The Complete Guide to Word-of-Mouth Marketing


Before the internet, before social media, before digital TV and radio, there was word of mouth.

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The power of a single human talking about your brand to their friends has been the most consistently powerful form of marketing communications for over 200 years. This guide explains why:

People believe their friends and family more than anyone else — and that’s not going to change any time soon.

In other words, you can’t afford NOT to understand this.

Using the right tools, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is a highly cost-effective way to generate leads for your business, get better engagement with your existing customers, and increase brand awareness.

 If done correctly, it will help you cut through all the digital noise and reach potential customers who are out there looking for your products and services.

So, What’s Word-of-Mouth Marketing?

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Simply put, it’s the act of getting a customer to refer your product or service to other people. In most cases, these are folks they know and trust — friends and family members. 

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And this is where an often-overlooked aspect of WOMM comes in: It’s not about creating new customers only…

…but also about increasing engagement with existing customers and getting them to refer their friends, colleagues, family members in your direction.

How’s Word of Mouth Different from Referral Marketing?

Word of Mouth is a broader term. It can include referral marketing (referral programs), viral marketing, and grassroots advocacy.

Confusing? Don’t worry, we’ll demystify it all in this guide…

But to differentiate between the two, we’ll stick with Word-of-Mouth Marketing or WOMM for short.

The Power of Word of Mouth has Never been Greater!

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Word-of-mouth has never been more powerful than today. Here’s why:

No matter who you are — a Supermarket shopper, an online customer, an app user, someone who shops at retail stores or travels on a budget — there’s a high chance that you are part of a more connected world.

Why? Social media has influenced every aspect of our lives: from the way we spend money and shop to the way we choose vacations. According to research by eMarketer, over 4.66 billion people are connected to the internet as of January 2021.  Women are the majority, accounting for 54% of social media users.

And these numbers will only grow. By 2021 it’s estimated that over 5 billion people — about two-thirds of all internet users — will be active on at least one social network. 

Yes, you read that right: 6 out of 10 people online!

The bottom line: What your business needs most right now is real human connection and interaction. And WOMM can help you do just that…

Social Media as a Marketing Hub for Word of Mouth?

According to Nielsen, the influence of word-of-mouth marketing on consumers has increased by 70% over the past three years. But it gets better:

According to the same research, social media has become an important factor in word-of-mouth marketing.  In fact, 93% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.

Social Media Strategy is Key!

The most successful WOMM campaigns are based on a solid social media strategy. According to research by Quicksprout, the world’s best marketing agencies and the best brands focus on building a strong social media presence.

It’s no longer just about having an Instagram account or Facebook page. It’s about using all available platforms to talk to your audience, engage with them and build relationships that will lead to word-of-mouth activation.

Why WOMM Works Best for Start-ups and Small Businesses

Let’s start with the basics: WOMM is best suited for small businesses and startups.

Why? Because it’s more cost-effective than any other marketing channel out there and, in many cases, can work even when you have little to no budget.

It’s not as effective as AdWords (i.e., Pay Per Click) or SEO in terms of generating leads and sales, but it’s a powerful tool when done correctly.

Essential Ingredients for Successful Word of Mouth Marketing Campaigns

The key to getting people talking about your brand is to give them something “worth saying.” What do we mean by this?   To answer that question, let’s examine three examples:

Case #1: A local barista is always friendly and helpful. She makes a mean iced mocha latte, too.

Case #2: A major coffee chain serves mediocre drinks… but every Friday the staff puts on a show. They go around, asking customers if they want whipped cream on top of their drink and — when they say yes — they squirt a load of cream right into their faces.

Case #3: A bank’s customer service reps are always helpful and friendly. They take the time to listen, they remember names and they never make you feel like just another account number.

In each case above, we’re talking about three brands that have done something exceptional — i.e., created a situation where their customers would be happy to pass on good things about them.

The Golden Rules of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

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Be remarkable, offer outstanding customer service (and deliver on it), and give people an incentive to take action.   These are the rules you need to abide by if you want your WOMM strategy to succeed.

Let’s take a closer look…

1) Be Remarkable, Offer Outstanding Customer Service (and deliver on It).

