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If Your Friends Jump Off a Digital Bridge, Would You? Probably…

The people in my life have an amazing capacity of influencing my purchase decisions. If my aunt mentions the “amazing new tea” she recently purchased, I would be much more inclined to try it compared to if I just saw the ad online. Similarly, if my best friend were to describe the terrible meal she had at a new sushi restaurant, I would never visit the place. People close to us have the power to influence whether or not we engage in certain purchasing behavior and this presents incredible opportunities for marketers.

This phenomenon, known as word-of-mouth, is an effective and inexpensive promotion strategy. According to The Nielsen Company, over 83% of individuals would follow the recommendations of people in their lives (friends, family, acquaintances) when making purchasing decisions. Furthermore, 92% of people are more likely to believe loved ones over brand messages. Word-of mouth can instill brand loyalty, trust and build a community of strong advocates. In other words, people who will market your product or service for free ($$$).

Psychologist Robert B. Cialdini recognized the power of the masses in his book “Influence”. He identified multiple concepts used to impact behavior, one of which is social proof. Basically, humans rely on each other to determine how to think, act or what to believe. This is why word-of-mouth marketing is so powerful when swaying behavior. 

Brands should recognize the power of individual voices and attempt to harness the potential of word-of-mouth to influence buyer behavior. The rise of social media marketing has amplified the voices of consumers and has given each of us the power to sway and influence our community. A successful marketing strategy should try to capitalize on these digital changes. Despite the marketing opportunity of word-of-mouth, it is estimated that only 33% of brands try to use it to their advantage. There is an obvious opportunity here for many businesses.

Individuals are much more likely to influence buyer behavior compared to brands. In the past, traditional media allowed brands to control most pertinent conversations and information that was delivered to the public. The rise of social media has shifted the locus of control from the brand to the consumer. Although brands should learn to engage in conversations with customers and learn from their demands, it is undeniable that consumer generated content is more abundant and not as easy to manage compared to traditional media.

Just think about the type of accounts that you follow on social media. Most likely than not, you are following friends, family members and other internet personalities that add some sort of value to your life. It’s probable that you follow very few, if any, brands. And if you do, you likely follow smaller brands whose personalities resonate with your own.  In a recent study, 51% of Marketers determined that influencer generated content performs much better than branded content.

Digital word-of-mouth is a double-edged sword. Although it has the capacity to reach and influence many, a negative reputation can easily be instilled if brands are not careful. Hence, brands need to have an active participation online to ensure that the dialogue that occurs and the image that they are portraying is aligned with their values and purpose.

How can brands use digital word-of-mouth to their advantage?

Traditionally, word-of-mouth involved direct conversation between individuals. Social media and technology have created new communication platforms that allow individuals to directly engage with brands and other consumers. This has amplified the reach and impact of word-of mouth, and, as such, brands can utilize specific techniques to ensure that the conversations being started are convenient.

  1. Push for reviews and ratings.


Most people don’t go out of their way to talk about the positive experience they had with a product or service. However, that does not mean that they did not enjoy said experience. According to 2017 Customer Review study, people read on average 7 reviews before committing to a purchase. Additionally, people (49%) only buy products with at least 4-star ratings. Brands should encourage satisfied consumers to share their positive experiences online. In order to do so, businesses can consider exchanging some sort of discount, gift or experience to promote engagement. Although this last step may not be necessary, it can be a helpful additional push.

BeerCartel does an excellent job of collecting reviews both on their social media accounts and their website and sales are likely benefiting from reviews.

  1. Engage in conversations on social media.

A great way to get people to talk about your brand is to prompt conversations on social media. Use Twitter or Facebook to ask questions that move people and encourage participation. If reactions are positive and fun, the perception of your brand is likely to improve. Brand trust and purchase likelihood is prone to increase as well.

Netflix is known for starting conversations on Twitter to generate buzz around new movies and TV shows. Their strategy works because they actually engage in conversations and add individualized value to each user. This is an inexpensive way to engage consumers, create awareness and build trust.

  1. Encourage user generated content.

Brands can strategically use hashtags to get people to create their own content with the brands. Consumers feel connected to the brand if they are featured on their website or social media accounts and brands benefit by building a community, recognition and trust. Brands should respond to user generated content to ensure that users feel engaged. Otherwise, the benefits may not be as noticeable.

Free People encourages users to upload pictures to Instagram and feature their images on their social media platforms and website. This is an organic way of growing the brand and building relationships with top consumers. However, they don’t always respond to posts which is a missed opportunity to engage.

Word-of-mouth is an incredible marketing strategy, yet most brands are not capitalizing on its benefits. Cultivating word-of-mouth takes dedication, however, it is relatively inexpensive, and its benefits can be substantial. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by ads, the best marketing truly is the one that does not feel like marketing. As marketers, we must harness the opportunities presented by word-of-mouth and our brands are likely to benefit greatly from our efforts.

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