- Getting the word out about your business may require a mix of paid advertising and word-of-mouth marketing to reach potential customers
- Small business owners can establish a referral program and create opportunities for user-generated content to build brand awareness
- Supplement your word-of-mouth marketing efforts with paid advertising options like pay-per-click ads and influencer marketing
As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you’re faced with a major decision: Which marketing channels should you use to grow your business? From social media ads to email marketing, many marketing channels have costs attached. But there’s one key marketing technique that you can implement for free: word-of-mouth marketing.
Word-of-mouth marketing (also known as WOMM, WOM marketing, or word-of-mouth advertising) leverages your existing customer base to spur organic growth for your brand. Even though you may still need to invest in paid advertising channels to kick things off, word-of-mouth is a cost-effective way for small and local businesses to reach new customers on a limited budget.
Learn how to get the word out about your business and how word-of-mouth can fit into your overall marketing strategy as an affordable, organic growth engine for your brand.
What is word-of-mouth marketing?
Word-of-mouth marketing is when a business makes a conscious effort to encourage people to promote the company through organic discussion. This is in contrast to plain old word-of-mouth referrals, in which a satisfied customer tells their friends or family members about your business with no further prompting on your part.
With an effective word-of-mouth marketing campaign, you can spread the word about your business beyond your existing customer base and reach a wider audience.
First, create something interesting and worth talking about—maybe it’s a funny social media campaign or an enticing referral program. From there, encourage your existing customers or the general public to spread this information to others.
Before the internet, spreading the word about a small business might have involved running a direct mail campaign or appearing in a local business directory. Today, small business owners have a wealth of digital tools at their disposal, such as social media platforms and online review sites, that can foster organic word-of-mouth growth.
Why should you care about word-of-mouth marketing?
If you’re wondering how to get the word out about your small business without spending much money, word-of-mouth marketing may be the ticket. WOM marketing is an affordable (often free) way to promote and grow your small business.
Per a report by Nielsen, “88% of global respondents trust recommendations from people they know more than any other channel.” When customers have good experiences and share those moments, it builds brand trust and loyalty.
Here’s a closer look at three ways word-of-mouth marketing can impact your business—from brand loyalty to your bottom line.
Maximizes your marketing budget
Word-of-mouth is a form of marketing that lets you stretch your budget. In fact, you may not even need to spend a dollar. The strategy relies on spreading conversation naturally rather than pumping dollars into other paid advertising channels like print ads.
For example, My Burger—a small business with several locations in Minnesota—uses social media to promote their burgers of the month. This gives customers something new to talk about each month, along with social media links that are easy for them to share. The good news is that you don’t need a full-time employee or marketer to create these posts—you can manage your own social media profiles for free.
Builds brand loyalty
If you can engage your audience with a compelling story or experience, there’s a greater chance they’ll continue to frequent your business and refer it to others.
For example, the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse in Illinois repurposes materials and reduces waste in the construction industry. It also provides opportunities for its workers regardless of educational, financial, or background-related limitations. This altruistic business strategy helps the company build brand loyalty and connect with its local community, primarily through word-of-mouth marketing.
With word-of-mouth marketing, you’re creating a unique experience that people want to share with their family, friends, and other potential customers. As a bonus, retaining loyal customers can be cheaper than finding new customers since you’ve already done the hard work of convincing them to buy from you.
Creates brand trust
Word-of-mouth marketing campaigns can build trust in a world where consumers are bombarded by digital marketing. Consumers trust recommendations from their family, friends, and other consumers more than paid advertising.
Potential customers are heavily influenced by word-of-mouth marketing, including online reviews on business platforms like Yelp. When customers share their experience with your brand online or with a friend, they’re vouching for your company. It’s as if they are giving their stamp of approval and endorsing your brand.
How to spread the word about your small business in 9 ways
Figuring out how to get the word out about your business depends on your industry and location as well as the demographics of your target audience. For example, an e-commerce business may rely more heavily on email marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) while a local business may focus on in-person marketing at local events.
Either way, your word-of-mouth marketing strategy should start with providing a positive customer experience to your existing client or customer base. You can’t foster organic growth for your business if you don’t impress your regular customers. From there, you can create opportunities for your repeat customers to spread the word and encourage them to introduce other prospective customers to your business.
Here’s how to get the word out about your business in nine key ways.
1. Establish a referral program
Referral marketing can spread the word about your business and maximize the network effect, which describes how a business can become more appealing by being the go-to place where people shop or gather. Referral programs are an indirect way of prompting customers to share your business with their family, friends, and other contacts.
With referral marketing, you provide an incentive for every new customer they send your way—typically, a discount on a future purchase, a free product, or a gift card. This encourages customers to recommend your business to their network of contacts.
To make the deal even sweeter, you can develop a two-sided referral program, in which both the new customer and the referring customer receive a reward. Let’s say you run a storage facility. As such, your reward could be that existing customers get one free week of storage for every new customer they refer, and new customers get 10% off their first month of storage.
2. Make the most of online business platforms
Customer reviews are a powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing. If a customer has a great customer experience, they may be inspired to leave an online review. Be sure to add or claim your business page on Yelp and other online platforms so it’s easy for customers to not only find your business but to find important information, like your website and services offered.
Reviews are one of the most influential factors that consumers consider when making a purchase. According to a survey commissioned by Yelp and conducted by Material, 93% of respondents say they read reviews before making a purchase, and 70% say they rarely frequent a new business without reading reviews about it first.
