Movie reviews, Trip Advisor ratings, Internet influencers, celebrity endorsements – opinions make for powerful marketing tools. Back in the day, the Evening Standard’s food critic was said to be able to make or break a restaurant on the strength of her review.
Referrals account for a significant percentage of new hires in most organisations. We love to know what people whose opinion we trust think about something we’re considering buying or experiencing, whether it’s thumbs up or thumbs down.
It’s widely acknowledged, I think, that part of the reason reviews, recommendations, and referrals are so powerful is because they reduce risk. They allow us to gain insight without having to invest our resources to find out for ourselves. When the recommendation comes from someone we trust, and who has a track record of mirroring our own likes and dislikes, we put even more store by what they say.
Despite all this, word of mouth still struggles to become prevalent as a B2B marketing method - mostly because it’s not seen as repeatable or predictable. However, I believe this is more about how companies manage their “influencer” channel rather than a weakness in the method itself. Indeed, some companies use word of mouth very successfully in a B2B setting – take Cisco, for example. Cisco Champions create a steady stream of timely, authentic, and engaging content which reaches a diverse audience and allows Cisco to earn the trust of the IT community. In fact Lindsay Hamilton, Social Media Marketing Manager at Cisco Systems has been quoted as saying: “Our community views the information as for us, by us”. Marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the power of tribes – people like us do things like this. Cisco Champions taps into that idea and gives members of the IT tribe the opportunity to hear from kindred spirits - people who understand their problems and challenges better than anyone else.
Take a moment and think about how much of your business is attributable to advocates connecting with others. I’m not talking about paid referrals, I’m talking about people spontaneously promoting your solutions to their contacts and connections. Because such events appear ad hoc there seems little appetite to do something that increases the likelihood of these collisions occurring, but I’d argue companies could be even more successful if they consciously leveraged the power of this underutilised resource. Getting repeatable and predictable results is possible through word-of-mouth provided you actively manage it – and scalable if you to exploit the network effects.
You need to understand your different types of influencers, such as advocates (who just love you), introducers, partners, analysts, advisory communities, and shareholders. Each has different nurturing needs but there are some simple things you can do that work with all of them:
Help – If your business can help them, do it. ‘Give to get’ is always a good strategy (although it does rely on knowing what help the recipient needs and values).
Insights – Keep people informed. Always assume they care what is going on and want to be kept up to date. Remember, not every item will be of interest to everyone all the time, so get to know their what works for each individual and don’t inundate them – think quality, not quantity.
Connections – Create connections across all your channels. Work out who might mutually benefit from knowing each other and introduce them. Think of it as another form of giving to get. This indirect set of collisions helps maintain the chain reaction.
Over the last fifteen months we’re all become far too familiar with the term R-number – the measure of how contagious a virus is and hence how quickly it can spread. Think about what you need to do to increase your organisation’s R number - make your word-of-mouth messages more transmissible, more contagious, spread faster and wider.