Consumers are jaded. This is probably not news to you, but it’s a fact that deserves your attention.
To borrow from Public Enemy, we don’t believe the hype. We tune out the thousands of advertising messages we encounter every day, and when we do pay attention we can usually see through them, meeting their overblown claims, promises, and emotional pleas with cynicism.
With general skepticism surrounding consumerism, it’s no wonder we rely more heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations before purchase.
When it comes to actually dropping scrilla on a new pair of bedazzled jeans, it’s not the commercial or magazine ad that seals the deal. It’s a Facebook post linking to the company’s website, or a neighbor who says the denim is available in in your favorite rhinestone colors. Consumers rely heavily on recommendations from friends, family, and online reviews before purchases.
Enter Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM)
WOMM isn’t a new marketing mode by any stretch, but it’s an approach worth developing as more consumers turn to the web for product research.
According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, WOMM is about “giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.” When consumers are interested in your brand and understand how your product works, they’ll be more likely to make on- and offline recommendations. WOMM, in essence, is a product of an engaged and informed consumer base.
You can’t buy WOMM, but you can create campaigns and outlets that set it in motion. As a somewhat cynical consumer, that’s something I can get behind.
Read on for examples of educating and engaging your customer base for better word of mouth marketing.
Get People Talking
In 2010, apparel e-tailer ModCloth was a number one Google search result for the terms “indie clothing, retro clothing, and vintage outfits,” according to their Inc. 500 profile. Today, in 2012, they’re still the top result.
Among the web’s fastest growing companies, ModCloth sells vintage-inspired garments and independently designed clothes befitting the closets of Zooey Deschanel types. Based on their site’s aesthetic, their products, and their J. Peterman-inspired product descriptions, I’d guess that ModCloth’s target audience of 18- to 30-year-old style-conscious women tend to value novelty, creativity, and do-it-yourself culture. They’re looking for cool, expressive attire they won’t find at the mall.
ModCloth knows their people well. The company actively connects with customers through their blog, which showcases the latest in independent fashion, music, books, and crafts. They also crowdsource some of their fashion offerings through the successful “Be the Buyer” program. Customers comment on and vote for their favorite clothing samples, and winning pieces are produced and sold on the site.
You can’t be ModCloth, but you can find a way to engage your customers by giving them a space to talk about their interests. Creating the right online communities and programs for your brand will increase consumer involvement, foster brand loyalty, and set the stage for word-of-mouth recommendations.
Two Heads Are Better than One
Collaborating with another company to connect with your consumer base is another way to engage and educate. Well-matched partnerships can also reach new groups and create new waves of WOMM recommendations.
In its online case study library, Word of Mouth Marketing Association provides an example of a successful collaboration between Microsoft Windows and Holland America Cruise Lines.
Together, the companies offered “Digital Workshops” on the cruise line for 55- to 70-year-old “empty nesters”–a group traditionally left off the technology bandwagon. The free service provided guests with tutorials in photo editing, movie making, and blogging on the Windows platform. By offering these useful, relevant sessions, participants could “enhance and extend the vacation experience.”
Everyone wins in this kind of successful collaboration. Windows “acquires nearly 3,000 Windows Live IDs from program participants.” Holland America gets to host the workshop without paying for laptops, materials, course content, or instructors. And in terms of WOMM, participants have an experience they can recommend to friends and family.
Tell It Like It Is
Last, but certainly not least, you can stoke the embers of WOMM by providing customers with helpful, informative content. Quality product descriptions, how-to guides, blogs, videos, and reviews can be powerful tools for you and your customers.
Relevant content empowers consumers and lowers return rates and negative feedback. It also encourages people to share your materials and their knowledge of your product, leading to word-of-mouth recommendations. Leave the smoke and mirrors to television and print and give us the skinny. We’ll be more likely to try (read: buy) something that we can understand.
Case in point: As a metalsmith hobbyist and jewelry maker, I buy a lot of supplies from Rio Grande, one of the largest and most respected jewelry supply companies in the US. I also turn to them to learn about metalsmithing techniques and tools of the trade. Their site features a “Learn with Rio Grande” section and simple search options that allow you to refine your results by media type, end result, difficulty, and technique.
Because of these informative sources on Rio Grande, I’m encouraged to try a new product or start a project I might not have previously considered. I think the site could use better product descriptions (hear me, Rio Grande?) and linking between product pages and the Learn with Rio section, but in general, their educational content is a huge service to makers like myself.
The Ping Takeaway
Get consumers talking about your interests–your brand–by talking with them about their interests.