Why Word of Mouth Marketing is the Secret Sauce You're Missing

Posted by Moises Godoy | Jun 4, 2021

Word of mouth marketing can be a game-changer for any business looking for sustainable growth. Yet, there are some aspects about it that not everybody is aware of.

Also, there are many marketers and companies that in their efforts to get the most out of their WOMM strategies, end up making some mistakes they might not even notice.

Here we talk about how you can avoid those mistakes, what you can do to get the ball rolling with WOM, benefits you can get, examples you can get inspired from and so much more.

A Little Known Benefit of Word of Mouth Marketing

When it comes to highlighting the importance and benefits of WOMM, a lot has been said about it being one of the best ways to increase brand awareness and get new customers… And that’s a fact, there’s no arguing here.

But there’s another area that not too many people mention where WOMM can help you as well: branded search traffic.

Let me get the picture clearer for you.

When a friend tells you about a product they’ve tried and loved because they know you might be interested in it, probably the first thing you’ll do is to Google it.

For example, let’s say you have a tech startup and you’re looking for a cost-effective way to get more customers.

Then one day, a friend tells you they’ve tried GrowSurf to set up an automated customer referral program. He’s excited because they’re already seeing great results with it and he recommends it.

You think it might finally be the solution that you’re looking for. So what’s your next step? Sure, you google it.

So maybe you look for “GrowSurf referral software” or “GrowSurf for tech startups” or “ GrowSurf reviews”.

On the SERP, you’ll find something like this.

referral marketing google search

And do you know what that is?

Branded search traffic.

This means that you’re adding a branded keyword to your query that references the company name directly.

A high branded search traffic volume helps you with SERP rankings because it’s as important as domain authority. If you run a word-of-mouth marketing strategy you can get it as an added value.

That’s highly beneficial because there are companies that create specific plans to increase branded search traffic.

Databox ran research among 72 people , mostly marketing agency owners and digital/tech companies. This is what they answered.

branded search traffic poll

Key Elements Before Creating a WOM Marketing Strategy

We talked about how WOM is one of the most cost-effective customer acquisition channels. So you might already be eager to try it. But there’s a fact: you can’t run before you walk.

That’s why before you decide to go all-in with a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, you should have some elements in place. Here we listed some of them and explained how they’re related to word-of-mouth marketing.  

Perform Market Research

Some people skip the market research step. They take for granted that the product or service they want to offer it’s all good how it is and doesn’t need anything else. That’s a huge mistake.

Just like customers search for product information to make sure it fits their needs, you can do it the other way. Look for buyer personas and target audience information to make sure it fits your product.

This process allows you to have certain measurements about how successful your product can be.

There are two types of market research.

1. Primary Research

Primary research is all about gathering information on your own.

There’s the exploratory primary research that focuses on learning about the problems customers may have.

On the other hand, there’s specific primary research that looks for more information about specific situations that have been identified before. This one often takes place after exploratory primary research is done.

2. Secondary Research

This is all the data available for you to back up your primary research or to draw conclusions.  They’re commonly resources like reports, statistics or sales data.

Some of the market research methods include: 

  • Buyer Persona Research

With buyer persona research you find out about the struggles your target audience has and what they need to solve them.

  • Focus Groups

This approach consists of gathering a number of people with the end goal of getting some insights from them. You can ask them specific questions, provide feedback about a product or simply give them space to share their thoughts about a certain subject.

  • Observation Research

With the observation research method, the researcher observes how their target audience behaves when using their product or service.

  • Public Domain Data

As its name indicates, this is the data available for everyone. This can be polling data, social surveys, public access reports, government databases, etc.

By this point, you’re probably asking: how is this related to word-of-mouth marketing? 

Well, the answer is simple: you need to have a solid knowledge foundation for whatever product/service you plan to offer. To make that possible, you have to be aware that it all starts by listening to what people want and need from the beginning.

So, meeting all the criteria your customers need, will make them more likely to spread the word about what you do for them.

This leads us to the second point: product quality.

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A High Product Quality

Providing a high-quality product or service has a strong positive influence on any business and it should be always a primary goal.

This is something that John Frigo agrees with. He’s the Digital Marketing Lead of Best Price Nutrition .

John shares “To me, word of mouth marketing is less about marketing and more about how you run your business. If you go over the top to help your customers and provide value, people are inevitably going to spread the word about your business but it’s not something that can necessarily be communicated with a marketing plan.”

He’s very aware of what makes their customers recommend them. He says “We get a lot of people referring friends and gym buddies to our brick and mortar stores and the most common reasons being:

1. Our staff are very knowledgeable about supplements and fitness so they get in-depth knowledge of products and supplements and how to use them 

2. We have a huge selection. These things aren’t necessarily considered “marketing” but are probably the most important element to our word-of-mouth referrals.”

