Brower: Why real word-of-mouth exposure is the highly coveted marketing ideal
January 17, 2017
Word-of-mouth exposure for most of the local businesses I work with is the gold standard of marketing.
Word-of-mouth exposure happens when one person tells another about a product or service at a specific business, perhaps even referring the person to that business. This sort of exposure and referral from a friend or acquaintance is almost always a more trusted form of promotion than a paid Internet posting, a Facebook or social media plug or even a paid advertisement.
Business people really like the idea of such "promotion" because, on the surface, it appears to be "free." On the face of it, yes, such word-of-mouth exposure is usually "free." (It's pretty rare — although not unheard of — for a business to pay a person to go out and do word-of-mouth promotion.)
But the truth is that word-of-mouth comes about through a variety of ways, and some of them cost money. Some, in fact, fit into the mold of traditional advertising like a web page, paid advertising in newspaper, TV, radio or digital, or through social media postings (which are frequently placed through paid social media advertising services).
But the best way to get good word-of-mouth exposure is free. If a business offers an excellent product and an excellent service, then good word-of-mouth exposure will take place naturally. If a coffee shop has great coffee and friendly service, if a restaurant has great food and a fun ambiance or if a manufacturer makes the best widgets possible, word will get around — naturally. Top-notch quality is the best thing to have for great word-of-mouth exposure.
But is that really "free?" No, because it takes money, effort, time and expertise to offer a great product or service. This is why the most important aspect of most any business is its product or service. It must be the best it can be.
It used to be that people thought social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter were a systemized and free way to get virtual word-of-mouth promotion. Promoters of these platforms refer to it as the next best thing to word-of-mouth because the platforms allow formal linkage between friends and acquaintances, allowing them to communicate only to friends and acquaintances. But the reality today is that these platforms have become commercialized and exploited to the extent that many postings (and ads) on these sites are seen as just that — ads.
Many companies, in fact, pay people to post seemingly "natural" posts on their Facebooks feeds purely for the sake of advertisement. All that being said, social media exposure doesn't hurt for true word-of-mouth exposure, especially if it's done right.
This sort of digital word-of-mouth exposure is the motivating idea behind those bothersome review sites such as Trip Advisor or Yelp. These sites couch user comments as if they are honest "reviews" or word-of-mouth commentary. People should be wary of such manufactured methods of word-of-mouth. These systems, like any system, can be gamed, both for good and for bad.
Traditional pay advertising also is a key ingredient for gaining good word-of-mouth. A good ad in any medium can generate buzz and conversation, which results in word-of-mouth exposure. It can also reinforce company names, missions and aspirations that can reinforce a business in a person's memory. A good, easy-to-find website is also a key ingredient for developing that coveted good word-of-mouth exposure.
This all goes to say that good word-of-mouth exposure really is the result of many different tools in the marketing toolbox.
Then there's the dreaded negative word-of-mouth exposure, which can spread like wildfire and do lots of damage to a business. This sort of exposure is to be avoided at all costs because it's very difficult to counter negative word-of-mouth exposure.
The best way to get good word-of-mouth exposure is to offer continually the best service and product possible. Then the rest comes naturally, helped along by a good dose of smart marketing.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.