Word of Mouth Marketing: How to Get People Talking about Your Business

9 min read
Aug 25, 2015
  • Post on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Post on LinkedIn
  • Post on Reddit
  • Copy link to clipboard
    Link copied to clipboard

People share more than 16,000 words per day and every hour there are more than 100 million conversations about brands. We love to share stories and news with those around us. But why do we talk about and share certain things and not others?

Word of mouth marketing

There are companies who spend millions on advertising, trying to attract customers. Sometimes they fail to get noticed (only 10% of customers trust brands). On the other hand, there are companies that don’t spend a dime on marketing, yet they win loyal customers that do marketing for them for free. These customers tell stories about a product and recommend it whenever such chance appear.

The passing of information from person to person is what we call word of mouth and it’s one of the most powerful ways to influence business results. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising.

Another advantage of word of mouth marketing over other forms of marketing is that word of mouth naturally reaches an interested audience. We share information with a person we think would find it useful. Customers referred by their friends spend more: 20% to 50% of purchases are the result of a word of mouth recommendation.

That’s why WOM has so much power. And the key to build it is to understand what drives people to talk and share.

Six principles to drive people to talk and share

“Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. There’s a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even.”

The quote above comes from Jonah Berger’s book: “Contagious: Why things catch on.” Jonah created six principles that drive people to share all sorts of content. He called them STEPPS. You can use them to create contagious content and make people talk about your product, service or brand.

1. Social Currency

We care about how we are perceived by others. That’s the reason we share things that make us look good. Mentioning clever and entertaining things makes us seem… clever and entertaining. That’s why we talk about the great deals we got in the store or the time we got upgraded to first class on the plane. And, unless we’re grumpy, we often skip the story when we bought something twice it’s worth.

“Word of mouth is a prime tool for making a good impression – as potent as that new car or Prada handbag. Think of it as a kind of currency. Social Currency. Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends, and colleagues.”

One way to get people talking about your product is to make them feel like insiders or create something remarkable that makes them look clever or interesting for sharing.

Will it blend?

Ever heard of the video series Will it blend? It’s the one where a guy put different kinds of stuff in the blender and pulverize them. He already blended an iPhone, a Justin Bieber CD and recently an Apple Watch. That’s interesting, right?

The guy in the video is Tom, the founder of Blendtec – a company that sells professional and home blenders. Tom’s daily work, which is trying to break a blender, inspired his marketing director to make a video of him blending things and put it on YouTube.

It worked instantly. People loved the videos from the start when Tom blended marbles and golf balls. Some of them didn’t believe it’s possible. Some wondered what else the blender could blend.

Videos went viral. 6 million people watched them in the first week. And they were made for less than a few hundred dollars a piece. Within two years the campaign increased retail blender sales 700 percent. Not bad for a regular, boring blender, which seemed nothing like a word of mouth worthy product.

2. Triggers

While Social Currency gets people talking, triggers keep them talking. If people are frequently reminded of your product, they talk about it more often. Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things. Like the word “dog” reminds us of the word “cat”,
a homemade margarita might remind you of Blendtec.

You can design products that are often triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking your products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment.

Disney World or Cheerios?

Which of the products get more word of mouth – Cheerios or Disney World? Disney World adventures are very exciting and interesting to talk about. Yet people don’t think about it very frequently. They go to Disney World when they have kids and they do it probably once a year.
During the year, there are only a few triggers to remind them about this experience.

There are tons of people eat Cheerios for breakfast every day. They also buy them often and look at them in their shopping cart. It increases the chance that people will talk about them. Cheerios are mentioned more frequently on Twitter than Disney, they get more word of mouth.

“Mentions of Cheerios spike every day at approximately the same time. The first references occur at 5:00 a.m. They peak between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. And they diminish around 11:00 a.m. This sharp increase and corresponding decline align precisely with the traditional time for breakfast. The pattern even shirts slightly on weekends when people eat breakfast later. Triggers drive talking.”