You need to stand out from your competitors — and this is the primary motivation behind all great WOMM campaigns: If you’re willing to go above and beyond for your customers, people will want to talk about you.

2) Give People an Incentive to Take Action

People don’t like talking about boring things — especially not when they know that other people are listening. Make it easy for them and give them a reason to take action by giving away something of value (whether it’s a free trial, discounts on your products/services, or just a goodie bag).

3) Build the Right Audience

Don’t just assume that you can build a large audience overnight. Sure, there are examples of campaigns that have gone viral and reached millions of people in a matter of days… but they are rare exceptions to the rule.  Build your audience brick by brick — focus on quality over quantity if you want to convert those followers into customers.

4) Focus on Messaging

It’s tempting to think that all you need to succeed is a memorable logo and a catchy line or two, but that’s not how it works with WOMM. You have to create sharable content that gets people talking about your brand — i.e., interesting articles, videos that make you laugh out loud and pictures with a clever message. The content should be tailored to your target audience — i.e., if you’re selling sunglasses, share articles about travel destinations or how-to tips on using Instagram to get more likes.

5) Share Your Content

Your content won’t go viral by itself.  You need to spread the word about it. Share your content on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest…) and through email campaigns. You should also look into getting featured in blogs and industry-specific publications — just be sure that you approach these sites with a well-crafted pitch and give them compelling reasons to share your message with their readers.

6) Use the Right Tool

You need to measure your results — i.e., the number of people who have seen and shared your content — if you want to know whether or not a campaign is working (or needs some tweaking). Tools such as BuzzSumo can help you find out which pieces of content performed best, and which bloggers and publications are worth approaching.

7) Adapt to New Trends

Remember — every campaign needs a little tweaking here and there if you want it to remain relevant.  As the saying goes, what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow: Viral content tends to be extremely short-lived. If your goal is to build an audience that will stick with you for more than a few days, you need to be willing to try new things.

8) Pay Attention to Your Competitors

Just because they’re not as big as you don’t mean that they aren’t worth your attention — in fact, competitor analysis should be a vital component of any WOMM strategy. Find out everything you can about your competitors and use the information to inform your DIY marketing plan.

9) Build Your own Community

Your fans are a vital part of any WOMM campaign — without them, your message will never reach anyone.   The same goes for building an email list — it’s one way to keep close tabs on what your customers are interested in, and it’s also an easy way to keep them informed about new products/services and upcoming sales.

10) Do What You Promised

Don’t forget that people talk only if you give them a good reason to — so don’t break your promises. If you tell people that they’ll receive a surprise gift if they share your message, be sure to follow through on it.

11) Maintain a Consistent Tone

The tone of the WOMM campaign should match that of your other marketing efforts — if you’re all about being funny and irreverent, then it makes sense to have a light-hearted voice in everything from your logo to your tweets. If you’re more serious, then a strait-laced tone is probably better. There’s nothing inherently wrong with switching up your tone and style from time to time — but make sure that it makes sense for the particular campaign in question (i.e., if you’re pitching travel deals during the holidays, it might be a good idea to be festive with your message).

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12) Do Something Exceptional

Kickstarter has proven that some people will give you money just to see what happens. If they can do it, so can you — try reaching out to satisfied customers and offering them something free if they spread the word about your products/services.  Or, create a limited offer that can only be accessed through an exclusive link (like a voucher or coupon).

13) Keep Track of Your Results

After conducting a campaign, don’t forget to sit down and analyze the results — this is where you’ll find out just how well your DIY campaign worked.   One of the best ways to do this is by creating a post-mortem of sorts — it’ll help you identify what went right and what could be improved next time around.

14) Test Your Campaign

There’s no such thing as a “perfect” DIY marketing campaign, so make sure that you have a backup plan in place just in case your message falls flat. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure that you have multiple people sharing your message.   You never know exactly how well any one piece of content will perform, and the more people who are involved in sharing it, the better chance you have at success.
  • Share a variety of different types of content — blog posts, infographics, videos, etc.
  • Start sharing content in advance — you don’t want to wait until the very last minute to take action.   This way, when the time comes for your campaign to go live, people will already be primed and ready to spread the word about what you’re offering.

