Do you know the story of Joshie the Giraffe? It’s both heartwarming, and an excellent example of how an unexpected experience made for great word of mouth marketing.

A family who had traveled to a Ritz-Carlton accidentally left their son’s stuffed giraffe ‘Joshie’ behind. Knowing how much their son loved Joshie, the family called the hotel and asked if it was possible to have the toy returned.

The Ritz-Carlton Loss Prevention Team not only quickly returned Joshie by mail, but included pictures of his extended vacation, and a few extra goodies as well.

As you can imagine, this family was not only thrilled by the safe return of Joshie – but also felt loved and taken care of by the staff at the Ritz. Even years later, they continue to sing the Ritz-Carlton’s praises to their friends and family. This one positive experience made this family life-long brand ambassadors.

The child’s father summed it up, “It goes without saying that the Ritz-Carlton can count on my family to be repeat customers. But I’m also telling you (and everyone else who happens to read this story). This is something I’ve always told my staff — create an experience so amazing that someone can’t help but tell others about it, and you’re sure to succeed.”

Incredible, right?

Word of mouth is an extremely powerful marketing tool. And with people four times more likely to buy when referred by friends, it’s worth considering how we can create similar share-worthy moments for our customers.

What is word of mouth marketing?

Word of mouth marketing is when someone tells a friend or family member about an experience they had with your brand (remember, this could be a positive or negative experience – but let’s stick to the positives).

Traditionally, word of mouth is as simple as an in-person conversation – one friend sharing with another. But with review sites, influencers, and social media, word of mouth can now spread much farther and faster.

It can also include things like online ratings, reposting branded content, using referral links, and other ‘virtual’ sharing. The good news is – it’s easier than ever for people to spread the word about you and your brand.

How Much Does Word of Mouth Marketing Matter?

It’s easy to think that a few conversations and online reviews wouldn’t massively move the needle on your business – but word of mouth marketing matters a LOT.

  • 83% of online respondents in 60 countries said they trust the recommendations of friends and family, making it the most trusted form of advertising.
  • Even if people don’t hear about your business from a friend they know, a positive online review can have similar effects. 91% of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
  • B2B isn’t exempt from this either. Word of mouth can influence more than 90% of B2B purchases.

Another interesting fact – the higher the stakes, the more people make decisions based on word of mouth. For example, in the wedding industry, Americans trust word of mouth three times more than normal ads when it comes to wedding planning.

Tips to Create Word of Mouth Buzz Around Your Business

Before you start on these tips, I recommend that you evaluate your operational systems and that you have a seamless brand experience to match. This includes everything from high-quality products, responsive customer service, and an easy-to-navigate website. Once everything is ready to go – try out one or more of these word of mouth marketing tips.

Consistently Ask for Reviews

Because reviews by strangers are trusted almost as well as personal recommendations, it’s important that you’re collecting reviews and testimonials. Make it as easy as possible for your customer to leave a review so that people can share their positive experience while it’s still top of mind.

A simple way to start is to survey your customers via email, asking them to fill out a 1-5 star rating and leave an optional comment. Be prepared to get in touch and support customers who say they were less than satisfied. Negative reviews can be just as powerful as positive ones, maybe even more so. Be sure to link to your Yelp and Trip Advisor profiles to make them easy for customers to get to, as well.

Create a Picture-Perfect Moment Around Your Brand
As we all know, social media is a powerful word of mouth tool. To get social media shares, think about how you can incorporate beautiful design or visuals to create a memorable experience.

For example, consider featuring special or unique packaging, your products, customers and staff. Pay attention to the background and incorporating your brand colors in your images. Don’t be afraid to share the “outtakes” – the humorous, candid, unexpected moments you capture when filming or taking photos. Those moments are often the most unexpected, unforgettable, and you guessed it, shared.

If you run a brick-and-mortar shop, decorate with interesting art or a memorable quote that people can photograph and share. Here’s an example from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. This cute quote painted at their checkout counter makes for a fun and shareable moment. Everyone who sees this quote knows its from Jeni’s Ice Creams, and it makes people curious about trying it out for themselves.

Partner up with a Relevant Influencer or Thought Leader

49% of people have said that they rely on recommendations from influencers when making a purchase. Look around on LinkedIn or Instagram for people who you know your target audience is keeping an eye on. Plan to offer compensation, including comping your product or service – it’s poor etiquette (and really, pretty lame) to assume that free products or services alone will get you an influencer’s referral. True influencers invest their own time, energy, and money to do an effective job of vetting and sharing their endorsements, increasing the likelihood of you making a return on your investment.

Incentivize People to Share

Sometimes people would love to talk about you, but they just need a little push. If you have loyal followers, subscribers, or customers – let them know that you reward referrals with discounts, promotions, and other perks. Keep the referral process simple so that it’s easy for people to understand exactly what they need to do to earn these extra benefits.

Long story short, earning word of mouth will require you to get creative with how you can make your business and brand truly exceptional. As the saying goes – “Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable.” Although coming up with word of mouth marketing ideas takes some energy and planning, it’s a great way to generate leads and build a community of fans around your brand.