Word Of Mouth Beats AnyThing : Growing Awareness for a Start-up

Lewis Marshall from On Tap Marketing was in print and communications in the eighties – in security printing, and international telecoms. In the nineties he moved from services marketing into manufactured product marketing with an international paint company, and since the mid-nineties he has worked for himself in marketing consultancy, mainly in the SME sector. So his expertise is in B2B, not B2C.

1. How long have you been working in Marketing and what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about working in marketing?


lewis marhsall

It’s been a long time!

Until the arrival of the digital age, marketing was essentially communication through the media of print: leaflets, advertising, flyers, coupons, and similar items for mailing or for personal delivery. Selling was carried out through sales people in a face to face environment, with the appropriate printed materials to support their pitch.  With the arrival of email and the internet and latterly social media, the emphasis has changed from print, to graphics suitable for the digital age. This has led to on-screen interactive buying capabilities, and internet access to much more information about the potential supplier, and the potential customer.

It’s not difficult to pinpoint the biggest misconceptions about working in “marketing”, and that is that a Marketing Department is in charge of marketing.   It’s not. Marketing is a business strategy that permeates throughout a business.

When senior management buy into this and set out that strategy clearly, for all departments and staff to understand, their organisation will project a common ethos / brand image / customer face.  Without this, a company will continue with piecemeal messages and with departments with individual approaches to what they think they should do to benefit the organisation. The messages may even contradict each other.  In this situation the Marketing Department is powerless to do more than simply react to requests, or at best come up with bright ideas that they hope will produce more customers and sales. In the most effective operations, the Marketing Department should be the creator of concepts and activities that fit into the overarching ethos of the organisation and be the monitor of “compliance” with that ethos throughout the organisation.

2. How did you come up with the term of WOMBAT?


The term is simply an acronym for the most basic insight that anyone in marketing can have: that peer-selling or recommendation is by far the most effective tool in attracting new customers. Conversely, it can be the most devastating if the message from peers is negative.

If a friend or trusted colleague raves about a certain restaurant, wouldn’t that venue move up your list of places to try? And the opposite is true if they are critical of any aspect of it.

So…. Word Of Mouth Beats AnyThing…WOMBAT.  Several years ago, Bain & Co. one of the world’s leading management consultancies developed the Net Promoter Score based exactly on this.

3. How effective is word of mouth marketing?


As I alluded to above, it is the most effective marketing tool you can have.

4. What is advice can you give on growing awareness for a start-up company by word of mouth?


When you are starting a company, you know more about it than anyone. You know what its strengths are, and its weaknesses. You know (or should know) what makes you different from others. You should have a business plan that you are confident will work, based on realistic estimates. You should be aware of the finances you have available, and how long your business will take to break even and support itself from sales. Above all you should have a clear idea of why your customers will buy from you rather than from another source.

The way that you use WOMBAT depends on the business type. A therapist working from the front room of their home will use different methods compared with a well-financed operation that starts up with its own staff and premises. A manufacturing organisation will use different methods from a service operation.

This brings me to the point that is essential to successful marketing:

recognise that your “customers” are not identikits, but have individual likes and dislikes, have different views and attitudes, and so on. But they buy from you for one or more reasons, based on how closely your offer matches their needs or desires.

5. How important is word of mouth in terms of product promotion?


Essential as part of an overall promotion strategy.

6. What is the easiest way for a company to create a word of mouth marketing strategy?


See the answer to Question 4 above. It depends on the business, its location, its unique selling point, its sales area, the type of customer it is after, the value it adds to a product or service already offered by others, the uniqueness of its offer, and so on. Understanding why your customers buy from you and their likelihood of telling others about their experience is crucial to your success. So ask them!

7. Is there a methodology for predicting WOMBAT campaign results?


Again this depends on what you do to promote word of mouth and how easy it is to analyse based on whether formal or informal methods are used. Ask your customers. If you have a formal way of asking (questionnaire / feedback form / online reviews) you can measure the responses, and isolate the most common features. Informal discussion arising from social events or other face to face meetings requires good listening skills and a retentive memory. Don’t be afraid to note down informal feedback after the occasion, so that you can take ACTION based on what you hear.

8. Where do you get your inspiration in case you run out of marketing ideas?


Ideas should be generated from your understanding of customers, so you should be constantly reviewing what they think – including asking them how you can improve your offer. So you should never run out of ideas to improve how you present your offer – your customers will drive you in the most effective direction.

9. Is there a way to measure the impact of word of mouth referrals for a small business?


Please refer to Question 7. Much depends on the product or the service offered – whether it is repeating business, or a one-off purchase. The simplest way is to ask each new customer how they heard about you.

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