How to Encourage Word of Mouth
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"Word-of-mouth is the only promotion method that is both the means and the end of marketing. On one hand, it is one of the most compelling methods to communicate with customers. On the other hand, a good reputation spread by word-of-mouth is one of the goals to which organizations strive." Michael E. Cafferky
Word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) is an umbrella term for dozens of techniques that can be used to engage and energize customers. In many cases, WOM isn’t actually marketing at all. It is great customer service that earns customer respect, and it is fantastic programs and services that get customers talking about you.
WOM marketers make their biggest impact when they provide the infrastructure to help messages spread. Its recent growth as a marketing technique is largely due to the growth of the tools that we have to support WOM conversations. A special friends and family discount may be worth talking about, but it has exponential marketing power when you pack it into an easy-to-forward email. A blog is a tool that enables an organization to talk directly with clients, giving them a story to share. Online communities create a home and focus for otherwise disparate conversations. Formal evangelism programs provide the support and encouragement that keeps clients talking.
WOM includes the following techniques that get people talking about your programs:
- Solicit Testimonials
- Facilitate Viral Marketing
- Recruit Program Ambassadors
Testimonials are a silent sales force that you have more control over (once you have them in your possession) than other forms of WOM. Testimonials are powerful because they:
- Express consumer issues in the words of consumers.
- Help a new customer visualize what it will be like for them if they try your program.
- Speak in terms that other customers understand and relate to easily.
Ten Strategies for Successful Customer Testimonials
There is more to obtaining testimonials than just asking participants for their comments and feedback. Consider the following strategies to collect powerful testimonials that catch your prospect’s attention and build a relationship of trust:
Strategy # 1: Try to get a testimonial from your customer as soon as possible after the program ends. Do not wait until the honeymoon period is over. Consider having participants write the testimonial before the conclusion of their class series.
Strategy # 2: Always ask your participants to include your unique selling proposition (USP) in the testimonial. Ask your participant to attest to those qualities included in your USP.
Strategy # 3: Don’t ask for participant testimonials in survey requests. Many organizations make the mistake of sending out participant surveys to get feedback from their customers, in addition to testimonials. Your customer needs to have the freedom to stay anonymous and say negative things in your survey, which is the opposite of what you’re looking for in testimonials.
Strategy # 4: Ask your participants to be specific in their testimonials. Ask them to include specific outcomes that they received due to participation in your program, such as decreased pain, better function or more confidence in their ability to manage their disease.
Strategy # 5: Ask your participants to talk about the struggles they were having previous to receiving the benefits of your product or service. Most likely, the reader will have had the same or similar struggles and will empathize. This will only make your prospect more interested in receiving the benefits of your program.
Strategy # 6: Have your participant state their credentials. This will make their testimonial even more persuasive because their comments will be perceived to come from a credible source. People tend to believe people in positions of perceived authority as well as those who seem like them.
Strategy # 7: Try to get a picture of them participating in your program. Pictures double the effectiveness of your testimonial and bring the testimonials to life.
Strategy # 8: Make sure you get permission from your participants to use their testimonials in your advertising. Thank them profusely and let them know that testimonials like theirs help your programs grow.
Strategy # 9: Ask them if you can use both their name and the community where they live. Even if it is just the name of a city, addresses increase the believability of the testimonial. It demonstrates that they are real people who live in the same community as your prospects.
Strategy # 10: Draft a testimonial for your prospect to review. This is a controversial tactic, but it works. If your customer procrastinates, call them and mention that you know they are very busy but that you value them as a customer and their testimonial is important to you. Suggest that to save them time and hassle, you will draft a testimonial for them; they can make any editing changes they want and send it back. Be sure to include a self-addressed envelope. You get the perfect testimonial and they don’t have to do any work.
FACILITATE VIRAL MARKETING
Viral marketing includes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands of potential customers.
There are two major types of viral messages:
- Pass-along messages encourage the user to send the message to others. People respond to recommendations they receive from friends and family.
- Incentivised messages offer rewards for providing someone's address. This can dramatically increase referrals. Although it is more costly, it has been proven to be effective.
Viral marketing can begin with the e-mail database that you already maintain. Build on it when gathering e-mail addresses at events, programs and seminars. Make sure you get permission from potential participants to communicate through e-mail.
Incentivised viral messages can be sent electronically with a reply back to you or can be done in person at events or programs. The latter is the most cost-effective as you can supply the incentive to the person immediately.
RECRUIT PROGRAM “AMBASSADORS”
Develop ongoing relationships with class participants, active instructors and trainers, and invite them to help you in promoting the programs and recruiting class participants. These individuals who know the programs first-hand can be very powerful champions. Encourage them to:
- Provide testimonials that you can use in a variety of ways.
- Be spokespersons with the media as needed.
- Informally communicate the program benefits to their peers.
- Join your speaker’s bureau and make presentations to community groups using tools such as the Participant Recruitment PowerPoint presentation.
- Serve on workgroups to assist with promotional efforts.
Also consider involving professionals to build your referral team. Physicians, nurses, physical therapists, fitness experts and many others can add to your reputation. Use their influence. Give them the types of information that they love to relay to others. In order for these professional ambassadors to be effective champions in spreading your reputation, they need information. Share stories of successful program participants. Give them information about how you build quality into your programs. Find ways to involve them, to inspire them to talk about you.
To educate your professional champions, choose an orientation method that is cost-efficient, appropriate to your organization and sustainable over time. This might be as simple as distributing to them the AF program marketing brochures and flyers that they can use in their waiting rooms or can pass along to their patients.