15) Keep It Up

Remember, all social media campaigns — DIY or otherwise — are temporary.   It’s important to keep your momentum going so that you can continue to build on your success.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Although the tips listed above offer a great starting point for your next WOMM campaign, there’s no single path to choose when it comes to DIY marketing — if you see something working for someone else, go ahead and try it out yourself!

Also, don’t forget that DIY marketing isn’t right for every company — if your business requires lots of different types of content (i.e., videos, blog posts, infographics) then outsourcing your social media strategy might be a better idea.  

Types of Words of Mouth Marketing

Words of Mouth Marketing comes in different forms.  Just as there are many kinds of words that can tell something, so too the type of marketing. If you want to find out which kind of WOMM Marketing is right for your company, take a look at what we have below:

#1) Focused Words of Mouth

This form involves targeting people with deep knowledge about a particular subject, and giving them something of value that they can then use to spread the word.  This is most likely to take place in person or by telephone.

#2) Viral Words of Mouth

A viral campaign involves creating highly memorable content (like a funny video or an interesting piece of information) that catches people’s attention and then persuades them to pass on the information.  You may build a viral campaign around an existing product or service, or it can start as something else entirely (like songs and videos).  

#3) Memorable Words of Mouth

Memorable words of mouth are built for people who don’t have much time to spend learning about a particular product or service.  This type of marketing can include slogans and taglines, but it’s also possible to make great content memorable by creating something that will stick in the minds of your audience.  

#4) Simple Words of Mouth

Simple words of mouth are created for people who feel overwhelmed by complicated messages — these are designed to deliver a powerful message in the simplest way possible.  

#5) Branded Words of Mouth

Branded words of mouth are designed to build on an existing brand and can be created by both businesses and individuals.  This type of content usually comes in the form of opinion-based blog posts or videos that help to spread the word about a certain brand.

#6) Positive Words of Mouth

This form of marketing focuses on telling customers about the benefits associated with using your product or service instead of focusing on its features.  It’s also possible to build positive words of mouth by emphasizing the good feelings that come along with doing business with you.  

#7) Content Words of Mouth

Content words of mouth are built by creating interesting, useful content — blog posts or white papers.  They’re usually aimed at encouraging the reader to act in some way, whether it’s to get more information or to take advantage of a special offer.  

#8) Pull marketing Words of Mouth

Pull marketing relies on the audience to take action, instead of pushing a message at them.  It’s usually based on creating something that engages people and actively encourages them to take action.  

#9) Referral Words of Mouth

Referral words of mouth are created when you ask your existing customers or clients to refer their friends and family to you.  They might be more likely to do this if you offer them a discount or other incentive, but it’s also possible to create strong referral words of mouth by creating content that they can give away as gifts.

#10) Negative Words of Mouth

Just like positive words of mouth can encourage people to use your services, negative words of mouth can also have a strong effect.  These are usually based on criticizing companies for bad behaviour or poor workmanship.  

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#11) Paid Words of Mouth

Paid words of mouth are built by paying other people to talk about you and your products or services.  This might be done by using social media to reach a large number of people, or it might be more focused on specific groups like bloggers and journalists.  

#12) Celebrity Words of Mouth 

Celebrity words of mouth are built around famous people who mention or use your product or service in an interview or on their own blog.  It’s also possible to create paid words of the mouth using celebrities who have large social media followings.

#13) Controversial Words of Mouth

Controversial words of mouth are often created by writing or talking about a controversial subject, which can then spread out from there.  It’s also possible for businesses to use controversy as one part of their marketing strategy.  

#14) Search Engine Optimized (SEO) Words of Mouth

An SEO word of mouth program is designed to get your site listed high on Google’s search results, which makes it more likely that your audience will find you.  This type of program can be used for businesses that don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising.  

#15) Business-to-Business Words of Mouth

Business to business words of mouth is usually created by marketing directly to other businesses, which can be done through events, websites and advertising campaigns.  This form of marketing is also sometimes called B2B or B2D marketing.  

