Word of mouth (WOM) marketing isn’t just a social media fad. It’s a timeless marketing force that transcends any communication medium. In a mobile ecosystem where new tech enters the market every day, one trend remains powerful: when it comes to evaluating purchase decisions, people trust advice and expertise from their fellow human beings.
Just take a look at this 2013 study from Nielsen, ranking WOM as the most influential and trusted marketing format, above branded websites, consumer opinions posted online, editorial content, and ads. Research from Jonah Berger, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has devoted his entire career to studying WOM marketing, has found that success isn’t just a random viral phenomenon: word of mouth campaigns become successful because of triggers to take action, emotional appeal, practical value, social currency, and public observability.
So how can your brand build relationships with that special group of brand advocates who love your company?
The first step is to understand that brand advocates aren’t just celebrities or influential figures with thousands of Twitter followers. Berger, in a follow-up study that he conducted with Experticity, a platform that supports influencer-based marketing, has found that brand advocates can be anyone. What they all share in common in this mobile age is that they have a device in their pockets—a direct line of communication to your marketing team.
Marketers can see from Berger’s research that the key to engaging brand advocates, on any device, is to understand their values. Why do they care about the brands that they do? What compels them to share information with their trusted networks? How can your company bridge these conceptual ideas to your mobile marketing calls to action (CTAs)? We interviewed two individuals who self-identify as brand advocates to get to the heart of these challenges.
Think beyond money: offer public shout-outs, thank-yous, and praise
Tip nominated by: Len Kendall, VP of communication at Carrot
Brand advocate for: Casper
Len Kendall wasn’t always a fan of the mattress industry. In fact, he describes his experiences navigating this market as “horrible, horrible, horrible.”
“I was so frustrated when I had to go buying a new mattress knowing that half the money would go to pay for the salesman or retail store that housed them,” he explains. “When I came across Casper, I decided to take a gamble buying a mattress on the web. The 100-day refund policy sold me.”
From there, Kendall fell in love with the brand, referring close to a dozen of his friends and family.
“I can’t deny that the referral credits have been a plus,” says Kendall. “But what really makes me so proud to support this company is how much they continue to support me. Even though I’ve already bought my mattress, they publicly thank me whenever I give them praise online. Mattresses aren’t a frequent purchase, but Casper does a good job of keeping people loyal even when they’re not shopping.”
@LenKendall when you’re right, you’re really really right.
— Casper (@Casper) May 1, 2015
One example of this idea in action, outside of the world of mattresses, is education platform Teachable’s newsletter. Every week, the company shares stories from its users and community over email. Mobile marketers can make this idea their own using the many different channels of their audience outreach including push notifications, emails, and in-app messages—all tools that can be used to facilitate public praise.
Make your customers a part of your marketing to encourage brand advocacy and to give them visibility in your network (think: Berger’s principle of public observability). You’ll create stories you can share with your community along the way.
Be a source of support: provide a direct line of communication to your brand
Tip nominated by: Tom Smith, Principal Consultant at Insights From Analytics
Brand advocate for: Chipotle
Tom Smith has eaten at Chipotle “six or seven days a week for the past nine years.” And it’s not just because he loves the food. Initially, he began eating at the popular restaurant chain because of food allergies. As he got to know the brand better, he came to see Chipotle as a company that offers “quality food at a fair price.”
Now, Smith considers himself a small part of the brand, corresponding with Chipotle’s social media team on a regular basis. With this direct line of communication, Smith can actively share feedback and ideas for improvement.
@ctsmithiii Yes, it has gone well. We're gathering the learnings to inform what we might consider for the future. -Joe
— Chipotle (@ChipotleTweets) August 20, 2016
“If you have a customer who wants to engage with you, engage with them,” Smith says. “Learn all you can about them. Give them as much love as they’re giving you. The benefits will be priceless.”
If you want to see an example of this idea operationalized for mobile, take a look at the companies launching chatbots to communicate with customers. Chatbots, used well, can help audiences feel more supported, in the moment of an immediate need.
One example is H&M, which uses chatbot tech to help shoppers customize their orders and purchase products they like best. The move makes sense, given that hundreds of millions of people around the world use messaging technology to communicate. The market opportunity with chatbots is growing: Facebook Messenger announced that it would open up its platform to third-party chatbots, and Kik allows users who are messaging each other to loop brand bots into their friend-to-friend conversations by writing @ and the name of the bot (so @hm, for instance, would call up the H&M chatbot).
Think back to Berger’s point about practical value—this approach layers immediate response in a practical situation.
Be prepared for change
What’s important to remember is that brand advocacy is timeless. Technology is ever-changing: lack of predictability should be the new norm to expect. But the two steps above are critical to achieving timelessness to your world-of-mouth marketing strategy, and to build foundations for a program that outlives any shifts in technology.