An Outstanding UX and Customer Support

Both are important factors for word-of-mouth marketing success. Primary and secondary research will help you know whether you’re doing a good job at providing a good user experience and customer support or not.

Usually, when we talk about customer experience we think of the online space. But it’s not limited to it. That’s the case of Wes Jacobs, founder of Apollo Medical Travel who knows how important taking care of customers is. Especially in such a delicate area as the healthcare industry.

He says” Our word of mouth marketing strategy is to provide outstanding, personalized customer experience. For example, when a patient from Texas booked a surgery in Costa Rica, I sent a bouquet of flowers to her home wishing her safe travels and a speedy recovery. That simple act generated confidence, reviews, and referrals.”

There are many ways you can improve customer support and UX. Yet, we listed 3 that are effective and you can implement them right away.

  • Customer feedback

With customer feedback, you get honest opinions. Listening to what the customers have to say will always make the path easier towards improvement. Doing it from a genuine perspective and regularly is key to keep them happy.

  • Be active where they are

Customers don’t have to beg you to make your communication channels easier. Instead, you should always be looking where they’re hanging out and be there for them. This may look different for every business, but it usually includes social media and email.

  • Personalization

Tailoring the interactions and overall experience you provide to each customer will always bring benefits for both parties. When you approach your client in a personalized way, you become closer and more familiar with them.

Automation software is your best ally to make personalization easier for you.

One of the best channels to implement personalization is email. For example, if you run a referral program you might find helpful How to Write a Referral Email Your Customers Will Love.

Make Sure You Have High Customer Retention

Your customer retention doesn’t have to be extremely high, especially not if you’re a startup. However, it has to be on a decent level.

These are some customer retention stats that Semrush gathered:

  • 44% of businesses focus on customer acquisition, while only 18% focus on customer retention.
  • 89% of companies say that excellent customer service plays a huge role in customer retention
  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is between 60% and 70%.
  • The probability of selling to a new customer is only between 5% to 20%.
  • Increasing customer spending by 5% can raise profits by 25% to 95%.

Now, why should you care about customer retention before implementing a WOMM strategy? 

Well, customer retention is what allows you to deepen the relationships with your clients. So for example, if you have a high churn rate, there’s no space to nurture that bond.

Hence, the higher brand loyalty your customers have, the higher is the chance for them to recommend your product.

To improve your customer retention, you can put into practice these tactics:

  • Keep track of churn metrics
  • Educate customers about your product/service or industry
  • Build a community
  • Offer incentives
  • Create a customer retention program

How You Can Start With WOMM

There are many ways you can incentivize word-of-mouth marketing. Some are more expensive than others and require a little bit more effort, but here’s a list of some easy tactics you can get started with.  

User-Generated Content

Let customers take the lead and do a part of the work for you. That’s what user-generated content is all about. It helps your brand with authenticity and influences customers’ purchasing decisions.

Freelance Writer for SaaS and e-Commerce, Ashley R. Cummings says “One of the most relevant ways to boost word-of-mouth marketing is to invest in user-generated content (UGC), specifically content from well-known social media creators.

The more you do to build relationships with powerful influencers, the more people will start to recognize your brand. I've seen a lot of success from brands that implement UGC directly into their product description pages, including user reviews, social posts, videos, and more.”

Use Emotional Marketing

Focusing on establishing a connection through emotions is something that many marketers do. There’s data that explains the reason behind it.

For example, at least 95% of purchase decisions are determined by subconscious factors. That’s why running persuasive and emotional marketing campaigns is so effective.

Michael Hammelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group has seen results by using emotional marketing. He says “ We were successful at increasing perceived value these days by having brand appeal to multiple channels and platforms.

This year, there are more persuasion tactics applied to influence product purchases through information that provokes them to take action. It's been very influential in consumer psychology and behavioral economics.

This pandemic season when most consumers turn to online stores, businesses are employing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

In a nutshell, it explains why cognitive bias occurs when a product that a target market has just noticed online or heard through word-of-mouth marketing suddenly crops up constantly. A more consistent presence in different channels makes a brand more trusted for obvious reasons.”

Use Visual Triggers

Visual content can’t be taken for granted. Everything from colors, graphics, videos and unique images will have an impact on your customers.

Not only it gives you the chance to differentiate your brand from others, but also to be more memorable.

Rahul Mohanachandran, Head of Marketing at the UK-based furniture comparison platform
Kasera , agrees with this.

Especially when you’re looking to highlight something specific about your product or service, visual content is key.

