There’s one surefire way to build buzz for your business: word-of-mouth referrals, also known as word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.
In fact, you’ve probably heard about the concept of social proof or social currency. Essentially, both terms describe when someone shares about their personal experience with an exceptional product or service on social media, through an online review, or in real life.
Word-of-mouth referrals aren’t paid referrals, although creating an official loyalty program is certainly smart. Instead, they’re spontaneous and sparked by joy and delight.
For example, I recently joined a gym, and I can’t stop singing its praises.
It costs a little more than the gym I used to belong to, but it’s well worth it. The classes are challenging. The staff and instructors are friendly. The bathrooms stock spa-like products. Wipes and sanitiser abound—this is huge for a germ freak like me. It provides the type of experience that I want to share with everyone—in person and online.
And that word-of-mouth referral is exactly what a small- or medium-sized business needs for a marketing strategy people trust.
There are four steps to creating an experience that will have your customers swooning and telling others. Let’s examine each one in detail.
Have a killer product
Sorry, there’s no getting around this.
We’ve all heard about “lipstick on a pig” where you dress up a poor product or service with bells and whistles. But that will never work, particularly in today’s transparent world where customers will call out any company that dares to overpromise, then under deliver.
The only way to earn raves is to make your product or service rave-worthy.
For example, we know people love their Orange Theory workouts and Hydro Flask water bottles. They talk about them, tweet about them and consider them part of their own personal brand.
But can anyone possibly be that devoted to socks? Turns out, the answer is yes. If it’s the right sock.
If you think socks are just socks, you’ve probably never bought a pair of Bombas. The brand donates one pair of socks for each pair purchased, and the founder said that once one million had been donated he’d get a Bombas tattoo—ballparking the 10-year range.
But thanks to crazy brand loyalty, the one-million mark was hit within two-and-a-half years. And he has the ink to prove it.
Create a remarkable delivery experience
Let’s face it: many products at their core are commodities.
You can get a pretty decent salad or cocktail at a wide variety of outlets. That’s why one of the hottest trends in dining is customer experiences—from dining in igloos to enjoying farm-to-table food at a table that’s literally on the farm.
Yes, the food quality and service matters, but it’s the experience itself that’s making the restaurants buzzy. Those purveyors have figured out a way to deliver meals that might otherwise be similar to other eateries in a way that makes people take notice.
That’s also the theory behind pop-up shops….creating an experience specifically for customers to share with their friends, such as Dolce & Gabbana’s Soho store, dubbed “the Clubhouse for Millennials,” that encouraged customers to try on and share clothing through wild backdrops and flattering lighting.
If you’re an ecommerce business, consider delivering your product via subscription—you’ll establish a steady stream of revenue, and you’ll also get fantastic referrals as your customers share their exciting surprise shipment by telling their friends or creating unboxing videos.
The best part of these services is when you provide something a little “extra.” Think way back to what might have been one of the “original” subscription services—Netflix. When your first DVD arrived, it came with a bonus—a coupon you could give your friends for one month of free rentals. Word-of-mouth spread fast, and you felt like you were passing on a great bonus.
Subscription service Stitch Fix is known for adding that special personal touch with a note from your personal stylist who chose that month’s clothes. Even Amazon is getting in on the game with its free sample program, sure to inspire chatter (and orders) when you see what they selected for you.
Those little details are what inspire today’s tweet or tomorrow’s mention at morning coffee. Small businesses can do the same with a personal note, a coupon or even a sticker to put on their laptop.
Put customers at the centre of your service policy and people
We’ve all tried to make a return where the cashier appraises us as though surely we stole the item. As they demand your receipt and fanatically check the date, you almost feel annoyed that you shopped there in the first place.
Compare that with a generous return policy such as those offered by Nordstrom, which is truly legendary. Many of us have heard the story repeated in customer service lore of how someone returned tires to a Nordstrom store (even thought Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires).
And most of us who have shopped at Nordstrom have one of our own. For me, it was discovering a never-worn top in the back of my closet that I had totally forgotten about and being greeted with a friendly smile and a refund.
Shoe retailer Zappos aims to follow in their footsteps. When a pair of their running shoes pinched my toes, I knew I needed to send them back so I stuffed them in the box and put them by the door. Where they sat and sat. Fast forward nearly a year and those shoes were still waiting to be returned.
When I finally called to see if they would still accept them, a friendly employee asked what I needed instead and shipped me a new pair … no questions asked. You better believe I’ll purchase all future footwear from them. And so will my friends if I have anything to say about it.
Continue to surprise and delight—even after they’re on board
These days, when we receive many of our necessities via mail order, finding a parcel on our doorstep doesn’t offer the thrill it used to. Oh yeah, paper towels. But companies that are referral-worthy are those that have gone the extra mile to bring back that sense of surprise.
As a customer of Tommy Bahama, I often get a gift card in the mail right around the holiday time that offers $50 off a purchase of $100. Rather than trying to lure in new customers, it’s their way of keeping me brand loyal. Or makeup brands like Ulta and Sephora that offer a fun free gift to club members during their birthday month.
And of course, you can create the same sense of awesome customer service without giving away merchandise.
Provide fancy gift wrap free of charge (think Tiffany’s iconic blue box). Offer to carry a bulky item to your customer’s car. Throw in an extra stamp for your loyalty program. Hand a treat to the customer’s child or fur baby (with their permission) like Starbucks’ famed Puppuccino. These are the little touches that make a customer look on your product fondly–and head out to tell a friend.
The key is to remember that the relationship doesn’t stop when the sale closes. Instead, in order to reap the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing—to get customers to spread the word about your business—think of that as just the start.