Once upon a time, word-of-mouth marketing was prized incredibly highly. It was a strange discipline in many ways: to use a political analogy, the goal was to engineer movements that were ostensibly grassroots. In other words, each campaign sought to drive up a product, service or brand’s popularity by artificially prompting word-of-mouth recommendations.
Peculiar, certainly, but often effective — so what happened? Where did all the word-of-mouth marketers go? Well, the answer to both questions lies in the modern emergence of influencers. These individuals rule social media, possessing huge followings and driving opinion as the influencer label notes, and they’re the word-of-mouth marketers for the digital age.
Discussions have moved online
Does the classic kind of personal recommendation still take place? Two friends meet for a drink, and one of them mentions some new product they’re using. Absolutely — but it’s relatively rare. That type of exchange is still very common by historical standards, but it’s now dwarfed by the mass of online discussions, making it crystal-clear where the smart money is.
In fact, there’s a much greater chance that a personal recommendation will take place via social media and be more general in scope (not recommending to a specific person). Given the incredible visibility of a public post, just one recommendation to the right group (and from the right person) can spark a relevant and valuable discussion.
Corporate influences are accepted
Before the online world developed, recommendations were almost always peer-to-peer. It was sufficiently rare for recommendations to be made in other situations (unless directly requested) that a comment about why product X is a sensible purchase would stick out sorely and bring the reliability of the commenter into question.
Things are very different online. Even though there’s ostensibly a flat hierarchy, there’s really a massive power imbalance between influencers and their followers, with the latter often viewing the former as inherently more knowledgeable than they are. Couple this with the normalisation of influencer payments (followers are often happy for influencers who get marketing deals) and you have a recipe for much broader and more impactful recommendations.
They’re key for reaching new audiences
Back before we could communicate online, it was tricky for a marketing firm to expand its reach. It would need to carefully study the traits and preferences of the people it wanted to win over, and hope that the subtle accumulation of recommendations in the periphery would eventually lead to a major change in perception of whatever it was marketing.
Today, new audiences are immediately accessible through the digital melting pot (in some ways, it’s undermining the concept of disparate audiences): just search on social media and you’ll find the people you’re looking for. And when you want to reach out with some credibility, you can strike a deal with suitable influencers and get instant impact. The same old tactics, but with the efficiency and convenience ramped up: the digital age in summary.
Can you still engage in old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing? There’s no reason why not — it’s just so much harder work than influencer marketing, and even if you get every last element of it right, it’s unlikely to prove sufficiently more effective to justify that massive difference in effort.
If you want to expand your marketing strategy to new horizons, you don’t need to look for sneaky ways to nudge public opinion (there’s every chance they’ll be noticed anyway). Take the direct approach, work with an influencer (or influencers), and get the results you need faster and more easily.
A writer and small business owner, Kayleigh Alexandra is an expert in all things content, freelance, marketing, and commercial strategy. She is a writer at MicroStartups.org
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