Rahul says “One of the core elements to create word-of-mouth marketing is the subject that you want people to talk about. In the digital marketing world, it is the high visual content that people like to share and talk about.

This can be anything from a cute video of a scenic place to a video of a product that solves a very popular problem. When the content makes the person look more knowledgeable or simply cool they tend to share with others.” 

Get Brand Ambassadors

Finding someone who represents what your brand stands for and places your company in front of a large audience is a great way to support WOM.

This is something that VP of Growth Marketing, Marquis Matson does at Sozy .

She says “We have created a robust micro-influencer marketing strategy that uses WOM principles to drive engagement and sales. We have a team that targets a very specific kind of micro-influencer, reaches out to them, and invites them to be a brand ambassador. When they share content on their Instagram or blog, they receive a gift card to our shop.

We also invite the ambassadors to contribute to the blog. This not only helps build our content, but also gets them excited to share our content with their audiences.”

If you’re interested in learning about this approach, we have a dedicated post where you can learn more about how to choose brand ambassadors.

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Run a Pop-Up Shop

Pop-up shops are temporary stores that can vary from one location to another. Their goal is to increase brand awareness and drive more sales.

This is a common strategy that small and independent businesses implement. It’s very cost-effective because it gives you many benefits like:

  • The opportunity to know more about your customers and their product or location preferences
  • Provide a different experience
  • You can make a partnership with other brands
  • Offer unique products for a limited time

All of it without actually having to invest in a new store. And of course, besides that you also get profitability.

Customers love pop-up shops, especially because they often find unique products and exclusive experiences . As well as the opportunity to support local businesses.

The simple fact of being in a new location with a pop-up shop providing a different experience increases your chances for word of mouth to happen quickly.

Try Experiential Marketing

With experiential marketing, you encourage customers and your target audience to interact in real life with your business. Ideally, you want to build an experience based on what you’d like your audience to associate your brand with.

It doesn’t need to have sales as an end goal. An example of that is the Impact Challenge Bay Area by Google which is an opportunity for organizations across the Bay Area to submit their ideas to address some of the most challenging issues in their community.

 5 projects are selected to receive $1 million funding from Google.

The experiential part comes at the time of voting. In 2015 Google placed some interactive posters across the city where people could vote for their favorite project.

experiential marketing example

Image Source: Trisparker

The takeaway of this initiative is how Google wanted to be more involved in social causes and how their marketing efforts were made towards that.

If you want to learn more about effective WOM practices, you can read our post about How to Hack Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy: What Really Works

Examples of Successful Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies

These are some companies that have nailed their word-of-mouth marketing strategies.


John Ross, CMO of Test Prep Insight says “In terms of campaigns that have impressed me, I think one of the best word of mouth marketing strategies I have seen has been carried out by Yeti, the cooler company.

word of mouth marketing example

Image Source: Yeti

People absolutely love their products and can't stop talking about them anytime they are asked about them. I think what drives this is the fact that their products speak for themselves. They are different, cool and perform insanely well. So essentially Yeti lets the quality of their product do the talking for them.” 

Coca Cola

Their “ share a coke ” campaign was a total success. It was simple but very powerful, customers had the chance to print their names on a Coke bottle.

coca cola word of mouth campaign

It all started in Australia in 2011. When asked about what inspired the campaign, Lucie Austin who was director of marketing for Coca-Cola South Pacific at that time said:

“Our research showed that while teens and young adults loved that Coca-Cola was big and iconic, many felt we were not talking to them at eye level. Australians are extremely egalitarian. There’s a phrase called “tall poppy syndrome.” If anyone gets too big for their boots, they get cut down like a tall poppy. By putting first names on the packs, we were speaking to our fans at eye level.”

Takeaway: they used social listening and found out people wanted to feel closer to the brand.


In 2013, Pinterest ran a localization campaign named “Pin It Forward” in the UK.

In an email sent to TechCrunch , the company said “UK Pinners and pins will be suggested to UK users on the site. Also, when a new person in the UK joins Pinterest, they’ll now see other Pinners in the UK. In addition, search results will feature more UK content.

Finally, Pinterest is making sure that people in the UK can access the service in British English. We’re hoping this will lead to more British pinners discovering things they love on Pinterest.”

They used user-generated content to improve the experience for UK users.

Pinterest explained “Each day 10 or so bloggers will post about their passion, describe how they express it on Pinterest, and introduce the set of bloggers for the next day. Pinterest will be promoting Pin It Forward UK on its blog, social channels (using #PinItForwardUK) and will also be featuring the best boards as part of the Pinterest Weekly emails.”

Viral Marketing vs. Referral Marketing vs. Word of Mouth Marketing

These three terms are usually misinterpreted or confused. Here’s the difference between them.

