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How to win the word-of-mouth game

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In the race to master social media tools and strategies, it's sometimes easy for marketers to lose sight of the overall goal of building great relationships with customers. This morning in the Digital Retail Boot Camp, Word of Mouth (WOM) Marketing guru Andy Sernovitz kicked off the Annual Summit with a reminder: "Your brand isn't what you say it is. It's what other people say it is." Sernovitz presented two straightforward, (but not necessarily easy) steps to make your customers love you so much that they'll talk you up for free: 1) Give people a reason to talk about your stuff, and 2) Make it easier for that conversation to take place. WOM marketing means having something worth talking about, as well as earning the respect and loyalty of your customers. "It starts with happiness," said Sernovitz. "If you make people happy, they tell their friends." 

Andy Sernovitz Author & CEO &

Sernovitz provided a few tips to keep in mind when you leverage WOM:

  • Word of mouth topics are always portable, repeatable and emotional. For example, when Apple started selling computers in bright colors, the colors had nothing to do with how well the computer worked, but it made people happy, gave them something to talk about, and it was easy for Apple to replicate.

  • You get the first word about your brand. Keep in mind, though, that word of mouth always gets the last word—and bad news travels fast.

  • "The solution to pollution is dilution." A bad word of mouth problem is the result of not enough good word of mouth. Work to get your fans talking.

  • Give your fans the tools they need to tell their friends. Add a forward to a friend button to your emails and post content to easy-to-share channels like social media.

  • Don't be afraid to ask your fans to tell their friends. It's such a simple thing that many retailers forget to do it. But be careful. Incentives for recommendations might result in a short-term win, but don't help you build lasting relationships.
  • Say thank you. Another simple task is saying "thank you" to customers who post positive things, and say "I'm sorry" to those who post negative things. Most customers don't expect you to do that, so they'll be thrilled when you do.
  • New love is powerful. Capture customers' enthusiasm the moment you first delight them, then give your loyal customers new reasons to keep talking about you.

Closing the presentation, Sernovitz told the crowd, "word of mouth is the engine by which the good guys win." Because when companies do something truly remarkable, treat customers better than they expect to be treated and invest in building that relationship, their customers will push them to the top.