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3 Data-Backed Ways to Increase Word of Mouth

I am endlessly fascinated by the sheer power of word-of-mouth marketing.

According to Nielsen, 92% of people “somewhat or completely trust” recommendations from people they know, far outstripping TV and print (only 47% trust those channels) and online video ads (36%).

Obviously, positive word of mouth can have a significant impact on sales, especially for small businesses! Go word-of-mouth!

The problem is knowing whether or not word-of-mouth marketing is working for you, because, as it turns out, only a tiny amount of word of mouth takes place online, which I read here (great article, by the way, even if the authors are selling their product). Most word-of-mouth marketing takes place via email, text, conversations, and phone calls.

However, that does not mean it’s smart to just dismiss word-of-mouth marketing (see: 92% effective stat). Even if we can’t measure it accurately, we can definitely work on improving it in a very targeted way.

That’s where McKinsey & Company come in. In a report called A New Way to Measure Word-Of-Mouth Marketing, the authors lay out 3 data-backed ways to increase word-of-mouth marketing.

But first: To understand how successful word of mouth is, you have to take the average sales impact of a brand message and multiply it by the number of word-of-mouth messages.

That impact—in other words, the ability of any one word-of-mouth recommendation or dissuasion to change behavior—reflects what is said, who says it, and where it is said.

So let’s look at how to improve those 3 factors:

How to improve what is said

What is said drives word-of-mouth impact. The McKinsey team found that content must focus on the most important product or service features. For mobile phones, they found that design is more important than battery life. For skin care, packaging and ingredients are more important than how a product makes people feel.

Takeaway: People talk—and generate buzz—about functional messages. Emotionally charged marketing does not generate buzz.

How to improve who sends a message

We have to trust the person who recommends a product, of course, but beyond that we have to believe that he or she really knows (emphasis mine) the product or service.

About 8 to 10 percent of consumers are what we call influentials, whose common factor is trust and competence. Influentials typically generate three times more word-of-mouth messages, and each message has four times more impact on a recipient’s purchasing decision.

Takeaway: Recommendations from friends and family are good, but influencers – bloggers, journalists, celebrities, etc. – is the holy grail of word of mouth. Start building relationships with them.

How to improve where it is said

Messages passed among your close, trusted friends have less reach but greater impact.

Takeaway: Encourage your clients to talk about you with their networks by interviewing them for your blog, featuring them on social media as “client of the month,” asking them to guest blog for you, etc.

Based on the above takeaways, how will you change content, blogger outreach, and client engagement to improve word of mouth?

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Author information

Monika Jansen

Monika Jansen is a freelance copywriter and editor who helps with companies of all shapes on sizes kick their content up to the next level. You can find her online at