If you run a small business, or you’re tasked with marketing a business, the best tool you have is word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth (WOM) is simply one acquaintance telling another just how good your products or services are, and it works.

In fact, WOM works extremely well for numerous reasons:

  • First, it’s free advertising, and if you’ve checked ad rates for newspaper placements or web-based marketing you know that advertising can be expensive.
  • WOM is reliable. It comes from a trusted source – a friend, your spouse, a neighbor, co-worker or some other source in whom you have trust. You’re much more likely to see a movie recommended by a friend than one that gets a glowing review online.
  • Word of mouth is viral. It spreads on its own as one person tells another and that person tells all of her friends. WOM can spread exponentially as more and more people hear about the latest and greatest from friends and family.
  • WOM is “sticky.” You’re more likely to remember one recommendation from a neighbor than a TV ad that you’ve seen a dozen times. Why? Because friends share good news. TV and print ads have a different agenda. They try to sell you something without knowing much about you.
  • Finally, word of mouth advertising is easy to create IF you deliver the products or services that people expect. The downside to WOM? If you don’t deliver to expectations, bad WOM spreads just as quickly as positive WOM. Negative WOM can destroy a business – your business.

How to Create Positive WOM

The first step in creating positive word of mouth is to encourage your target market to try your products or services. People don’t recommend products they haven’t tried.

  • So, offer free samples, a free consultation, a free analysis – a free something that gets prospects talking about your business. Car dealers offer free tire rotation because it creates goodwill with their customer base. So, initially, give it away to get the word out there that your business delivers quality products or services.
  • Next, turn your prospects into stakeholders. We all like to be the first to “discover” a new product or a new service that we know others will also enjoy. It makes us feel like insiders.  Create a forum, a blog or some other means to make buyers feel like stakeholders. This creates brand loyalty.
  • Next, deliver on your promises. Deliver the quality. Meet delivery schedules. Respect the needs of prospects and do whatever it takes to create happy consumers – consumers who will talk up your business with others who’d be interested in knowing more about what your company does.

Starbucks® is the perfect example of a company that delivers and respects its customer base. You can buy coffee at a lot of places for less than you pay at Starbucks for a $5 latte ­- but you may not get the service, the quality of the coffee beans and the cushy sofas and chairs Starbucks offers its customers. Who’d spend $5 for a cup of coffee? Millions of loyal Starbucks customers every day.

  • Fix broken business relationships. Bad word of mouth is corrosive. It turns prospects into critics who tell others about their disappointing experiences with your retail outlet or service company. And one critic can do more damage than a single bad review because, again, WOM can spread like a virus from one potential buyer to another.

Even if you lose money to fix a bad customer or client experience, it’s probably money well spent. By fixing it, you may turn critics into a powerful sales force that delivers more and more customers and clients as word spreads about the quality of your business. In fact, a critic who’s converted to a satisfied customer may be more dedicated to spreading positive WOM because your business took the time and made the effort to make things right.

And that’s something prospects, customers and clients remember. You went the extra mile.

Bottom line on WOM? Your company’s bottom line. WOM is free, and it works. Use it to your advantage and grow your business with lower marketing costs and higher numbers of repeat buyers.  That’s the definition of business success.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC