Building Buzz: How to Spark Word-of-Mouth Marketing

by Dave Clarke on March 25, 2014
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Word-of-mouth advertising is 10 times more effective than a traditional ad, asserts Jonah Berger, a marketing professor and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. But, contrary to popular belief, less than 10 percent of those sought-after personal recommendations happen online.

What makes people likely to talk about your business and share your digital content via email, social media, or face-to-face? Berger and other experts have studied what influences whether or not a topic or a brand gets widely discussed.

Based on their findings, here are some tips for encouraging people to spread the word about your business online:

  1. Be emotional. In a study [PDF] looking at which types of New York Times articles get emailed most often by readers, Berger and colleague Katherine Milkman discovered that emotion, particularly awe, leads to transmission. As Berger explains it, “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.” The takeaway: If you can attach an emotion to how your products or services are perceived, you can increase the likelihood of it being talked about online.
  2. Mint social currency. Berger defines social currency “as having access that, in turn, gives a person value.” This might be something as simple as a party invitation that makes its recipient think, “I’m special, I’m on the list of invitees and others are not,” or the “secret” menu at restaurants like In-N-Out Burger. The takeaway: Creating a sense of privilege or exclusivity can improve the odds you’ll prompt word-of-mouth marketing.
  3. Use triggers. If something can prompt people to share your marketing message, that increases its chances of being shared. Berger cites a GEICO Insurance TV commercial in which a camel wanders around an office asking people if they know what day it is (i.e., Wednesday, euphemistically known as “hump day.”). Berger’s research showed that social chatter about the ad spiked on Wednesdays. The takeaway: Seek natural, organic triggers to drive discussion of your products or services.
  4. Be accessible. Berger conducted additional research with Eric Schwartz, a doctoral student, which shows that one of the important factors in determining whether or not a product gets talked about is how accessible it is. People are more likely to discuss a product that’s in front of them than one that’s out of sight and out of mind. The takeaway: Placing your product in consumers’ hands is critical to creating buzz.
  5. Combine accessibility and triggers. You can increase the odds of getting your products and services talked about by as much as 15 percent when you pair access with triggers, according to a study by the Grocery Marketing Association. The takeaway: Consider giving away branded goods, such as T-shirts, hats, or stickers.

Dave Clarke is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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