Yelp is also the perfect place to respond to reviews you receive—both positive and critical. Be sure to thank those who had a positive experience and follow up with reviewers whose expectations may not have been met.
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3. Tap into influencer marketing
Influencer marketing is a strategy that involves creating partnerships with social media users who have a devoted following. Influencers have already earned the trust of their followers and are seen as a reliable source of information. As such, consider partnering with social media influencers to spread the word about your business, align your brand with like-minded people, and reach more of your target customers.
Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be on a grand scale to have an impact. According to a report by Statista, major influencers and celebrities “are no longer relatable or aspirational,” and people put more faith in micro-influencers instead. You can partner with local micro-influencers who only have a following of 1,000 to 10,000 people but hold more sway within a specific industry or region.
To locate influencers, start by combing through your social media comments, followers, and anyone who has engaged with your content. You can also search for industry and city-specific hashtags on social media platforms, like “#AustinMoms” or “#DetroitDIY.”
Identify people with a few thousand followers and strong engagement with their fans and reach out to them to see if they’d be interested in a partnership. Just be sure that you and the influencer follow the FTC’s endorsement guidelines—for example, clearly marking sponsored posts with “#ad” or “#sponsored.”
4. Use social media marketing
Influencer marketing isn’t the only way to get the word out about your small business on social media. Many small businesses use social media marketing to engage with consumers, build brand awareness, and grow sales revenue. It’s a free way to market your brand through posts that feature text, photos, graphics, and video.
Business owners have freedom when it comes to posting on social media, but many struggle to use it effectively. The most important marketing tip is to post content that’s interesting, informative, and useful for your target audience, which also makes it more likely to be shared by your followers.
Think about what makes your business unique and valuable to customers. For example, Virgo is an organic hair salon in Los Angeles specializing in curly hair textures using plant-based products. They promote their services with regular posts featuring photos of clients who then share the posts with their followers.
Another way to leverage social media is by running a contest or giveaway. Anyone who follows your social media page, likes your content, or shares your page with their own followers gets entered into a raffle for a free product, gift card, or another freebie.
5. Create opportunities for user-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) refers to the photos, videos, and social posts your customers share about your business. Harnessing UGC allows you to show potential clients how much other people love your business.
A simple way of utilizing user-generated content marketing is reposting existing content that your customers have already shared on social media. For example, you can search for people who have tagged your business in photos or stories and repost them to your business profile while crediting the customer’s page.
Another way to capitalize on UGC? Create opportunities that encourage people to share content related to your business. If you run a restaurant or retail shop, hire a local artist to create a mural outside of your business where customers can take selfies. If you’re an e-commerce retailer, put out a request for “unboxing” videos, in which customers record themselves trying out a new product for the first time.
6. Attend trade shows
Building brand awareness among potential customers and clients is important, but so is making a name for yourself among other small business owners. These are the people you’ll turn to for co-branding deals, partnerships, and joint marketing campaigns.
Consider going to trade shows and other networking events to seek out businesses with an overlapping customer base who aren’t direct competitors. For instance, if you need to attract bookkeeping clients, that new startup offering accounting tools for freelancers can be a high-value partner: Ask the co-founder if you can be one of their recommended accountants and be featured on their blog or podcast.
Always carry high-quality business cards and have an email template ready to go so you can follow up with anyone you meet at a networking event or trade show.
7. Leverage the power of earned media
Traditional advertising can be expensive, but earned media is a great way to spread the word about your business for free. Whenever you host an event, launch a new product, or do anything else that’s new or noteworthy, send out an official press release to local newspapers so they can write up a story about it or send a reporter. (Learn how to write a press release if you haven’t done it before.)
Earned media coverage can get your business featured on TV, in the newspaper, or on other media outlets without spending a dime. It can even boost your website’s search engine rankings by getting you direct links from reputable sources.
Pro tip: Sign up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO) so reporters can come to you when they need a quote from an industry expert.
8. Grow your email list
Building an email list lets you keep in touch with customers before, during, and/or after they purchase a product or service. You can use an email list to nurture leads who are interested in your business but aren’t yet ready to buy, or to follow up with existing customers to offer special deals or inform them about new products.
To build your email list, you’ll need to get customers interested in your business in the first place, which you can do by creating a lead magnet—such as a video, e-book, or another freebie that requires potential customers to provide their email address.
Email marketing is more than just a sales tool. Your email newsletter can take on a life of its own, becoming a go-to source for news and information about your industry and positioning your brand as a valuable part of the community.
9. Invest in digital ads
Free word-of-mouth marketing ideas can grow your business exponentially, but it can be hard to get on a new customer’s radar in the first place. Consider investing in paid ads to display your business on social media websites and online business platforms where your target audience spends time.
Unlike traditional advertising methods, which require you to pay an upfront fee whether or not customers view your ads, most digital advertising works on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis. This pricing model means you only pay when someone actually clicks on your advertisement.
Yelp Ads uses a pay-per-click model, and you can set your advertising budget to as little as $5 per day. Businesses with Yelp Ads get 2.5x more leads than other businesses—and you can adjust your ad spend at any time.
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Learn how to get the word out about your business and boost your bottom line
Consumers trust their friends, family members, and social media influencers to recommend great local businesses. They also read online reviews to compare their options before deciding to patronize a business.
Combined with pay-per-click advertising and other online marketing efforts, a word-of-mouth marketing campaign can help get your business off the ground or reach a wider target audience. Set up a referral program, encourage user-generated content, and respond to online reviews to build brand awareness and develop your online reputation.
Check out these 26 local advertising ideas for even more helpful options.
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.