Word of mouth marketing is something that is continuing to take the world by storm and, for the first time ever, we’re starting to see this contemporary marketing method overtaking more traditional forms of advertising, such as television, radio, and print, for example. Surveys have found that more than 90 percent of potential customers trust recommendations from friends and family – an increase from roughly 70 percent just 5 years ago – whereas declining numbers are trusting the media – less than half of customers are willing to believe what a company says about its own products.
This change in figures certainly hasn’t come out of the blue. In fact, we’ve been anticipating this change since the introduction of mainstream social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Not only have these platforms encouraged more people to get online, but they’re also doubling as review websites, essentially boosting brand awareness through eWOM, or e-word of mouth. Major companies all across the world are starting to understand the significance of eWOM, with brands such as Tesco launching projects such as ‘The Orchard’ which offers free product samples in exchange for online reviews.
Why is Traditional Marketing Dying Out?
With there now being more opportunities than ever before for the general public to share their thoughts with the world, there is not only a lesser need for more traditional marketing methods, but there’s also less credibility associated with these techniques. Traditional marketing is too heavily focused upon the main selling points. After all, no company is going to diss their own product. However, it’s these negatives that add credibility, and encourage more people to buy. Even if there are no negatives, it’s personal experiences that add credibility, and this is something that companies themselves cannot do. As the Harvard Business Review states, even ‘bad reviews can boost sales‘ by making them more believable.
The Personal Aspect
In many cases, the manufacturer or seller of a product doesn’t use that product themselves. It’s not necessarily a case of not wanting to, it’s more often a case of that particular product not being needed. It’s difficult for businesses to understand customer needs 100 percent if they’re not in the situation of requiring a product themselves, and this is why word of mouth marketing is thriving. Let’s look at healthcare, for example. This is quite a niche area when it comes to recommendations as specific treatments, medications, or equipment are not required by everyone. While a supplier of mobility aids, such as wheelchairs or stairlifts for the elderly, may claim that their devices can make a huge difference to quality of life, this has more meaning when coming from someone who has experienced this improvement first hand.
In this case, we can combine the technical claims of the company with the personal claims of a previous customer, bringing them together to form our own opinion of how a product would benefit us specifically. For example, a company may state that the top-of-the-range technology ensures safety and comfort. Great. However, a customer may take this a little further, explaining how healthcare products can reduce stress and breathlessness, increase dignity, and ease restrictions and limitations imposed on them by their condition. As customers, we can relate to others in a similar situation, certainly much more so than with a brand.
Can Recommendations be Faked?
Some people may be deterred from believing customer recommendations due to the rise in professionally-written reviews paid for by a company. While it’s no secret that this does happen, we’re actually much more clever than we’re given credit for. A study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management looked at mix of authentic and professionally-edited online reviews for restaurants and eating establishments. Interestingly, it was found that the number of authentic, customer-written reviews was positively associated with a restaurant’s reputation, whereas the number of professionally-edited reviews was inversely associated with reputation. It suggests a natural disposition towards spotting fakes, and works to boost the credibility of product or service recommendations. It’s always best to go on recommendations.