According to the Nielsen Global Trust In Advertising Survey, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends. That means if you aren’t receiving word-of-mouth recommendations for your business, you’re missing out on the single most effective and trusted means of attracting new clients. And despite the prolific influence of social media on modern society, an extensive fact base has been established by marketing researchers that reveals that the vast majority of sharing of information about brands is actually offline, rather than online. While going about our day to day, we engage in many conversations that often lead us to the exchange of ideas regarding brands, products and services – sometimes those recommendations are obvious in our conversations, yet other times extremely subtle. According to research, “more than two-thirds of those conversations we participate in involve a recommendation to buy, consider or avoid a brand.” Therefore as you can see, word-of-mouth communication is a critical part of the consumer decision making process.

Why is word of mouth so powerful in comparison to traditional advertising? I see the two key factors being trust, and consumer targeting.

Trust: Not surprisingly, we trust our friends more than we trust billboards. We know brands pay to place their ads in print, online and broadcast platforms. We are acutely aware that advertorial recommendations are coming from the brand itself. Ads will always provide a glowing product or service review – brands don’t provide a fair and balanced review of themselves, the good with the bad. And because ads are just that – ads – we tend to take them with a grain of salt.  Our friends, however, will tell it to us straight. They have no ulterior motive to tell us whether they believe a brand is useless, or fantastic, and as a result we’re more likely to take on their recommendation as a genuine, unbiased and accurate. The bottom line is consumers trust fellow consumers, while we highly likely to treat brand-led advertising with caution and skepticism.

Better Targeting: Word of mouth is also a much more targeted form of marketing. For instance, if you are selling baby shampoo, in targeting your message at potential customers you might choose to advertise on TV during morning programs when you predict your target consumer is most likely to be watching – you would be operating under the assumption that many women with young babies may be “stay at home” mothers, who watch day time television. Yet while a segment of the audience you actually reach may in fact be in the market for baby shampoo, many may not. Ultimately you cannot accurately predict your viewership, it’s more of an educated guess. Word of mouth however, is much more focused. A friend is less likely to pitch to you the technical advantages of their new Macbook Pro unless they know the conversation is somewhat relevant to your interests and lifestyle. Friends and colleagues share common bonds, meaning that if your product appeals to a particular individual, it is likely to also appeal to his or her close network of peers.

So how can you as a brand harness word of mouth and leverage it to your advantage?

  1. Start by investing in building relationships with the people that matter most, giving them words to share, and making it easier for them to spread those words for you.
  2. Be sure to specifically request referrals from happy customers and client, they will be your best and brightest advocates.
  3. Additionally, foster positive word of mouth within your own business network, through suppliers, strategic partners and business associates, to ensure those who understand your brand and share buy-in can also spread positive and accurate messaging within fertile networks where new business opportunities exist.