Employing Word-of-Mouth Marketing

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Some companies choose to not advertise, instead relying on the power of their reputation to draw in consumers. As an independent IT professional, you likely do not have the budget to launch a large-scale marketing campaign — a lack of advertising is not a luxury as much as it is a reality.

Spreading the word about your killer IT skills does not necessarily require billboards, TV commercials or radio spots, though. Rather, word-of-mouth marketing often works wonders to establish and build a professional reputation.

As an added bonus, it’s free. In fact, that’s integral to the success of word-of-mouth marketing, said Joe Chernov, director of communications for BzzAgent, a Boston-based marketing and media firm that is member of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

“Best practices for word-of-mouth marketing include engaging only volunteers,” he said. “To be more specific, never pay anybody, never require anyone to do anything — just let people who naturally want to help you help you.”

In regard to the volunteer aspect of word-of-mouth marketing, Chernov emphasized the importance of honesty.

“This is beyond a best practice — it’s a must practice: For anybody who volunteers to help advocate for your service or your brand, make sure they disclose they’re part of an organized program, if such a program exists,” he said. “It’s very important for them to let others know that they’ve been engaged for a particular purpose.” Chernov said establishing this credibility transcends business matters, that it’s really a matter of common decency.

“For word-of-mouth to be effective, it requires trust between the word-of-mouth participant and the person with whom that individual is speaking. Letting others know you’re part of an organized program complements or contributes to that trust,” he said. “Nobody wants to feel they’ve been had, and if you are being stealthy about engaging in a program, and your conversational partner finds out, it can do a lot of damage both to your reputation as a word-of-mouth participant, as well as to the brand that’s engaged you.

“So, there are ethical reasons — it’s simply the right thing to do — and there are real, practical business reasons for it. Word-of-mouth travels 70 percent further if word-of-mouth participants disclose their affiliation. That research comes out of Northeastern University.”

With full disclosure of participation in a word-of-mouth marketing effort, it is also important to be 100 percent honest in regard to the service, person or product being marketed.

“Allow the individual who’s spreading word-of-mouth for your service or your brand to say both positive and negative points of view,” Chernov said. “In other words, don’t author their opinion for them but encourage them to share their honest opinion. Fellow consumers know that no product is perfect, no service is perfect, but credibility is based on an honest blend of positive and negative.”

Another crucial element or best practice for word-of-mouth marketing is a simple one: express gratitude to those who help.

“Give back to the consumer who participates and give back in terms of thanks and appreciation and encouragement,” Chernov said. “You don’t have to give back in terms of cash — that adulterates the whole system. What the system is based on is the surprising realization that consumers really want to help companies they do business with. So, if they step up and raise their hand and say, ‘I’d like to help,’ then make sure you pay attention to the fact that they are helping, give them thanks and encouragement, and let them know that it’s a two-way street — if they have positive or negative feedback, acknowledge it, thank them for it and, if the feedback is meaningful, factor it into your business. There’s no better way to keep people engaged than keeping a dialogue with them.”

And technology can be word-of-mouth marketing’s best friend, Chernov said.

“Word-of-mouth can begin as simply as saying, ‘If you liked this product or service, tell a friend’ or a Web site that has a ‘Refer a friend’ button that a visitor to the site or customer can go to — go back to site, give some feedback, click on ‘Refer Friend’ and forward it to somebody else, saying ‘Hey, I had a great experience with this company,’” he said. “It could be that simple, at least out of the starting blocks. You’ve got to just give your customers the tools to tell other people about you.”

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