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Why Is Word Word-of-mouth Marketing Important?

So far, we have talked about how a happy customer is more likely to spread your business message through word of mouth.   Now, it’s time to talk about why that is important.

“What a customer thinks of me as a person is worth more than anything else.” – Thomas J. Watson, Sr., founder of IBM

#1) Customers are Influencers 

Customers and clients are also influencers, which means you can use them to help spread your marketing message.  When a customer is making purchasing decisions for an important item or service, they’re more likely to listen when someone else comes along and recommends that product.  

#2) Increased Sales 

When a customer or client recommends your business to someone else, they may purchase from you in the future.  This is a good way of bringing in new traffic and increasing sales since a client will usually value their relationship with someone enough to do business with them again.  

#3) Increased Brand Awareness

Since your customers and clients are spreading word of mouth in their social circles, you’ll build up brand awareness when someone with no previous experience with your business hears about it.  This can help bring new clients to you if they like what they hear.  

How to Build a solid Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy in 19 Easy Steps

It’s cheaper to make a customer happy

A personal referral is the most credible form of advertising.

So, what’s stopping you from building a word-of-mouth marketing campaign?   If your business development team is meeting their goals, there isn’t much more they can do.  One great way to improve upon this goal of making more referrals is by leveraging the power of your customer base.

If you’re not sure how to access all of this information, consider hiring someone from a digital agency like Blue Corona. They can help collect and organize your data into one place so that you can make the right decisions for your business.

#1) Get Clear on Your Goals

What do you want to accomplish with a word-of-mouth marketing strategy?  Do you want more sales in the next 30 days? 50 new customers for your business?  Only 100 people to sign up for your newsletter?   Define what success looks like, and see how many actions it will take to get you there.

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#2) Know Who Will Be Doing the Talking

Next, it’s important to understand who your best customers are.  This doesn’t have to be someone who spends a lot of money with you — just someone who loves what you do.   For example, if I run a business that manages websites for small businesses in Boston, I’m going to want someone who loves what we do and has a lot of influence.

#3) Figure Out Where They Hang Out

Where are your best customers spending most of their time?  Do they have blogs that you can reference, or tweet at them directly?   Do they attend networking events on the weekends where you can stop by and talk to them?   Find out where they are, and you’ll get a better idea of who your best customers really are.

Note that this doesn’t have to be someone you know — it just needs to fit into the category of influencing people.  Once you understand this, take note of some content that you can use to spread your message.  If you’re an e-commerce business, for example, you might want to take note of a great blog post that your customer wrote about their experience on the site.

#4) Make Your Best Pitch

Once you have some content from your best customers, it’s time to pitch it.  Figure out a way to make that content look even better while also adding in some of your own material — this way, you can put together an awesome piece for your customers and prospects to share.  

#5) Make Sure the Content is Shareable

No matter how great your content is, no one will share it if it’s not shareable.  Find a way to make it simple and easy for people to tweet, message or email your content without looking like spam.   Be sure that the content you create can be shared in as many places as possible — this way, your reach will expand from thousands to millions within just a few hours of launching.

#6) Share Your Content

When your content is ready to be shared, start looking for people who are talking about the same thing that you’re discussing in your content.  For example, if I’m running a web design business and targeting small businesses with my marketing efforts, I might want to find someone writing about content marketing.  After I find a few blog posts that relate to what I’m working on, it’s time for me to reach out and see how I can work together with the author of the post to build up my content even more.

#7) Join the Conversation

With social media platforms being so ubiquitous these days, there are many different platforms where you can discuss content you’ve recently put out on the web.  For example, if I was looking to help people with marketing tips for startups, I might want to join an online community that’s discussing this same topic to get my new piece of content circulating a little faster.

#8) Spread the Word

Once you join a community or create your own, let people know about it.  Find people to help you promote what you’re doing and how they can get involved as well — this way, you’ll end up with more eyeballs on your content (and hopefully even more shares).

