Word of Mouth vs. Online Presence: The Pros and Cons of Modern Marketing

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When did you last need a tradesman? Whether you needed a pipe leak plugging, a broken-down boiler repairing, a carpet cleaning or some other service for which you would turn to a tradesman, you might have asked a spouse, parent or friend for advice on who exactly to approach.

Isn’t such impromptu researching very much at the heart of word-of-mouth marketing? You could even argue that we have relied on word of mouth for recommendations since caveman times, but whether your business is effectively tapping into the power of word of mouth remains another issue.

Given the huge wealth of digital marketing tools at a modern company’s disposal, it’s easy to underestimate the importance that the human connection still plays in marketing. Is word of mouth still going strong, or has online marketing replaced it? It’s not too easy a question to answer…

A brief history of word-of-mouth marketing

Even your cavemen ancestors were probably accustomed to spreading the word about what was worth checking out. For example, one caveman probably came across a great hunting area and then broke the news to another caveman, who might have told someone else about it…

As news spread further and further, that hunting area probably became the most popular in the cave community – and without a single Facebook post, Tweet or YouTube video having been posted. However, technology has undoubtedly hugely strengthened social connectivity since those days.

As a result, if you are offering a service that has already genuinely helped many people, you can anticipate news of that service spreading – allowing you to effectively leave your “fans” to market the company on your behalf. It’s all free advertising, too – could it get any better?

Just how influential is word of mouth?

The research firm Nielsen has reported, as mentioned by Forbes, that 92% of consumers give more credit to friends’ and family members’ recommendations than to all kinds of advertising.

This statistic might lead you to assume that many firms must have rushed to utilise word of mouth’s influence, but one study tells a different story. Whereas 64% of marketing executives have indicated their belief that word of mouth surpasses all other forms of marketing in effectiveness, just 6% of marketing executives claimed to have mastered word-of-mouth marketing.

This suggests that, by acting on this marketing type’s plus points now, you could quickly get ahead of many of your competitors. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t be too quick to assume that utilising such marketing effectively would require you to stick to offline methods.

Let’s imagine that you would like to branch out into a new market. For example, if you are a plumber, you might yearn to add heating services, such as fixing and installing boilers, to your palette of tradesman services. Could offline word of mouth help you to promote your new offerings?

“A key part of reaching a new market is going digital,” counters Eric Johnson, who owns the Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency Firebrick Creative. In words quoted by Business News Daily, he adds: “Word of mouth rarely suffices in a new market, because your top promoters are likely to be in the markets you’re already in – not in the new ones.”

However, he hails digital marketing as providing “a global version of word-of-mouth advertising”. New customers can refer to the likes of online reviews and testimonials about your company to help themselves judge whether they should try your firm’s services for themselves.

Connect with, rather than simply collect, followers

You could be surprised by how many marketers fail to do this. Think about it: if you run a promotion along the lines of “follow our Twitter account for your chance to win an iPad”, you could garner thousands of followers, but how many of them could be truly interested in your brand?

It probably wouldn’t be too easy to tell; you could have ended up with a lot of synthetic fans who decide to remove you from their “following” list after the iPad giveaway’s winner is announced. You need to develop meaningful relationships with your followers, and “the three Es” could help here.

What exactly are “the three Es”? They are: Engage, Equip, Empower. Engaging is about listening to and conversing with your fans. Equipping means giving them great things – such as excellent services – to talk about. Empowering involves easing how fans can publicly enthuse about you.

If you have already carefully honed your services to a high standard, you could proactively reach out to fans, such as over social media, to address issues they still have or simply wish these people well. Also, when you launch a new campaign, make it easy for fans to share details about it online.

When you look after existing customers through these means, you could soon be rewarded with strong business growth. Entrepreneur reports that you are 60% to 70% likely to sell to a current customer, whereas that probability falls to between 5% and 20% when it comes to new customers.

The crucial difference that technology makes

We can see that, while word of mouth has long existed as a promotional tool, there are new possibilities when digital tools are introduced into the mix. If you doubt the power of the digital component even now, consider the following case studies…

After Volvo released its Epic Split video featuring film star Jean-Claude Van Damme, it clocked up over 6.5 million views and over 32 thousand shares in just its first day on YouTube. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to severely ill children, attracted 1.89 million social media impressions due to a staged event where a 5-year-old cancer survivor became “Batkid” for one day.

Statistics like this would simply not have been achievable in the caveman age. Modern technology’s power even extends to insurance; for example, after buying builders insurance from Tradesman Saver, you can see your quote, purchase and documents online at any time. There would be no need for you to wait to receive your documents in the post.

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