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December 2013
The Power of Word of Mouth Marketing
By James La Barrie

In 2011, I was fortunate to check a major item off of my bucket list: Visit New Zealand’s South Island. Knowing it would be an expensive adventure, I meticulously researched each hotel, restaurant and activity using TripAdvisor.com to ensure that I would get the best experiential value based on the reviews of others.

 

Advertising spent on brochures, web design, billboard advertising, TV or radio had no influence on me and where I chose to spend my money. Every decision I made was based on the opinions of others.

 

Well, I wasn’t let down. I had the time of my life!

 

Recently, while driving home from uptown Charlotte, I pulled into the parking lot of a recommended restaurant in Dilworth and read reviews about it on Yelp.com. Had the reviews been negative, I wouldn’t have gone in. My consumer behavior is consistent with Generation Y who place a premium on experience over expense and make decisions from quick research using a smartphone.

 

This behavior is not limited to the service industry, as I, and others like me, have conveniently selected dentists, doctors, computer repair technicians and a myriad of other services using review sites.

 

There has been a lot of criticism in the media about review sites like Yelp.com and others because of ‘review padding’ by owners of establishments who create positive reviews for themselves. If a business operator delivers a poor product or service, no amount of padding can outweigh the tidal wave of negativity that will crash on a business from savvy consumers.

 

Review sites are here to stay and effectively utilizing them is a key to business success today and in the future.

 

Embrace Change

Word-of-mouth (WOM) has always been the most credible and effective mode of marketing, but its transmission beyond our small social circles had been limited by our interactions. Prior to the smartphone, an average consumer would tell three friends about a great experience and 10 about a bad experience.

 

Today, Facebook and Twitter deliver opinions, both good and bad, to thousands of people in seconds. A company’s survival centers around great service, selling an excellent product, and using new mediums for marketing.

 

Once considered to be in a different category from marketing, customer service has transitioned from being an extremity to being at the heart of influencing consumers on where to spend their money. Inspire your customers through exceptional service to utilize the technology available and create raving reviews.

 

Gaining Competitive Advantage: Leveraging WOM

Leveraging word-of-mouth is both effective and inexpensive when attempting to raise a company’s profile in a busy marketplace. An example of this is the story of my family and how they utilized TripAdvisor to transform their business.

 

My parents operate an eco-kayaking tour on the island of Antigua, competing with 67 other tour companies vying for cruise ship passengers arriving each day between November and April. How does a literal ‘mom and pop’ compete with no advertising budget and thrive? The answer: Craft a five-star experience complemented with superior service and then ask your customers to review the trip.

 

The result? Their business tripled after they moved up the TripAdvisor rankings from 26th to number one in the country. Their customers became the marketing team and word spread virally about the Antigua Paddles experience. Any company in any industry can adopt this strategy and be successful if implemented correctly.

 

The advent of the smartphone is a game-changer. At no time in history have consumers had the power to effect the success or failure of an organization’s outcome. The very survival of a company not only depends on a product or service but also how the customer feels and most importantly, how that feeling is shared.

 

Tips for Leveraging Review Sites

1. Know Your Ranking. Know where you stand and know what consumers are saying about you.

2. Create Raving Fans. Make exceptional customer service equally as important as the product.

3 Deliver. Deliver great service consistently everyday.

4. Address Negative Reviews. Post responses to any negative review, but never take a defensive position. Be positive in your comments and implement necessary changes to avoid the same negative review again.

5. Set Goals. Strive to break into the top-three ranked companies on various review sites.

6. Buy-In. Get buy-in from your staff to embrace a customer service culture and drive to hold a top online ranking.

7. Ask. Happy customers tend to be loyal and will happily write reviews to help with your success...you just need to ask them.

James La Barrie is Founder of Beyond Marketing, a company bringing success to its clients by combining five-star service systems with powerful marketing.
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