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Word-of-Mouth Brand Awareness: On Whose Shoulders Does it Fall?

As small business owners, word-of-mouth advertising is no doubt one of the most powerful ways to promote your brand. It adds authenticity, an organic presence among consumers, and dependable hype. But perhaps a key to success with word-of-mouth awareness is the quality of how it is being said more than quantity alone. Are you aware of how your brand ambassadors talk about your brand? Do you know the words they use, the questions they pose, or the examples they provide to prove your product’s value?

Many might believe word-of-mouth advertising to be a process left to chance, but in reality, it takes careful construction from the top down. There is, in fact, a responsibility for word-of-mouth advertising control that rests on the shoulders of the business owner herself. No, this isn’t a micromanaging tactic used by control freaks, rather, it is an effective coaching method as a means toward more efficient brand awareness communication. Coaching on the part of small business owners regarding the specifics of worth-of-mouth marketing is paramount to a flourishing campaign.

Brand awareness propagates not just through the act of brand ambassadors talking about it, but more specifically, how they talk about it.

Anyone in a position to voice your brand can be thought of as brand ambassadors. Think of them as falling into one of three groups.

First, is the stakeholders group. Stakeholders include employees, that family member who invested in your business, or others who have a direct stake in your business or play an active role in its success. This group has a clear incentive to speak about the brand. As a small business owner, it’s your job to equip and support these stakeholders with tools to adequately represent your brand or product through a compelling story around pain points and problems solved. Since word-of-mouth ultimately involves conversation, the coaching primarily focuses on that conversation your stakeholders have with others. Running the risk of a generic and lackluster story people can’t relate to won’t do you any good with your product or service. You want to address the primary problem the product solves as well as how it’s distinct and separate from others like it. Ultimately, you want your stakeholders to feel engaged and connected with the success of the business and that their dialogue around it inextricably is linked to that.

For example, if a local salon recently launched a new organic hair product line, several key questions an employee can ask a potential customer would be: What frustrates you about your hair? Are you aware how chemicals in commercially sold hair products make these problems worse? How much money do you think you’ve spent on products that have disappointed you? By addressing the pain point succinctly, stakeholders can then offer a solution to the problem, by introducing their hair spray that retains hold and texture without the use of harmful polymers and hydrocarbons. Key components to the brand’s story might even be several pillars of its history – specifically, that the brand was created by a single mother who ran her own hair salon, who grew concerned for herself and her clients about the long-term use of toxic chemicals in shampoos, conditioners, and sprays. With stakeholders hitting these specific sound bites, you are assured the quality of the information about your brand that’s being dispersed.

You’d be amazed at what a customer retains when given a clear pain point, solution and story.

A second group is what I like to call the friends, family and acquaintance group; these are people who are not employees or stakeholders and don’t have a direct involvement with the success of the company, but who are interested in talking about it and being more informal brand ambassadors. Despite its lack of direct brand investment, this, too, is a valuable faction and still requires coaching around how people talk about it.

Best thing you can do? Equip this second group with a ten-second sound bite, centered on the problem the product solves. Keeping in mind our hair product example, we could say, “Many continue to suffer from damaged hair and waste money trying products that don’t work. Sally’s Salon helps people look and feel good by offering hair products without harmful chemicals.” This puts a buzz, some important key points in people’s ears and promotes word-of-mouth in a simple, straightforward and concise manner. Remember, you aren’t asking this group to devote time and energy marketing and advertising for you, you’re simply providing them with the vocabulary to more effectively share your business with people they know.

The third group is equally crucial – your customers. While relying on enthusiastic clientele to recommend your product or service to potential clientele has been a traditional word-of-mouth model, a stronger means is to give people incentive to do so or at least make it as easy as possible. Offering an incentive program for all referring customers might give them more motivation to talk to their friends and family about your service. Why not equip them, too, with a simple way to share your company’s story? Or how about a ready-made Tweet they can easily send out to their social network?

Customer incentive undoubtedly produces customer referral.

A thread that runs through all three groups is what I refer to as “the lead capture.” This is something that all types of brand ambassadors should be aware of so they can refer potential customers to you for follow-ups. Again, this falls on the shoulders of the small business owner to show people how to get to that place, how to continue the conversation, how to further connect to the brand. This can be through several means, be it a website, a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, an email address or phone number. Whatever it is, it should be clearly known and an easy process. While it’s true that of all three groups, employees have a greater responsibility to get that follow-through, guidance from the top down on how to get the lead is crucial.

Now, to be clear, achieving brand awareness and conversion at scale may not be achieved with verbal dialogue alone, but don’t underestimate the power of advocacy through human interaction. It’s a source for warmer leads and doesn’t cost you anything. Its power and might should never be minimized. It can prove to get you to that next milestone and save you time and money from focusing on countless digital ads. As small business owners, it’s imperative to not just expect people to talk about your product, but to also proactively influence how they do so. 


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