In most cases people hear an ad and then go shopping days later. If they’re not triggered to think about the product, they won’t remember about it in the store.

3. Emotion

According to Berger, we share when we care. Just like customers are loyal to companies that they are emotionally connect to, people share things when they feel something. But the type of emotions matters too. We are more likely to share things that evoke high arousal emotions like anger, excitement, amusement. These emotions kindle fire, activate people and drive them to take action. On the other hand we are less likely to talk about things that make us content or sad because they decrease arousal.

Google Search: Reunion

Online search seems nothing but moving. But if we relate it to people’s own lives and evoke emotions in them, people start to care. That’s what happen when Ogilvy Mumbai did spot “Google Search: Reunion” for Google India.

In this short film, with a little help from Google, a granddaughter in India decides to surprise her grandfather by reuniting him with his childhood friend after over 6 decades of separation. We can sense magic in this spot and it all becomes reality thanks to Google Search. The video went viral on YouTube, where it now has almost 13 millions views.

4. Public

People tend to imitate others. And the easier it is to see what others are doing, the easier it is to imitate them. Observability is a big part of whether products and ideas catch on. We believe other people are right or they know something we don’t and we imitate their actions. We’re influenced by others. It’s the social proof. When you see someone wearing a t–shirt and decide you like it, you buy the same one.

“We need to be like Hotmail and Apple and design products that advertise themselves. We need to make the private public. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.”

Sent from my iPhone

The creators of Hotmail made their product more observable to help it catch on. At the bottom of each mail they added a message that says “Get Your Private, Free E-Mail from Hotmail at”

Each time a Hotmail users sent an e-mail, they also sent prospective customers a bit of social proof. In a little over a year Hotmail sign ups gained more than 8.5 million subscribers. Something that’s normally private became public.

Apple and BlackBerry followed the lead. They added the signatures at the bottom of their e-mails saying “Sent using BlackBerry” or “Sent from my iPhone”. The message can be easily changed but most people leave it as it is. It’s because they like the Social Currency it brings. Or maybe they’re just lazy? But mostly because it spread awareness about the brand and influence others to try it.

5. Practical Value

People like to help others. We often share ideas and solutions which proved to be useful for us. We share them with people we think might benefit from it. We tell people about apps that help us plan our budget or great deals in the store to help others save a few bucks.

You need to highlight the value of your product and show how is it helpful. Does it save money, time or does it improve the communication with customers? And then you can help people using it better.


Shopify provides a platform where online retailers can sell their stuff without any fuss. On their blog we can find interviews and case studies of successful sites. But apart from that, they also provide guides for improving people’s store. Some of these guides include: The Ultimate Guide to Pop-Up Shops, 50 Ways to make your first sale.

They don’t just sell product. They help customers get better at what they’re doing. Besides offering a great product, they give people practical value, which is the knowledge that can help them sell things online. And it’s all in one place.

6. Stories

People don’t just tell information, they tell stories. Each story, at least a good one, carry a moral or a lesson. And the information comes with it. That’s why content needs to be related to the product it promotes. According to Jonah:

“We need to build our own Trojan horses, embedding our products and ideas in stories that people want to tell. But we need to do more than just tell a great story. We need to make virality valuable. We need to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.”

Brands need to be an integral part of the stories. You won’t tell a story about the blender tearing up an iPhone without talking about the blender. And the thought that comes to the mind is that this blender must be so strong since it can blend almost anything. And that’s exactly what Blendtec wants to communicate. Clever, right?

Word of mouth done right

When you do word of mouth right, you don’t have to spend money on advertising or pay SEO positioning agencies big amounts to get you to the first page of Google.
Customers ultimately choose to share stories about your product or service for free. Isn’t that the best feeling for an owner to hear people telling great stories about the company? I bet this is even better than some impressive statistics. Follow the principles and you might experience it yourself.

Get a glimpse into the future of business communication with digital natives.

Get the FREE report