In his article "The One Number You Need to Grow”, Fred Reichheld suggests that the best growth predictor can be measured in a single question: would the customer recommend this company to a friend?
Even in an ever-evolving world of content marketing, nothing can replace a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source. Consumers will always value opinions expressed directly to them more than a million-dollar lucrative advertising campaign. Today's consumers are discerning about the barrage of marketing gimmicks, and their purchasing decisions are largely independent of what businesses choose to tell them about their products or services. When one willingly references a company or a product to friends, family and colleagues, one puts one’s reputation on the line. Customers are willing to risk their reputations only if they feel satisfaction and loyalty towards the company.
Only a few years ago, Tesla turned the auto industry upside down by introducing the concept of electric vehicles. Now, electric cars are not only perceived as viable but also have become much more accessible. Tesla disrupted the marketing trends in the automotive industry by sticking to word of mouth as their primary source of content marketing.
While their competitors shell out astronomical budgets on marketing campaigns, Tesla relies on an in-house marketing team of fewer than ten people. Yet, Tesla is currently selling cars faster than they are producing. Along with the powerful brand voice of Elon Musk, their secret is building a powerful community of fans and passionate brand advocates.
According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers prefer recommendations from friends and family over other forms of marketing. Unfortunately, businesses seem too caught up in collecting data, subscribers and social followers that they forget to connect with them. Ideally, a company that wants to assess a customer’s potential must include a measure of his or her ability to bring in profitable new customers.
Let us discuss three influential stages where word of mouth has the power to alter customer decisions before, during and after the buying process:
A brand is not defined by its products or services but by what it does. And what a business does is outlined by its ethos. Ethos appeals to an audience because it displays the credibility and reliability of a business. As purchasing decisions hinge on trust, a personal recommendation by a reliable person, friend or family member cuts through the noise of advertisements.
An interesting study on the effects of word of mouth on moviegoers reveals how the presence or the lack of pre-information alters consumers' perception. For the experiment, the researchers divided people into two groups who were to see the same movie. Before going in, one group was intentionally placed to overhear a positive opinion about the film by two people walking out of the cinema. In contrast, the other group was exposed to negative feedback. After the movie, both groups were asked to rate it. The group that had heard a positive word-of-mouth opinion critiqued their experience more elaborately than the other group.
Therefore, content marketers must identify ways for showcasing testimonials, reviews and feedback prominently, so they become an influencing factor in the decision-making.
Despite our predisposition towards rationale or logic, emotions drive the majority of our decisions. Pathos is a persuasive technique that evokes an emotional response in the consumer. Pathos marketing pulls at the heartstrings of the consumers, channelising their senses, memory and nostalgia.
Another elaborate research got two groups of students to try out chocolate chip cookies. One group was given a leaflet with positive statements such as "all-natural chocolate chunk cookies” or “delicious ultra-premium cookies for special occasions". The other group’s flyer claimed the cookies were "artificially flavoured chocolate chip cookies” and “value cookies for everyday use". Two undercover scientists were placed among the two groups to taste the cookies as well. Each time one of them said, “Hmm, they are actually good”, the other scientist agreed. Finally, both groups rated the cookies as tasty based on the scientists’ word of mouth, despite two different claims in leaflets.
Word of mouth combined with pathos or emotions has the power to alter the perception of a product against facts or statistics. Therefore, content marketers should use emotion-driven customer stories to create engaging content for influencing purchasing behaviour.
Infographics, surveys, charts and facts can make any information look convincing regardless of the soundness of data. Logos is the rational understanding based on logic or reasoning. Logos marketing equips consumers with the evidence and statistics to fully understand a product or service.
Like the chocolate chip cookie experiment, another study tested two groups of students, led by two undercover scientists. Researchers asked the groups to listen and judge the performance of a tape recorder. In one group, when the first scientist said, “this tape recorder has a great sound”, the other scientist agreed. They repeated the process with the second group, albeit with a twist. In the second group, when the scientist praised the tape recorder, he also added, “we use the same one in our radio station”. After the discussion, both the groups rated the product as positive, but the group that received the additional information rated it higher.
This experiment outlined the importance of consensus between two consumers in addition to word of mouth. Even more so when one of the consumers mentions his expertise. Thus, content marketers must focus on instilling logos in conversations between customers or between customers and the company so that the dialogue may be consolidated in the decision.
While incorporating word of mouth in content marketing, the following factors should be considered:
1. What is being said?
Here’s the hard truth about word-of-mouth marketing: positive feedback brings a favourable buzz while a negative personal account becomes detrimental. The content of a message must address important product or service features and other business touch-points. For this, businesses must improve their solutions, align them with what they say about themselves and what they want to hear from their customers.
2. The identity of the one who delivers the message
The authority and credibility of the one spreading word of mouth is a critical driver to its success. The receiver must trust the person recommending the product or service. This is why influencer marketing is on the rise, generating four times more impact on a recipient’s purchasing decisions than non-influencers. Evaluating and choosing the right influencer is crucial, as any misstep of the influencers brings backlash to the brands associated with them.
3. The medium of circulation
Messages passed within tight and trusted networks have a more significant impact than irrelevant channels. For instance, a business is more likely to reach professionals on LinkedIn than Instagram or Facebook. Likewise, Pinterest and Youtube will more likely offer better aid to those looking for inspiration and ideas for DIY projects than Quora or Twitter. This shows that there is a high correlation between people whose opinions we trust and the platform we most value for finding the right network.
So is word of mouth always better than the traditional content marketing approach?
Well, not entirely on its own.
First, it is slower to spread and show results. Word of mouth takes time to move from person to person and build a rapport with customers who may then recommend the products or services to their contacts. Online marketing tends to be faster and lets the brand quickly reach a broad audience at once. Word of mouth is ideal for businesses that are willing to be patient.
Second, the effectiveness of word of mouth depends on whether people around the customers are interested in similar products or services. This limits the number of customers who will potentially know about the brand's offering. Word of mouth is good for businesses that work for a small number of clients approaching them through recommendation. As for companies looking to target a large set of audiences, other forms of online marketing offer better results.
This being said, companies witnessing great results through content marketing may use the same in conjunction with word-of-mouth strategies for achieving exponential results.
Few marketing approaches match the power and impact of word-of-mouth recommendation, which, combined with content marketing, may deliver a sustainable competitive edge for a business. Businesses must create excellent content that starts a conversation and offers a platform for such discussions that generate amazing testimonials. We believe content marketing and word of mouth may be best viewed as complements rather than as substitutes.