and excited to take part in it
- Keeping people posted one on one ahead of the launch (starting with the most valuable members of your list)
Scale word of mouth as it pays off
If you’re a freelancer or a solo act, you’ll want to choose the right cadence and effort for your word of mouth strategy. But if you’re scaling your business or launching something that needs eyes, you can go bigger with word of mouth. Leverage all of your warmed up influencers in your word of mouth network and shift to more of an affiliate model. Or create repeatable, easy ways for everyone who learns about your work to share it with friends (in simple messages, in emails and in incentives).
Don’t count word of mouth out as something you can’t control and invest in. The power is yours when it comes to who is sharing your work, what they’re saying and who they’re sending your way. Take the reins and turn up the volume!