Word of Mouth Marketing: 22 Strategies for Small Business

Word of mouth marketing is an effective and inexpensive way to advertise, attract and win over customers. When others talk positively about your business, it builds name recognition and trust that lead to sales.  Here are 22 word of mouth marketing strategies that work for small business.

What is word of mouth marketing?

Word of mouth marketing (WOM) is what happens when someone who isn’t directly affiliated with your company talks about your business or recommends your products to other people. In other words, they advertise your product or service for you.

Word of mouth has always been an important tool for small businesses because when someone speaks positively about what you sell, it helps build the buyer’s confidence and trust that their purchase won’t be a mistake.  

Big businesses often pour millions of dollars into advertising campaigns that imply people are talking about their products. In one Burlington clothing company ad campaign, for instance, consumers bragged about how much money they saved on clothes by shopping at Burlington. And, in a DSW Shoe television ad, one woman ran up to another and asked in awe, “Where did you get those shoes?” The answer: “DSW — It’s where you get those shoes.”  

Small businesses don’t have that kind of money to spend. But savvy marketers are able to generate a buzz and get people talking about their products without spending a fortune on advertising. Here’s what you need to know to get people spreading the word about your business.

Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies that Work for Small Businesses

  • Provide top-notch products and services. Customers will only extol your virtues if they are happy with what they’ve bought. What you sell and how you sell it should live up to or exceed what your customers expect based on your ads, sales pitch, and industry standards. Remember, word of mouth works two ways. If customers are unhappy with your company, they will complain loudly and publicly about their bad experience. 
  • Provide excellent customer service. The secret here: treat your customers and prospects the way you’d like to be treated yourself. A few basics: Smile at customers when you talk to them. Be polite. Answer their questions. Don’t keep them waiting unnecessarily. Whenever possible, have a real person answer the phone. If you must send callers to voice mail, have something in your voice mail announcement that lets them know how soon you will return their call. Then, return their call within the stated time frame. If you provide a service, get the customers’ projects done on time and within their budget. Keep them informed about changes, delays, or other information they’d want to know.
  • Be friendly. If you have customers who come into your store or restaurant regularly, take a minute to smile and say “Hi” and ask how they’re doing today. If you know a customer’s name, call them by name. Friendly hellos and a few seconds of small talk make most people feel welcome and like they’re dealing with a friend. If you have customers call you, do the same thing, if possible.
  • Answer questions that prospects have with facts, not jargon, and if you sell something technical, don’t talk down to the customer or get annoyed if they have trouble understanding what you are saying. Rephrase your answer so the customer does understand it. If there’s some industry news or product information that will be helpful to customers, pass it along to them.
  • Thank your customers for their business. Everyone likes to be appreciated, and customers are no exception. While you may have the words printed on receipts or included in email confirmations of sales, or you or your staff may say “Thanks” in person, doing something such as sending a handwritten thank you card to new customers or a returning customer will set you apart as a business who cares about their customers and is worth recommending.
  • Return calls as promptly after you’ve made the sale as you did before. If there’s going to be a delay in delivering a product or service, let the customer know about the delay as soon as you become aware of it, and let them know why there’s a delay and what options they have.
  • If a customer calls with a complaint about your product or service, don’t argue with them or point fingers. Apologize (even if you think the customer may be wrong) and solve their problem or offer a refund. By handling problems quickly and efficiently, you and your employees can turn angry customers into fans and advocates.
  • Be sure you and your employees are always polite no matter how rude or angry a customer may be. Never raise your voice, be sarcastic, or speak in a demeaning way to customers. 
  • Keep in touch with customers and prospects by email. Using email to communicate regularly with customers and prospects who have requested to be on your mailing list helps them remember you and brings repeat business. If you’re regularly providing interesting information, coupons, or other material customers want, they’ll brag to their friends who have similar interests about the benefits they’ve derived. 
  • Develop co-marketing agreements with a few carefully chosen businesses. The ideal co-marketing partners are businesses who target the same market, but sell different types of products or services than you do. Co-marketing agreements can be as simple or complex as each company likes. On the simplest level, two businesses (say, a limousine service and a wedding photographer) agree to distribute flyers, brochures, or coupons for each other.  In more elaborate agreements, each company might sell the other’s products, or contribute content to each other’s websites. No matter how they’re structured, co-marketing agreements can be a valuable marketing tool. About your only cost will be the cost of any brochures, order forms, or other documents you ask your co-marketing partners to distribute.
  • Be personally visible to your market. Join networking groups and industry groups that your customers join and be a regular attendee at meetings and events. Talk to people at meetings to find out what they do and what’s important to them and what challenges they face. When you can, give them tips or point them to resources they need, even though it has nothing to do with your business. Your goal is to be thought of as a friend and problem-solver — not just a salesperson.
  • Be active in social media. Set up Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages for your business. Consider Pinterest and SlideShare, too. Choose the social media channels that are most likely to reach your target customers. Then encourage your customers to like them, follow them and share what you post on them. Run contests and special promotions to encourage shares. A social media “share” spreads the word of mouth about your company to all the people who follow and like the customers who share your information. Test paid ads or promoted post options on Facebook, too.
  • Add social share buttons to your website and email messages. The easier you make it for customers and prospects to share your information and promotions, the more likely it is they will do so.
  • Offer to be a speaker or give seminars at conferences, industry meetings, and libraries. Be sure your talk delivers plenty of useful content. Delivering useful, factual information and problem-solving tips about issues common to the audience will set you up as an expert and the go-to person to solve the problems you talked about.
  • When people praise you, ask if you can use their comments on your website and/or promotional material. The comments are testimonials you can use to help prospects “hear” good things about your company.
  • Publicize any publicity you get. If a reporter quotes you, you win an award, you are a guest on a talk show, let other people know about it. You can post newspaper clips on a store bulletin board, link to them from your website, and mention the accomplishments in a newsletter. Knowing other people are talking about you, will give your customers even more incentive to tell their friends about you.
  • Be involved in your community. Whether it’s sponsoring a little league team, or an organization event, your participation will help you and your business name be remembered.

Related: Marketing strategies that work for small businesses

  • Promote what makes your business special. Are your products locally sourced? Has your business been in the same location for years? Are you a woman-owned, minority-owned, or veteran-owned business? If you promote what makes your business special, you give people yet another reason to recommend you to likely customers. 
  • Make your business name and phone number easy to find. Have it painted in big letters on vehicles you use to service consumers or businesses so anyone who can see your vehicle knows how to reach you. Leave several business cards with customers so they can hand them out when a neighbor asks if they were happy with the job you did… and how to get in touch with you. Make your business phone number visible on every page of your website. 
  • Hone your networking skills. Join and become active in local business, community, or industry groups that attract your targeted customers. Win respect (and business) by helping others in the group achieve their goals.
  • Refer business to noncompeting businesses. When you refer customers, patients, or clients to others, those businesses are more likely to refer business to you.
  • Thank people who refer business to you. How you thank them will depend on the nature of your business. The thanks may be in the form of a handwritten thank you card, a coupon, a cash reward, or whatever is practical, expected, and ethical for your line of business. Thanking those who help you will make them feel their efforts are appreciated, which will make them be glad to recommend you to more people.

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