A brand can be defined as “a name, term, design, or other feature that distinguishes one seller's product from those of others.” Sounds simple enough. But is that what a brand really is?
Consider this alternative definition from best selling author Seth Godin:
“The set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
Perhaps that’s a more accurate depiction of a brand in this day and age, since we no longer live in a time when businesses dictate their brand.
Think back to the pre-social media era and before we had 24-hour access to everything. Consider how people obtained their information on products or companies: advertising. The company chose the message that was sent out, and that’s how people learned about a service or product. Not anymore. In fact, according to consumer research from Jack Morton Worldwide, 49 per cent of people say their friends and family are their top source of brand awareness.
A brand is now defined by what other people say, and that’s where the opportunity lies.
Word of mouth marketing is one of the oldest forms of promotion. It’s also one of the most successful.
According to a study from the Wharton School of Business, a referred customer has a 16 per cent higher lifetime value than a customer who wasn’t referred. So what makes a referred customer stick around longer? The authors of the study suggest people tend to have a stronger attachment to a business if their friends share a bond to the same business.
It’s time to get your customers talking.
In order to understand why customers talk about a particular brand, or why they should share your brand, we need to understand why people share in general.
It boils down to four main reasons:
According J-P DeClerck, a marketing journalist and blogger, one of the major reasons people discuss a product and/or brand experience with others is because they want to contribute to the social group to which they belong. They want to be accepted and feel as if they are bringing something of value to others.
Humans love to tell stories. Anthropologists say storytelling is part of human existence. That we use stories to make sense of what’s around us. We simply love to share experiences and information with one another. And if the experience is positive, the story is positive.
In the same article where DeClerck discusses fitting in, he also talks about our desire to be unique. While we want to fit in, we also want to distinguish ourselves from the group. What does this mean for brands? People want talk about their unique experiences.
At the end of the day, sometimes people just genuinely love a brand and/or the people involved in the brand. Maybe they were an early adopter of the product, maybe they like what the company stands for, or maybe they just like the people that work there. In truth, being a brand that people just plain love should be the goal for most any company. It means you are doing something right.
There’s no clear-cut formula to motivate customers. This is one of the trickier questions that every business must ask: What does your audience actually want?
For every business, motivation tactics may differ. At minimum, we do know customers appreciate the following:
We live in a time where, despite the fact an individual can hide behind an anonymous Internet name, customers want transparency from brands. They want to know there are real people behind the brand and that should anything happen during the purchasing process, they will actually be able to reach a real person.
Transparency is so important that according to the 2014 B2B Web Usability Report, if a site doesn’t have contact information on it, 79 per cent of people will leave.
We don’t want to talk to a robot. We don’t want to wait on hold. We want a response online within five minutes. Consumers today want a positive customer service experience, and it’s up to brands to deliver that. If excellent service is lacking, people will go elsewhere. However a company decides to motivate its customers and get them talking is up to each individual company. But remember to tailor your game plan to your audience, your culture, and of course, your brand.
Want to be the company that sends random pizzas or the company that gives lifetime discounts for grilled cheese tattoos? Go for it. Just keep in mind these methods of motivation are how people will remember you and, more importantly, how they will talk about you. Motivating customers isn’t just about giving something away. It’s about making them feel exceptional and making them want to share their story. The next step: strategy.
Word of mouth, like any other form of marketing, requires strategy. Rather than throw a few ideas into the wild and hope people start talking, consider the following tips.
Just three per cent of customers drive 90 per cent of social engagement. Three per cent! While it’s a trivial number, it’s incredibly significant. It means that in reality, there’s a pretty small group of people who will help build your brand for you, saving you time and money. When creating your strategy, start by targeting that three per cent. They are likely the people already invested in your business and perhaps your success.
Along with customers, think about employees. The success of both of these segments is directly tied to yours. What about the brand advocates? And loyal customers who simply love your company? Devise a plan to keep them talking.
Also, don’t forget the press. Look at who has written stories about you or who has mentioned you in blogs or news articles. Consider ways to keep them interested in the company.
We know we want to start by targeting the people already talking. The key is finding them. If you’re a small business, start by setting up alerts for your brand name, product name, and perhaps for members of your executive team. You can also utilize a free tool like Mention, which also sends alerts. Next, set up searches in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to monitor Twitter and Facebook mentions.
Want to go a little deeper? Social monitoring tools like Radian6 will actually monitor your brand for you, scouring the web for brand mentions, product mentions, keyword mentions, and much more. Once you have identified the people talking about you, it’s time to create a list and mark your top targets.
Sometimes when we think about influencers, we imagine the people with the most connections or the biggest soapbox. However, when it comes to marketing and word of mouth, we don’t want people who just talk to the masses. We want people who speak to our audience.
For example, a company that markets to tech start-ups should identify people who are influential with the tech-startup crowd. Having someone in the farming business spreading the gospel about the tech world probably won’t help drive sales.
When trying to identify influencers, tools such as Klout, Followerwonk and BuzzSumo can be invaluable. Each tool has its own use, but each offers the ability to identify influencers by topic and/or identify the influence of a specific person.
Once an initial list of influencers is set, plug them into these tools to identify who you want to target first. Create priorities, timelines, and an outreach approach, which may vary from person to person.
Organization is really the key to success for most aspects of marketing. The better grasp we have on the strategy in general, the better we are able to adapt and, of course, measure results.
Take advantage of your CRM system. Keep track of who you’ve reached out to, who’s responded, what the responses have been, who hasn’t responded, and so on and so forth. This can help determine if you are in fact motivating your customers to share.
This is an on-going process. You always want your customers and other brand advocates to keep sharing and referring you to others. This is how a brand will grow and this is how a business will grow. That doesn’t meant you have to keep the same strategy, but you should always be thinking about what you can do to keep the momentum going.
Building a brand is challenging. Keeping customers happy can be just as, if not more, challenging. But customers can be your biggest fans and they can also save a brand a lot of money on marketing and advertising. Start thinking about what motivates your customers and using the information above to outline a plan that will drive word-of-mouth for your organization.
Casie Gillette is the Director of Online Marketing at KoMarketing, a B2B online marketing firm based in Boston, MA. She has been in the online marketing industry for 10 years and loves all things Internet-related. Casie regularly speaks at conferences across the country and can be found writing for marketing publications including Search Engine Land.