So where does word of mouth marketing work best?  Really, it works well everywhere.  But it’s success comes down to the approach that you take: your authenticity.  If you enter into WoM with a cynical view of just treating it like any other form of marketing, you’ll get found out sooner or later.

First of all, let’s dwell on the ‘where’ part of the question.

When we think about markets, we tend to head towards familiar segmentations:

  • For profit or not-for-profit (NFP) – the purpose of the organisation
  • B2B or B2C – who you’re doing business with
  • Fast moving consumer goods – brands and products that you find in supermarkets
  • Services – anything from online, to locally delivered
  • Retail – such a broad category
  • Start-up – I suppose this can cover all of the above

So you can see that attempting to work through the question from a category perspective opens us up to such a massive question that it’s almost impossible to answer. 

It’s not down to category, it’s down to the approach taken.

In Word of Mouth That Works we have case studies from across the spectrum.  As we looked at a way of understanding where WoM works best, we began to see a different way of approaching the question: how many customers do you have and how well do you know them?  That gives us a much better framework for understanding where word of mouth will work best.

So let’s have a look at the model that this generates.

Word of mouth marketing

We have two axes:

  • Volume – how many customers do you have?
  • Intimacy – how intimate are you with them?  How well do you know them?

We’ve used simple scales of high and low, which requires you to think about your situation.  But we won’t leave you alone on that, as we’ve some guidance on how to consider each.

The framework gives us four quadrants high and low for each of volume and intimacy.

So let’s look at some examples.

Low volume, low intimacy.

This could be a retail outlet, of any type.

You’d have low customer volumes, and though you might know them to say hello, that might be the extent of your knowledge.  So for the sake of this example, they’re low volume and low intimacy.

Now let’s raise the volumes to high, but with low intimacy.  And you could expect this of a FMCG brand.  Very large volumes of customers who, without the advantage of social media, you’d know little about.

Low volume and high intimacy is an interesting quadrant.  And I’ve put start-ups as an example in this quadrant.  Start-ups have very small numbers of initial customers, and if they’ve managed the relationships well, they’ll have high intimacy.

And finally, high volume, high intimacy.  You could place the social media platforms in this quadrant with their ability to trawl your posts and understand you intimately.

So which quadrant do you fit into?

Okay.  Now we can ask the ‘where does word of mouth marketing work best’ in relation to this framework.

Each quadrant throws up different ways of getting intimate with your customers, with a view to cultivating them as advocates.

For the retail outlet, the owner could use their conversations with customers, as well as hard copy surveys, to ask their customers about their behaviours and attitudes.

For the FMCG brand, with little social media contact with customers, they’d use market research to understand their customer base.

The start-up would use voice, or personal email, conversations to talk to each of their customers, as we have done with Word of Mouth That Works.

And finally, the social media platform could use personal messages to each user to develop a personal dialogue.

So how does this look in our framework?

word of mouth marketing

Word of mouth marketing is all about understanding your customers, and especially your advocates. 

And high levels of intimacy will always beat low intimacy. 

You just can’t beat sitting down with someone, or calling them, to understand what they think about you.

High intimacy, high volume presents the problem of access to a lot of people.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  The examples are there that it can, take Fiskars for example, who built a very large online community around scrapbooking.

This is where the use of advocates and brand ambassadors prove their worth.  And we explain how you can do that in WoMTWo.

Low intimacy with low volume offers up opportunities to raise the level of intimacy.  The low volume of customers is an advantage, with respect to intimacy, than high volumes.

And just beginning a dialogue with customers will begin to raise that intimacy.

And finally, high volume low intimacy.  As above, this is where you can find FMCG brands.  And FMCG brands do execute great WoM campaigns.  This is where Fiskars would have started before they saw the efficacy of creating a community of advocates, which by its very nature, shifted them into high intimacy.

So where does word of mouth marketing work best?

In a situation where you have high intimacy.

But that doesn’t preclude you using WoM if you’re in low intimacy.

After all, word of mouth will work anywhere if you know how.

And that’s what we’ll help you with in Word of Mouth That Works.



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