Branding via Word-of-Mouse

Pradeep Salgaonkar

Dr Pradeep Salgaonkar speaks on technological developments with regards to brand recommendations and how businesses can use technology to push their products

Though I am not a regular social media user, one post on Facebook from a colleague of mine from the academic
circle, caught my attention for some specific reasons. The post was an open complaint and frustration resulting from the concerned company’s apathy not to attend to the faulty product supplied by them and this customer being left helpless. The post describes the ordeal that the customer went through for believing in the brand and buying it, without knowing that the after sales dealings would be so pathetic and traumatic. What does this sort of a post on social media mean for a brand? Do they mar the brand image?

On the flipside, we come across host of posts and comments from people praising their brands and giving strong
recommendations. Interestingly, this same colleague of mine, in another post is praising aloud another service business and very strongly recommends others to experience the service products of this business. Probably he loves the brand and has an affectionate bond with the same. So, what does this type of posts mean to a brand? Do they positively reinforce the brand image? The answers are ‘yes’ to both the brand image related questions. Traditionally this sort of communication happened face-to-face. Today, it happens online via social media.

The traditional and most powerful tool of marketing the ‘Word-of-Mouth’ is indisputably one of the most effective
means of building strong brands with huge brand loyalty. However, with technological developments and the advent and mass usage of social media the form of Word-of-Mouth has got transformed from face-to-face exchange of thoughts and recommendations to online, digitally spreading opinions, recommendations and other messages about a company or product (or anything else), especially via social media and that’s called as the ‘Word-of-Mouse’. These communications are mostly to the masses, happen via some of the social media platforms, are cheap, and have the potential of spreading very fast across the population.

Word-of-Mouse happens in many other ways, as well. People send messages through email, company review sites or in the comment sections of web pages and articles etc. All these efforts by companies to encourage customers respond to their communication is in the direction of customer co-creation and engagement. It is part of enhancement of digital communities and forums. People develop networks of relationships online, and presence of brand messages in communications between people means rapid dispersion of that message. In general, companies strive to cultivate a positive reputation online to promote good ‘word-of-mouse’. And, the belief behind using word-of-mouse as a tool for branding is that ‘every customer is a marketer’.

Importance of Word-of-Mouse
If we look around at the various brands that we use, then we would realise that most of those brands are the ones that have been either recommended to us by a friend or an acquaintance, or are influenced by them in some way or the other.
The significance of Word-of-Mouse is high because people trust the opinions of their friends and known people, or
other customers, more than the company representatives, when it comes to making a brand choice. Published research on consumer behaviour shows that that 90% of customers trust opinions and recommendations from people they know, and 70% trust consumer reviews posted online. Likewise, the millennials and Gen Z consumers trust online reviews more than the opinions of friends and family.

Similarly, my research on consumer buying behaviour in the healthcare sector shows that a customer availing services due to recommendation coming from an existing customer has much higher impact on the loyalty of that customer towards the service provider, than the customers coming through other sources. It is evident that Word-of-Mouse is very important for businesses, as all customers can be heavily influenced through Word of-Mouse communications and reviews, either positive or negative. Satisfied and happy customers will spread positive words, whereas disgruntled customers will pass on negative messages.

Thus, businesses need to be vigilant and watchful for all the communication coming from customers and manage the
same with speed and agility. Negative and bad reviews circulated online need to be avoided or addressed immediately before it creates any damage to the brand. Ignoring online reviews and social media posts, especially if it is a negative word-of-mouse, is one of the worst things to happen, and could be ruin the brand’s image.

Lessons for Branding
How do customers, specially the younger tech savvy generation, find about brands today and seek information. It is the social media info which they rely and make their buying decisions based on the reviews and influences spread via Word-of-Mouse. For marketers and branding professionals it is a challenge to make your ‘customers sell your brand’. But how does one do this? The best way is by way of constant engagement with customers on online platforms.

Just having your brand’s presence on all possible platforms is not sufficient; companies have to communicate
continuously with customers. They have to be proactive in responding to comments and reviews online instantly, across all possible platforms. Any negative reviews need to be handled sensitively and with care. Having a robust mechanism and tools to listen, learn, and respond to customers round the clock is essential to engage with customers and make them believe in your brand, and once the belief is established, rest is magic of Word-of-Mouse.

Give your consumers a reason to tell a story about you and your brand, and strike the emotional connect with them, so that they are motivated to share the brand story onwards via Word-of-Mouse to their network.

Exploit the marketing funnel fully. Get moving the customers downwards to become loyalists and advocates for your
brand so that automatically they speak for, and sell the brand. Let them become brand ambassadors, who indirectly own the brand and thus grow the brand.

Have a robust mechanism and tools to listen, learn, and respond to customers instantly. Build a strong culture around the brand of delivering on the promise of trust and the promise of customer service. Do whatever it takes to get your customers speak and sell your brand, provide them what they seek to get, but persuade them to spread a positive Word-of-Mouse about the brand.

The writer is a Founder Director, Saldots Academy, Corporate Trainer and Facilitator, Former Chairman, Goa Management Association. Email:

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