Monday, 10 February 2014

Word of mouth is not dead - it's digital

Word of mouth has long been the cornerstone of many marketing strategies, based upon the understanding that anything between 20 and 50 percent of purchasing decisions are influenced by recommendations of other customers.

But with the rise of internet usage generally, and social media in particular, the challenge now has to be how do we make word of mouth digital?

The challenge is a real one: having a great website and a social media presence is simply not enough:
  • There are currently around 1 billion websites globally and this is expected to double in the next two years.
  • Research would indicate that around 80% of website visits are a result of searches, not recommendation or advertising.
  • Social media is generally seen as a trusted source of sharing and accessing product and service recommendations, with Facebook popular with consumers and LinkedIn with commercial decision makers.

It’s no surprise therefore that marketers are increasing diverting spend into SEO and social media. However, there are three things that marketers need to understand in order to achieve high levels of digital word of mouth:
  1. It’s quality, not quantity when it comes to content. If we understand that most websites are visited as a result of a search and that increasingly searches are being done in the form of a question - how do I?  where can I? what is? - then it makes sense that your content strategy must reflect this. Helpful, instructional/educational and unbiased content that answers the questions asked by target customers is essential.
  2. Customers inhabit ‘networks’ online. It’s simple really: there are so many sources of information online that customers are increasingly seeking out like-minded others and sharing news, views and opinions within a series of networks or groups. The key for marketers is to understand the networks inhabited by their target audiences and to join them there. Or, even better, build networks that audiences want to join.
  3. Build engagement and promote sharing.  Focus on recruiting online brand advocates and understand what motivates your target audience to share content/make recommendations.  Consider incentives for sharing in the short term, but ensure that your content remains aligned to your customers’ interests and is worth sharing - not just by the reader but for your brand. Pictures of cats are highly shareable but not necessarily the right association for your brand. Look into crowd-sourcing and online customer panels/testing as a way of showing that you listen as well as preach.
The message is simple: marketers have traditionally prided themselves on understanding their customers; creating digital word of mouth is no different.