7 Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)

Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) has become a hot topic over the past few years in marketing. The web has helped foster the explosive growth of WOM, since it’s a powerful catalyst for spreading the word to targeted individuals in mere nanoseconds! Many companies hear about “empowering customer evangelists” and they want to jump right in. Of course, it’s not that easy, but it is a powerful marketing channel that I recommend to most of my clients (if it fits). More on that later… In my experience over the past 13 years, I have seen how the power of WOM can impact a business. It can be a powerful driver of buzz and sales, to say the least. So why do some products connect with customers and others sit in what I like to call “WOM Limbo”? Let’s face it, some products seem to start a fire under customers and others wander by, simply as part of a business transaction.

So, what drives WOM in customers?

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past 4 or 5 years as WOM has grown in popularity as a marketing channel. In addition, I’ve helped clients try and harness the power of WOM to grow their own businesses and I’ve also kept a close eye on the industry. Last, but definitely not least, I’m a customer evangelist myself, and proud of it! When I find something that impacts my life, I love to tell people about it. So, my consulting, research, observations, and my own experiences as a customer evangelist helped me identify some of the key drivers that cause people to buzz about their favorite products and services. Note, this is obviously not a complete list of all drivers of WOM, but it’s a good start.

1. The “I can do that?” Factor

Meaning, a product or service enables you to do something that you were never able to do. DVR’s come to mind. How many people are ridiculously busy now with work, kids, social life, etc? VCR’s didn’t cut it, and people were not able to catch the shows they wanted to see. Hello TIVO, and now hello DVR’s from every major cable company. When I bought my first TIVO, you couldn’t shut me up. My wife literally had to put a Hannibal Lecter-looking grill on my face to shut me up! :-) Note, you can read more about my adventures with TIVO and the Comcast HD DVR here. The bottom line: Enable customers to do something that they could never do before, and it can be a huge driver of word of mouth for your business.

2. The Early Adopter

Do you know someone who always wants the latest and greatest product? I do, and these people are buzz engines. For example, they buy the latest gizmo and want to tell the world about it. iPods, iPhones, Blu-ray HD DVD players, HD TV’s, and gaming systems like Xbox all come to mind. Not only do early adopters buzz about their latest gadgets, they typically have a platform to drive the message. Can you say blogging anyone?

3. Extraordinary Customer Experiences

We all know what this means…when your experience was so good that you feel obligated to tell the world about it. For me, BuyCostumes.com, Barnes and Noble, Survey Monkey and Amazon.com all come to mind (online). Offline examples include Honda, Enterprise Rental Car, Marriott, and the Ping G5 Driver, the latest weapon in my golf arsenal. :-)

A Small Business Tangent: When I think about small business WOM, the party supply store in my town called Party and More comes to mind. It’s run by a woman (Denise) who truly gets customer service and word of mouth. The first time I was in her store, she spent time speaking with my 3 year old daughter. She gave her a free balloon and was genuinely interested in my daughter’s stories. Then, I saw Denise after my son was born and she gave me a display of balloons for my wife, and also spoke with my daughter about the new addition to our family. Actually, I didn’t even know that Denise owned the business since she was spending so much time with me and my family! Now every time we go to that shopping center, my daughter asks if we can go see “the balloon lady”. And we often do… I also jump at the chance to tell people to go there.

4. It’s So Close, You Can Taste It….So to speak.

Taste and smell are powerful senses…so it should be no surprise that people love to talk about food. Find a healthy alternative to french fries that tastes great, and you’ll probably tell 50 people about it. Or, if you are part of an online community or utilize social media sites, you might be able to tell thousands of people, and fast… For restaurants, you jump up another level…since service is now part of the picture. Now you need outstanding food and good service. Most people know that restaurants depend on positive word of mouth to survive, and negative word of mouth can put them out of business faster than you can say “Check please!”

5. Health

If a product or service positively impacts the health of customers, they tend to want to tell the world. Stories of people diagnosing a problem on WebMD, even when their own doctor didn’t catch it, will drive more people to the site. Omega 3 pills are another good example, with studies showing the impact on mood, brain power, retention, memory, cholesterol, etc. Diets are another good example, since one person that successfully loses weight can drive hundreds or more to the try the same style of diet. We’ve all seen that happen, right?

Dr. Oz on OprahOr, how about the latest craze, Dr. Oz on Oprah. Now, would Dr. Oz be as popular today without Oprah? Probably not, since she was the catalyst for his explosive growth. That’s the power of a famous influencer. More on influencers later in the post… WOM has taken over with Oz and many people are talking about him now. So, it looks like you’re not in Kansas anymore Dr. Oz.

6. The Power of Children

If it impacts your children, you’ll shout it from every mountain top. Parents would do anything to help their children. Moms and Dads are big drivers of WOM for children’s products, whether it’s toys, cribs, strollers, bedding, car seats, food, etc. Don’t believe me? Visit the babycenter forums and browse around. You’ll be shocked at how much activity goes on there…and for products you never thought existed. Well, like the Munchkin Fresh Food Eater for Babies. My son loves it…

7. It Gives You an Edge Professionally

Everyone wants to succeed at work. So, new applications, classes that enhance your skill-set, new sources of information, new ways to find leads, etc. can all drive WOM. In addition, influencers within specific verticals can drive a lot of business. If you receive an unsolicited endorsement from a key figure in an industry, watch out. Your website may go down from the explosion of traffic. Seriously, I have seen this happen and it’s amazing to watch. In addition, the people calling after reading that endorsement are typically ready to buy. They tend to feel that if John likes it, and they know John, then it’s good enough for them. That’s powerful. Note, key influencers actually apply to all categories, but my last point was focused on professional wom (i.e. a leading consultant for leadership development endorsing a new class.)

So, those are 7 key drivers of WOM. Again, this wasn’t meant to cover every driver of WOM, but it’s a start. I plan to expand on this topic in future posts, so stay tuned.

But I’d like to hear from you now. Does your product or service fit into one of these categories? Or is it in WOM Limbo for some reason? I’d love to hear your thoughts.