10 Oct 2014

Harnessing Word of Mouth to Build a Global Brand

Word-of-mouth advertising shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s important for every business – large or small – as a happy customer can easily steer dozens of new ones your way without you even having to lift a finger.

This unpaid form of promotion is invaluable as it represents one of the most credible forms of advertising as a customer puts their reputation on the line every time they make a recommendation.

They won’t want to lose face or embarrass themselves by suggesting a product or service that is poor. So, how can brands use word of mouth to get their message across in different markets around the world?

One size doesn’t fit all

Word of mouth plays a more influential role in the decision-making process of consumers from emerging markets compared to those from developed markets – that’s according to research by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

It found that between 30% and 40% of food and beverage consumers in the UK and the US receive recommendations from friends or family members before making purchases.

Elsewhere, consumers in Africa and Asia reported higher, sometimes dramatically higher, figures: 71% in China and 92% in Egypt, for example, putting them way out in front at the top of the chart.

Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia follow behind with 49%, 46% and 44% respectively.

Brands in emerging markets are increasingly recognising the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing.

Xiaomi, the fastest growing smartphone manufacturer in China, believes investment in quality products and innovation is a more effective driver of sales growth than advertising.

In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review, Lin Bin dismissed traditional marketing methods as a thing of the past in the internet age and asserted that word-of-mouth marketing is the best – as long as it is supported by quality products.

You should therefore first get to know your target market before harnessing word of mouth to build your global brand, as different platforms and approaches will have varying degrees of success in different countries.

Go digital

Word of mouth tends to be a local phenomenon in emerging markets, partly because consumers generally live close to friends and family. This is less the case in developed markets.

The rise of social media and online reviews mean word of mouth is slowly becoming a global phenomenon as well. It’s now easier than ever for consumers to express their opinions, no matter where they live.

It only takes a few minutes for a person to construct a post on Twitter or Facebook – or seconds in some cases. These posts are then seen by hundreds of friends who trust them, while they can quickly travel to thousands more through social sharing and inclusion on search engines results pages.

Well-thought-out messages that are released by brands can be seen by millions within the space of a few days.

Volvo’s Epic Split video featuring actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, for instance, was viewed more than 6.5 million times and shared over 32,000 times on the first day of its release on YouTube. In the space of 4 weeks it was shared over 6 million times across various social networks, also becoming the most shared video on YouTube.

Let’s not forget the potential millions of offline conversations among friends, families and acquaintances.

This example demonstrates how brands need to fuel conversations and drive passion through social media campaigns, rather than just sitting back and waiting for something to happen. It doesn’t work like that.

Connect with consumers

Brands have been more focused on ‘collecting’ rather than ‘connecting’ in recent years, trying to collect as many social media fans as possible instead of actually connecting with them on a personal level.

You need to ask yourself what is more important: 100 fans who really love your product or service, or 1,000 so-called fans that just followed you on Twitter or liked you on Facebook to win some form of prize.

Customer service is paramount – and @NikeSupport on Twitter is the perfect example of how it’s done properly.

It constantly responds to followers, no matter which of its products the question is about. We suggest you visit the page and see for yourself just what you need to do to effectively engage with consumers.

You also need to make consumers feel valued. Ask for their opinion; don’t simply expect them to provide it.

The ‘Do Us a Flavour’ campaign from Walkers, the British snack food manufacturer, is a good example of how brands can influence word-of-mouth advertising.

Consumers were asked to create a new flavour of crisps to hit shelves around the world. More than 3.8 submissions were received, making it one of the biggest marketing campaigns in the brand’s history.

Don’t slip into the shadows

The less a consumer knows about a product or service and the more conspicuous the choice, the more the consumer is likely to care about the opinions of others.

This is why word-of-mouth marketing is so important to brands, and why failure to harness this can result in a number of missed opportunities.

A good word of mouth advertising campaign can generate thousands of conversations and recommendations, potentially boosting sales.

Global information and measurement company Nielsen claims 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising – now that’s a stat that’s hard to ignore.

Their positive opinions and experiences shared on social media and review sites help to increase your credibility among potential customers in a way that you, as a business, will find incredibly difficult to do alone.

You should therefore focus on building a strategy and a plan that goes beyond ‘likes’ and gets people taking about you.

Think of it this way: if people aren’t talking about you, they’re forgetting about you, so start connecting with consumers before it’s too late to do anything about it.

Perhaps the easiest place to start is your order confirmation page. Here you should include a couple of sentences graciously thanking customers for their purchase and asking them to share with their friends.

Remember, the easier you make it to share, the more likely people are to share it, so provide customised social sharing icons for them to click on.

But why stop there? Offer as many outlets as possible where customers can provide feedback. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to effective word-of-mouth marketing.

Monitoring success

If your campaign goes viral globally, you’ll need to ensure that people around the world are responding in a positive manner.

Social media monitoring helps you do this while providing greater customer service and detecting buyer interest around the world.

Since more than 70% of global internet users are communicating in languages that are not English, the task of monitoring social media for brand mentions and comments can be hugely time consuming and requires speakers of the native language to determine whether the messages are positive or negative.

So, every campaign aimed at increasing word-of-mouth referrals should include an international social media monitoring and management element in order to achieve global success.


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