The adage goes that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. But that motto, like the types of advertising it once referred to, has now been disrupted by dozens of new digital channels that have turned traditional advertising upside-down.
It’s not just that word-of-mouth marketing is being sized up alongside digital strategies possessing unprecedented value. The very definition of word of mouth is being called into question, with marketing experts still trying to sort out what counts as word of mouth when it comes to the digital realm. As mentioned in CMO, new conversation channels like social media, video marketing, influencer marketing, and online reviews have changed the shape of word-of-mouth advertising without quite turning it into something else.
By most accounts, word of mouth is still a viable form of advertising, and it has adapted and survived in the online world. The bigger question is what those forms now look like, and how word of mouth drives value on the digital front.
Then marketers must answer an even tougher question for themselves: Is word of mouth worth pursuing on its own, or is it just a by-product of existing digital strategies?
Word of mouth still happens all the time. In fact, some of the signature campaign channels created by the internet offer a form of word-of-mouth advertising. Social media is the perfect example: Not only do consumers make direct recommendations of products, services, experiences, and the like to their friends and connections, but they can also solicit recommendations from a large audience, and start a conversation that way.
Then there are indirect forms of word of mouth to consider: Photos of fun experiences at restaurants or tourist stops, exciting updates about a new product. Facebook is the most comprehensive social network, in terms of word of mouth, because it even enables business reviews through its platform. These behaviors and interactions are so ubiquitous on social media that we tend to think of them as originating on those platforms. In reality, though, they’re just adapted forms of word of mouth.
But word of mouth can extend beyond person-to-person interactions and flex its influence through certain forms of digital content. As noted in Skift, video content has proven highly influential when trying to influence consumers through emotion, authenticity, and the quality of certain experiences.
Tourism company Lindblad Expeditions, for example, found that providing customers with complimentary photos and videos of their experiences helped them chronicle their journeys to remember and share later. Video is a powerful form of conveying experiences in the tourism industry, and emerging forms such as 360° video are making such immersive experiences even more accessible.
Not only do these initiatives build brand loyalty from existing customers, but the videos themselves can be used to reach potential new clients. It may pass through the filters of digital publishing and videography, but this is worth-of-mouth advertising nonetheless.
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Whether it’s your friend, your mother, a trusted digital connection, or a stranger via online reviews, word of mouth provides similar types of benefits that bring audiences closer to a possible sale or conversion.
As Smart Insights pointed out, word of mouth can provide an education of products or services to individuals. Through conversation, opinions and insights are more easily identified, as are the sources of those perspectives. Brands can evaluate these conversations to learn more about where they’re taking place, and why. Ultimately, this can enable the deployment of tools that make information easier to share.
It’s easy to illustrate how this might play out for a modern-day business engaging in digital marketing. A local furniture restoration company might lean on both traditional and online word of mouth to introduce and explain its services to consumers who might become customers. Through conversations, such as those taking place on a Facebook thread, interested parties can be identified.
By gathering data from these interactions, the restoration company might start to understand the demographic makeup of its target audience: their ages, their locations, and so on. The company can even use these insights to build strategies that encourage greater word-of-mouth marketing, such as using videos and written content to further educate consumers and advance a conversation.
At that point, though, marketers must decide whether they’re primarily targeting word of mouth as a marketing strategy, or simply hoping it will supplement key digital campaigns.
Ultimately, brand marketers can only build word-of-mouth campaigns if they know they’re getting value from those efforts. And since word of mouth is intertwined with social media marketing, influencer marketing, and even seemingly unrelated strategies like video content creation, any dedicated effort on this front must provide value at least comparable to what those other strategies stand to offer.
On this point, there’s good news: Plenty of data suggests that digital word-of-mouth strategies offer tangible value for brands. Word of mouth ranks as the most influential driver of purchasing decisions, edging out website information, email referrals, and online reviews, per Smart Insights. In fact, word of mouth was about 75 percent more effective than online reviews. And although offline word of mouth is generally seen as more credible than its digital counterpart, 49 percent of consumers still feel digital feedback is worth listening to.
Those numbers reflect the value of prioritizing word of mouth in digital campaigns. It doesn’t necessarily mean content and campaigns should be built from scratch with word-of-mouth marketing in mind, but campaigns should certainly rank word of mouth as a key performance indicator. And analytics tools should track metrics reflecting word of mouth success to demonstrate the value of this strategy shift to your brand.
Most word of mouth still happens offline, but that’s not a reason to ignore it as a form of digital marketing. It’s just another way brands can understand the content and narratives they’re creating online—and, more importantly, how that narrative is resonating with your audience.
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