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Being Word of Mouth Worthy

I’ll freely admit to being someone who gets more excited about letters than numbers. As in I’d much rather play with words and sentence structure, than statistics or budgets.  However, a couple numbers caught my eye while reading a piece of research from Rutgers University related to consumer behavior and marketing:

– 70% of word of mouth conversations happen face-to-face

– 20% of all brands in the US are sold through recommendations from friends

To go a little deeper and get a more international perspective, I pulled this study and graphed results, that tracked the factors which influence purchase decisions. It was based on a study of 1,680 individuals with internet access in the US, UK, Brazil and China. Word of mouth was the clear away winner in all four countries with online reviews from other consumers a powerful second in all regions except Brazil. This study didn’t appear to differentiate word of mouth in person with word of mouth online, but it’s likely safe to say it was a combo, with a significant amount happening in conversations face-to-face, based on the first study.

Now, there’s something else you need to know about these numbers. They are from a pre-pandemic era. And that got me thinking, I wonder how word of mouth that was previously happening face-to-face has been impacted? I strongly suspect some of it has spilled over into digital, since we have studies that confirm consumers are definitely spending more time online, and with social media in particular. In fact, one study I read about consumer trend changes during the pandemic pegged time spent online having gone from 3 hours/day, to over 10 hours/day tuned to media – as defined by work and entertainment activities. And there is no doubt that contactless shopping and payment systems, along with initial store closures, and increased delivery options, has caused the online shopping trend to accelerate. It all plays into the potential for more online interactions and digital word of mouth.

So it seems logical to speculate that a lot of that previous in person word of mouth has switched over to other channels – modified in person, such as face to face zoom calls, actual phone calls, and close family and friends in person groups and interaction, in addition to increased digital interaction. When I put some of these observations out to my “inner circle” enewsletter subscriber group this past Sunday morning, I was hit will a deluge of comments about how word of mouth was so important right now, how people were talking to others by phone and Zoom, and how now more than ever, they were relying on recommendations online to help them through. Some mentioned the use of Facebook community groups, posting to pages, and direct messaging on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Others said they would post in forums, message to WhatApp groups, or simply tag or text friends in the know. Many said they relied on consumer based rating sites now more than ever. From brake jobs, hair salons, food delivery, and “safe places” to shop, travel and recreate, they noted how they trusted word of mouth, reviews and recommendations from friends and social circles.

During this challenging time in particular, people are looking for solutions and recommendations, and that often leads them to seeking out alternatives beyond their usual scope. There is a huge opportunity for switching right now – which could be opportunity, or threat. We know through studies that many consumers are changing their behaviours, and previous loyalties to find better solutions, services and products. I wrote about that extensively in this past post, Change or be Changed: How Substitutes & Hybrids are Altering Consumer Markets.

Pandemic Word of Mouth shifts taking place

In a world fascinated with social media, and all things shiny and new online to connect us, the truth is that many purchases happen because of recommendations, and the majority of those recommendations are happening because of conversations and word of mouth. But, and this is a big BUT, the pandemic may be causing shifts to more digital channels to facilitate that word of mouth, as observed in some anecdotal feedback I received from my readers, in addition to early research about consumer online patterns. I think another key things to observe here is that those digital channels go beyond just public social media, and enter the realm of closed groups and direct 1:1 digital communication. That’s not something you can buy your way into. You have to earn it. This trend was already in motion before the pandemic, but I suspect it has been accelerated.

So why do we spend so much effort and money chasing social media impressions and shares, as well as traditional paid advertising both online and off, when the simple answer is to just give our audience something worth talking about?

Might the answer be to wildly exceed customer expectations in a multitude of ways? Or to have a company and brand story so fascinating and emotionally connected, that customers want to share it with others. Being word of mouth worthy really boils down to “having a story to tell.” Honestly, now more than ever I really think this stuff matters.

Mt Buller gives them something to talk about

This week I learned about an initiative by Mt Buller, a ski area in the state of Victoria, Australia that blew me away. Like many resorts in the southern hemisphere this winter (our summer), they have been hit hard with the impact of the pandemic. Required social distancing, pre-booking, and tracking has made it a challenging season. And tossed in there was a complete lock down of Melbourne, their closest urban center, which prohibited travel outside the home for many would be skiers. Mt Buller managed 40 ski days before finally closing the mountain. But despite that, they offered their ski pass members the option of up to a 100% refund or 100% credit for the season. The kicker was the CONSUMER got to decide on how much refund they deserved, based on the value they thought they had received. Yes, you read that right. They erred on the side of the customer, exceeded their expectations, and I’m sure the good will and positive word of mouth gained will more than exceed the cost to make such a deal. You can also bet that this incredible offer will generate a lot of earned free media coverage – both online and off, which will in turn generate even more positive word of mouth. Their primary competitor, a resort owned by Vail, closed after being open only 4 days. They’ve yet to offer any refunds or credits. You can read about how Mt Buller wins the internet with innovative season pass refunds here.

So what is your story? Is it tied to a larger purpose? Do you evoke emotional triggers to cause people to care? And what do you do to delight your customers daily? (Notice I didn’t use the word “satisfy” there. Nobody talks about being satisfied. But they’ll certainly talk about being delighted. If you’re curious to read more about  Consumer Delight as Marketing check out the link to the post I wrote a couple weeks back – which has lots of ideas about how to frame all of this up during the pandemic.

I’m curious, do any of these consumer patterns resonate with how you have behaved during the pandemic? Or have you observed similar things in your business? Leave a comment below. I’d love to engage further input. This will be a fascinating trend to watch unfold.

 

 

 

Mary Charleson

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