There are countless ways to market a business. But there’s one marketing technique that’s been around since business began. We’re talking about word-of-mouth marketing.

Not only have businesses relied on word-of-mouth marketing for literally hundreds of years, but virtually every business uses it to some extent. Some use it well. Some miss a prime marketing opportunity.

In this article, we’ll explore what word-of-mouth marketing is, why it’s an effective marketing strategies for retail stores, and several things you can do to boost word-of-mouth marketing and grow your business organically.

What is word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing happens any time an existing customer tells someone else about your business. That could be friends, family or coworkers—and what they say about you could be good or bad. (Though generally, the goal of word-of-mouth marketing is to build a positive reputation.)

People have been talking about their preferred vendors for everything from bread to specialized goods since, well, always. But how people share their recommendation has changed over time.

Today, customers share recommendations face-to-face, through review websites and via social media. Just like in-person conversations, formal reviews and off-hand comments online can be good or bad for your business.

Why should you prioritize word-of-mouth marketing?

Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most important marketing strategies for growing a business. And that’s not just our opinion. There’s plenty of research to back up our claim.

For example, a whopping 83% of people trust recommendations from friends and family.

In addition to this, people are four times more likely to buy something following a recommendation from a friend. And the lifetime value of a referred customer is typically worth 16% more than a non-referred customer.

If you can get current customers to win over friends and family, you’re golden. The challenge is creating an organic, natural buzz in our culture of social media marketing where everyone from mom and pop stores to international enterprises is trying to accomplish the same.

Here’s how you do it.

How to encourage customers to market for you

First, the bad news. Word-of-mouth marketing requires work up-front to get it going. If you’re hoping to post a couple of Instagram pictures and go viral, sorry. That’s not likely to happen.

But there is a silver lining. While word-of-mouth marketing takes work, it doesn’t necessarily require a huge capital expense. Yes, there are marketing agencies that specialize in grassroots campaigns. But if you don’t have an unlimited marketing budget, you can still create a buzz.

Here are some of our favorite word-of-mouth marketing strategies to get you started.

Put customer experience first

We’ve written before about the importance of customer service. It’s even more critical if you want to encourage people to spread the word about your retail business.

It makes sense.

If you want people to recommend you to their Facebook friends or take the time to complete a Google review, you need to make sure their experience is amazing. Your brand has to stand out in every way. Otherwise, folks aren’t going to pitch you to their contacts.

So what do you do? Go above and above. Not necessarily with services delivered. You are running a business, after all. But your customer service needs to be top-notch.

And when a customer complains, don’t panic. Instead, ask how you can make things better and try to turn a negative situation into a positive one. That’s how you turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal fan.

Set up a referral program

A referral program can accelerate your word-of-mouth marketing efforts. If someone refers you, they get some kind of perk. Maybe that’s a discount. Maybe a small service or product for free. Maybe cash.

You get to decide. Whatever you choose, the incentive acts as a concrete reward for engaging in word-of-mouth marketing. And it works.

Encourage customers to share content

Social media is an incredible tool for word-of-mouth marketers. For that reason, you should do what you can to encourage people to share posts about your business.

This creates a sense of community around your brand. Your customers get to showcase their experiences to their friends and family. (And you get some free marketing at the same time.)

If you’re wondering how to get started, consider running a competition on your social channels. Offer a prize in exchange for the best social media post about your brand. If the prize is compelling, you might be surprised at how much buzz you can create.

Ask for testimonials and reviews

A lot of small businesses miss out on the easiest way to get strong Google and Yelp reviews. Ask for them.

When a customer has a good experience, take advantage of the momentum of that moment. It’s not rude to ask them to leave a good review. It’s smart.

Worst case scenario, they’ll say no. But if they do leave a review, you’ll reap the word-of-mouth marketing rewards for months or even years.

Share customer feedback on your website

Once you have some reviews—or better yet, testimonials—you can share them on your website.

This is especially effective when your customer feedback is shared directly on the product page itself. Potential customers will be able to read the experience of real customers, increasing the likelihood they will complete the purchase.

Give your brand some personality

Have you seen how some companies have a knack for creating viral content? Have you ever wondered how they pull that off?

Admittedly, becoming an online sensation is easier said than done. But one way to help your business make its mark is to inject some personality into your marketing. Especially your social media content.

Everything from your logo to your emails to your Instagram feed should leave customers with a sense of your business’s personality. That makes it far more likely they’ll remember your content… and maybe even share it.

Three things you can do right now

We try to always include practical things you can do right now to get business growth going.

In that spirit, here are three ways you can create a little word-of-mouth marketing buzz TODAY.

  1. Share a customer review on your social media channels.
  2. Send an email to three existing, happy customers asking for a review.
  3. Brainstorm with your staff to come up with three ideas for incentives you can use to begin a basic referral program.

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