We all know how effective and inexpensive word of mouth marketing can be compared with other more direct forms of marketing.  Word of mouth referrals are three time winners - the conversion rate is much higher, the time to decision is shorter and the asking price is less significant.  We should do everything we can to maximize the number of these referrals and these six open secrets will help you do just that.

Nurture your champions

You must identify, cultivate and reward your champions.  Not all of your customers will become your champions so you need to identify the mavens, the trusted experts in your line of business.  These are the people who their friends will turn to when they want advice or help.  You should cultivate these champions by invitations to special events, pre-release of product news, discount vouchers for them to give to their friends.  When you receive referrals from your champions they could be rewarded by cash, discount vouchers or gifts and never forget to say 'thank you'.  Just a simple 'thank you' has been shown to more than double referral rates.

Make it easy to talk about your brand experience


Engage in the conversation. Place offers and news on Facebook.  The value of 'likes' is not significant, people click the 'like' button far too readily.  Customers are looking here for more substantial reviews and testimonials.  It's a good place for product announcements as news will spread very quickly.


Do you have visually appealing products, do people photograph them and share the images with friends?  If so, Pinterest is a good place for you to publicize your products.  For example, we ran a trial program for a pastry supplier which showed a customer's photo of one of their pastries.  Viewers were offered a discount on this pastry if they took the photo into the shop.  This increased customer traffic by more than 20%.


Can be just a lot of noise but often industry mavens or bloggers will pick up generic hashtags and may start talking about your service. Customers are getting more used to searching here when researching a product. 


A network focused on professionals and business opportunities.  You should join and create a group around your product.  It is another good place to post news and product announcements.


If you have any travel related business, this is the number one spot to influence people.  It's reached the point that bad reviews or too few good reviews can break a business.  Tripadvisor still has some shortcomings but is generally more reliable than many other social WOM sites.


You should encourage your customers to post reviews on Amazon.  The most effective way to do this is by sending a personal email to each of them asking them to post a review.  When reviews are posted, respond to each one and don't forget that a 'thank you' can double the referral rate.  Most products only get a few reviews so following up these reviews this should not be an onerous task. 


This is another place to encourage your customers to post their reviews. This tends to be focused on restaurant reviews but we are seeing an increasing number of other business services being reviewed here.


It's important that you encourage activity on Google+.  Google uses this activity for improving search rankings. You need to get into double figures here before people feel there are enough good reviews to act.  However, you must be careful about trying artificially to generate lots of good reviews as Google are continually watching for people abusing the system.   An example of this was some car dealers in the US were helping their customers to write complimentary Google+ reviews in their showroom.  This created a large number of reviews very quickly but Google then punished them for this abuse by deleting their ratings.  We can debate whether this was a fair response by Google but it does emphasize the point that reviewers need to talk naturally about your product or service.

Have a referral program

Many of your customers may be acting, unprompted, as your champions and referring their friends to you.  However, a referral program will harness their goodwill by formalizing this process enabling you to incentivize your champions to make even more referrals and to identify more champions from your customer base.

Think like a customer

How do you buy things, who do you trust for recommendations and then think how your customers will buy your products.  Think about the context in which your customers  will use your products. Your champions will usually talk about your product or service in context when they are describing its benefits and uses.  Try and find incentives for both your champions and their friends that relate to the context in which they use your product e.g. a free bottle opener with each case of wine, a free 12 month warranty with each new phone.

Provide excellent customer service

Whatever size of business you run, impeccable customer service is a must.  Always respond quickly to all customers even if it's only to acknowledge the contact and to say that you will follow up later. Most companies have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for tracking the sales process but often neglect to use it for tracking customer complaints or questions.  The owner of one small business always booked time in his calendar to answer customer questions so that all were answered promptly.  In contrast, another small business simply filed the questions in a folder and responded to the customers that shouted loudest. In the long run, this didn't save the customer much effort but lost lots of goodwill.

Be open and truthful

Be open and truthful with your customers and your champions.  If something is going wrong, acknowledge it and let them know what action you are taking to resolve it.  The rumour is often far more damaging than the truth so it's far better that they find out about a problem from you before they come across it themselves.  Even Apple have got this wrong several times and it has hurt their brand.


AuthorTodd Heslin