Viral Marketing

Viral marketing refers to the content that spreads quickly, usually across social media. The key differentiator here is that you can’t plan or predict viral content, it just happens naturally.

Referral Marketing

With referral marketing, you bring in new people to your business because it is supported by incentives or rewards.

Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth marketing is the organic result of combined efforts like product quality, customer support, unique experience, etc.

Myths and Mistakes About WOMM

As it’s a very used practice, word of mouth marketing has some myths and mistakes. To get through some of them, some experts shared their insights with us. Here’s what they said.

1. Not all publicity is good

Organic word of mouth can have a positive or negative impact. That’s why you should be careful and stay on top of it.

Bryce Welker, CEO of CPA Exam Guy says “The biggest myth about WOM marketing is that any publicity is good publicity. This is not the case at all. WOM brand mentions can work against you if all people do is trash your product or service.”

He continues “People often make the mistake of assuming that WOM marketing is something that can be left to its own devices once you have gotten a bit of a buzz.

You need to stay on top of your brand image and mentions and, importantly, engage with people who are mentioning your brand, both positively and negatively, to get the most out of WOM marketing.”

2. Thinking there’s only one way

To Andrea Bosoni, founder of Zero to Marketing , one myth about WOM is thinking that there’s nothing you can do to incentivize it.

He says “I’ve heard many times that the only way to get word of mouth is by having a great product.

While that’s certainly important, there are a number of things you can do to accelerate the process. One thing that comes to mind is implementing a solid referral program that rewards both referrer and referees”

3. WOM works only if you have years in business

Thomas Geib, Real Estate Investor of Connect Home Buyers shared his insight.

“A myth that exists about word-of-mouth marketing that is not true is that ‘You need to be in business for years to start to get referrals.’ This is not true; as a matter of fact, we have gotten several deals from word of WOM within a very short period of time.”

4. Asking customers directly to spread the word

Geib also shared a common mistake people make with WOM, he explains “You will want to avoid directly asking for your customers to spread your name. If you have to ask, you must have something wrong with your product or service that needs to be addressed first.”

5. Not practicing what you preach

Courtney Quigley, Business Reputation Consultant of Rize Reviews considers this as a mistake. She says “ Every customer interaction is different – but should be treated as an opportunity to impress.

It's about being in the mindset of striving for excellence in every situation and always putting the customer first”

6. Considering that WOM is not calculable or trackable

This is a myth Nicholas Yap of NightOwl considers is not true. This is what he thinks “I would say that it is! With the advent of social media and forums, setting up a social listening suite is essential. Such software can scan, extract and analyze a Brand’s image in a matter of minutes.

Though it obviously does not track in-person conversations, this is a barometer as to how the general public views the brand.”

7. Forgetting about your existing customers

Maybe in your endeavors to improve your product to get new customers, you forget about the existing ones.

This is a mistake according to Sonya Schwartz, founder of Her Norm . She says ”Concentrating on getting new customers. Focusing so much on how to generate new leads sometimes makes us forget those that are already existing.

With that, they will feel unimportant, thus making them stop supporting the brand. If you sum it up, the new customers gained vs. the current customer left will only give a breakeven result or, worse, damage.

Being complacent after having its positive effects. Consistency is the key. It doesn't mean that people who support and promote you already will never be disappointed. You have to ensure that the things you do during day one will still be consistent even after many years have passed.” 

8. Presenting yourself as the best solution

It can be very tempting to talk about your product or service and try to convince people it’s the best one. However, the goal of word of mouth is to make it happen naturally and let customers confirm that by themselves.

Jane Budzhyna, marketing manager at Better Proposals says “The biggest mistake by far is focusing on pitching yourself as the best solution to a problem - people need to see that naturally.

I think we have a pretty good word-of-mouth marketing strategy that brings in lots of solid leads - we do it by participating in a variety of communities and helping out businesses and freelancers on everything regarding sales, marketing, development and overall business growth.”

Your turn to give WOMM a try

Word of mouth marketing results will depend on the type of business you run, the audience you have and the strategies you decide to use to incentivize it.

You can plan a word-of-mouth marketing strategy, set some goals for it and yet be surprised at the other multiple benefits it can bring to your business. Maybe you see results that you didn’t expect or even consider in the first place.

For example, as we discussed in the beginning, you could have set a goal to get new customers and instead you get an increase in branded search traffic.

In conclusion, WOMM is more relevant than ever and there’s a world of possibilities, you just need to take that first step towards it. One of the best ways to do so, is by running a referral program.

Growsurf is a complete referral software that makes it easy by providing you all the tools you need. Start your free trial today!

Request a demo of GrowSurf

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