#9) Nurture the Relationships

Once you’ve created relationships with people who are talking about the same things as you, it will be a good idea to nurture those relationships.  Find out if there’s anything that they’re looking for — maybe they’d love access to your research reports or something else related to your business.   By offering them this extra information, you’ll deepen the relationship and get your content in front of more potential customers.

10# Offer Impeccable Customer Support:  

So many brands have amazing products or services, but they still seem to lose many of their customers due to a lack of proper customer support. In the digital marketplace, brands should use every avenue at their disposal when it comes to providing great support for their clients. 

There are countless opportunities out there that can be utilized to provide top-notch customer service. Even if you’re not sure what to do, make sure that you’re at least following the fundamental basics of excellent customer service:

11# Provide Seamless Purchase Experience:  

Make the buying process as simple as possible for your customers. This includes everything from having a good shopping cart system in place, to making sure that you accept various credit cards or other forms of payment with no hassle. Whatever you can do to make the purchase experience effortless and pleasant is going to work well for both you and your customers.

#12) Use Proper Copywriting Techniques:  

The copy that you use to market your product will make a huge difference in how successful the campaign is. If done correctly, you can attract an entirely new audience by writing in a targeted manner using great copywriting tricks. 

For example, if I’m running a dog grooming business and want to draw in new customers, I might write an ad that would be found on a forum or online directory for other dog owners. The goal with this ad is to make people laugh but also interest them enough so they’ll go to my website.  One of the ways I could do this is by using humour and a tongue-in-cheek approach to write something like:

“Sure, beats brushing your dog’s teeth!” – Roni.

Using humour and smart copywriting will help you get more people accessing your content, which will also lead to greater conversions at the end of the day. 

13# Pay Attention to the Reviews: 

Review sites are a great way to get information in front of new customers who might be interested in your offerings. Like we mentioned earlier, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful techniques out there, so if you can manage to get good reviews on these sites it may end up being just what you need when it comes to generating more traffic. 

Take the time to find out which review sites are the right fit for your business — focus on small niche review sites, not big aggregate ones like Yelp and Trip Advisor.   Even better: look into ways that you can get multiple reviews on more than one site so that it will be easier to generate some extra traffic to your website. This is a great way to grow your business and market your products.

#14) Get Personal with Your Copy:

If you can get people to connect with the voice behind your business, they’re going to be more likely to buy from you.  

One of the best ways that you can do this is by using personal pronouns like “I” and “me.”

Because of this, one of the most effective ways to increase conversion rates is by using these kinds of phrases.  This can help you generate trust between you and your potential customers. It also helps build a relationship that will make it easier for them to take action when needed.  

#15) Use social media for Marketing & Sales:  

Social media is one of the most valuable resources that you have when it comes to marketing your products and services. It’s a great way to stay in front of potential customers, and if used correctly it can help generate new sales leads over time. Social media also provides you with access to countless avenues where you’ll be able to reach out and connect directly with customers, which can be hugely beneficial.

#16) Target Your Human Emotional Side:  

There are a lot of ways that you can get more people to pay attention to your ad if you’re willing to target their emotions. Using different words like “Now”, “New” or “Limited Time Offer” will help get people to pay attention to your offers. The more you can do to target their emotions and make them feel good, the more effective your campaigns or adverts are going to be.

#17) Mix Things up a Bit:

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 If you’re using something new in one of your campaigns it’s only natural that you’ll get more people to pay attention to it. People are naturally drawn towards new and interesting things, and they will often give a fair amount of attention without any prompting. If you can use something new in your campaigns then you should see an improvement in how well the campaign goes overall. This is especially true if the product that you’re marketing is new and creative.

#18) Use Testimonials from Real Customers:

If you have a client that has done really well with one of your products or services, then it’s a good idea to draw on them for testimonials.  Testimonials are an excellent way to get more people engaged and excited about what you have to offer. This is because most people want to learn more about what you have to offer based on the experiences of others, and this can help a lot with generating traffic.

#19) Repeat:

Once you start a process like this, don’t rely on it to take off overnight.  Instead of putting all your eggs into one basket, create multiple pieces of content with multiple sets of people linking to you.  This way, if one or two of your relationships don’t pan out, you’ll still have others that will help spread the word about your content.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media




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