Making Your Small Business “Word of Mouth” Worthy

I recently attended the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Las Vegas. It’s an annual get-together of corporate-types from large companies, advertising agencies and consultancies for the purpose of “sharing best practices on creating talkable brands.” I listened to presentations from marketers of well-known brands ranging from Coca-Cola and ESPN to Jamba Juice and Best Buy and now I’m bringing that wisdom back to you.

The WOMMA Summit was focused on large corporations with relatively large marketing budgets, but it struck me that the lessons were equally applicable to small businesses. After all, small businesses have known about the power of word-of-mouth marketing since people could communicate. What’s new is how the use of online social networks can help make word-of-mouth more powerful than ever.

Here are my top three lessons from the WOMMA Summit:

1) Woo your influencers – Influencers are people who naturally like to talk about products or services they have had good experiences with, and have a strong online social network with whom to share their opinions. For Vail Resorts, their influencers consist of ski and snowboard enthusiasts who live near one of their winter resorts. Vail Resorts recruited these enthusiasts to be part of its “Snow Squad” and armed them with lift passes, one-click video cameras, and online tools to create and share testimonials about their skiing and snowboarding experiences.  Not only did the Snow Squad generate lots of buzz and excitement in the resort areas, but Vail Resorts was able to use the content they created to market to a wider audience online. For small businesses, think about who your enthusiasts are, and provide them the tools (product samples, t-shirts, website links — whatever makes sense for your business) to talk about your product face-to-face as well as online.

2) Unleash your employees – The best word-of-mouth marketers for your business can be right under your nose: your employees. Employees often know your product like the back of their hand, but may not necessarily know how to use this knowledge in the online world. The electronics retailer Best Buy created a Twitter handle dubbed Twelpforce to answer customer questions through Twitter, made up of Best Buy tech pros who answered customer questions in Best Buy stores. By hooking up these pros to smart phones or computers, they were able to extend their expertise to help customers anywhere that customer had access to Twitter. The Twitter conversations also served as a word-of-mouth marketing tool for Best Buy since the responsiveness and helpfulness of the Twelpforce was available for all to see. For small businesses, think about the expertise each employee has in your business, and how that expertise could be unleashed online to help customers. Then think about how those online customer interactions could be used to help market your business.

3) Do market research with a clear goal in mind – Large corporations are very keen on market research in order to understand how well they’re doing in a variety of activities. In ESPN‘s case, it wanted to help its customers (the advertisers) answer the question, “Why advertise on ESPN?” This naturally spawned follow-on questions about the demographic make-up of ESPN’s viewers, what they liked to talk about with their friends and colleagues, how watching ESPN influenced their conversations, etc.  They were ultimately able to quantify the value of advertising on ESPN for their advertisers. Even without a large market research budget, small businesses should take the same approach. Start with the key question that you want to answer, then step through the thought process on how you would answer this question. The questions will then determine what market research approach you use. And at the end of the day, this will give you more confidence that you are making informed business decisions based on data.

About Lynette Liu

Lynette Liu is a product manager in the Small Business Division at Intuit. She is proud to support local businesses and can often be found in the local ice cream shop doing just that!
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