Changing the Way Small Business Owners Think About Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Is word of mouth marketing dead? Far from it. A recent survey of small business owners showed that over 63 percent of entrepreneurs considered it their most effective marketing channel, compared to social media (13.3 percent) and digital ads (6.3 percent).
What exactly does “word of mouth” mean these days, though? With the pandemic accelerating our shift to a digital-centric world, online reviews, Google Maps pins, or website links may have replaced traditional street corner conversations that led to small business discovery. SMBs still define the communities they reside in; it’s just time to reimagine how those communities and the people within them interact, keeping in mind the role of digital platforms.
Here are key questions business owners should consider when spreading the word about their brand in our digital society.
What do today’s conversations look like, and where do they take place?
When you hear “word of mouth,” you probably think of neighbors talking on the sidewalk, recommending local shops to one another. That’s a common experience, but it’s not a common reality anymore.
Modern conversations are happening over text, Zoom and social media — between friends and strangers alike. Social media and websites are powerful tools for recommendations — online reviews can be just as trustworthy as a friend’s suggestion (sometimes even more so). If your brand isn’t featured or reviewed online, you’re probably neglecting a significant segment of your audience.
When friends tell you about a business, your first move is to find it on Google, Yelp, or Maps to see its website, people’s opinions and its location. With this much search power at customers’ fingertips, interest must be immediate.
Otherwise, they’ll keep scrolling and an opportunity will be lost. When people search for your business, is it on the first page? Are competitors bidding on your keywords? A few easy fixes in these areas can ensure you’re not missing out.
How can SMBs maintain a sense of community in a digital world?
We might not think of the internet geographically, but the digital world has many communities that SMBs can cater to. Most are interest-based, meaning that you should spread word of your business in the right places.
Choosing your niche comes down to what kind of business you’re operating. If your sales are tied to a physical location, promoting locally through tools like SEO and social media can be helpful, as well as appearing on maps and review platforms with localized keywords.
If you’re selling online and locality is less important, catering to the right interest-based audiences is more effective. Leveraging the right partnerships is a great way to market, whether it’s through influencers or updating social accounts regularly.
SMBs shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a review for exceptional service either. It can be as easy as a quick conversation or follow-up email thanking a customer with a link to a review site. Requesting a review is a surefire way to plant a seed that grows into word-of-mouth marketing for your business.
Why is spreading the word online so important?
Only 33.4 percent of respondents from a recent survey considered online presence important to success in their first year, a concerning trend that points to a resistance to change. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in these last two years, it’s that adaptability is key to business success. SMBs need to embrace this mindset.
Efficiently using online marketing amplifies the qualities that make your business unique. With data-driven insights and more control over where and how your content appears, you can remove guesswork and focus on brand improvement.
The internet isn’t just an informational tool. It's become a way for people to unwind and connect. With the pandemic impacting consumers’ social behaviors, more people spend their time browsing the web. If you make your business appealing and easy-to-find, its name will likely appear more in online threads and forums.
Lastly and most simply, when someone can send a link to your website, it’s easier for customers to find and less likely that they’ll forget about your business. Online space offers staying power, minimizing the role human error or inattention can play in the purchase equation.
Finding the right mix
Recent data found that 77.5 percent of entrepreneurs said they’d start their businesses over again if they could, and nearly 60 percent described their first year of business as “empowering” or “fulfilling.” Digital channels are a great tool for speeding up your timeline and making business ownership even more rewarding.
SMBs don’t have to sacrifice the qualities that make them special when they advertise through digital platforms. In fact, it’s a way to show audiences that they’re adapting to the times and will remain prominent in a digitizing world.
This doesn’t mean abandoning brick and mortar, either. In fact, the ideal mix for many businesses is using physical space in tandem with digital space, cultivating a symbiotic relationship between the two.
Paula brings more than 20 years of experience leading digital technology and marketing teams, having held leadership roles at SouthernCarlson, Interline Brands, H&R Block, Wyndham Worldwide and Alamo Rent A Car/National Car Rental, prior to joining Newfold Digital’s senior leadership team. Drum is a digital veteran with a proven understanding of the digital revolution’s impact on consumer behavior, and she has led companies through the critical changes required to compete in today’s technology-centric world. Drum, a Florida native, holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida Warrington School of Business and an undergraduate degree from University of Miami with a major in International Business and minors in Economics and Spanish.