Why Word-of-Mouth Still Dominates Post-Pandemic

What is happening with good ol’ word-of-mouth? This question is vitally important for the growth of nearly any business. Word-of-mouth (WOM) tends to drive your reputation and consumers’ choices far more than do other communication channels. But because mouths have often been behind masks during the past twelve months, it makes sense to examine whether the nature of WOM itself has been altered. A couple of years ago, when I began updating research for my book, I found multiple credible sources revealing that more than 90 percent of word-of-mouth (WOM) happens offline. The research generally defined “offline” to include face-to-face conversations as well as phone, email, texts, and video chat (in other words, communication channels other than social media posts). And within that large category, face-to-face dominated. For an update, I turned to a 15-year review from the firm Engagement Labs. (I have no connection to them, but their data seems reliable and it is consistent with what I see in practice.) Their review, released in January 2021, has several important takeaways for your business: Face to Face (remarkably) still dominates. A few years ago, nearly three-quarters (74%) of all offline WOM was happening face-to-face. Today—yes, through a pandemic—a strong 66% of WOM is still face-to-face. The proportion by phone is holding steady at 17%, Texts and IMs have risen to 8 percent, with the remainder spread across video chats and real-time social media communications. One side often feeds the other. You might reasonably ask, “Isn’t there overlap between the things people post and see in social media, and the things they talk about in real time?” You would be right. These days nearly a quarter of offline WOM includes people talking about things they see in digital media. The implications I see for business growth include (1) making sure your team knows what is being posted in social media, and (2) equipping your team to extend the conversation. Most industry categories are up. By industry—as Engagement Labs defines them—the top categories for WOM have more or less held steady since 2007. Their top industry categories, in order, are: Media/Entertainment; Food and Dining; Beverages; Retail and Apparel; and Technology. The fastest-growing categories are: Household Products (up 102% in volume); Home (up 53%); Health and Healthcare (up 38%, and notably up 22% before the pandemic); and Personal Care/Beauty (up 34%). Automotive, telecommunications, and travel all declined. Offline WOM accentuates the positive. Any good marketing or communications pro will attest: It’s not just the volume of WOM that is important but also its tone. Is the conversation helping or hurting? If you have spent any time on social media, then you can appreciate its polarity. People share (or even concoct) the best of their lives and are quick to gripe about, well, almost anything. In contrast to social media, offline WOM is generally positive (and increasingly so). In 2007, nearly two-thirds of it was “mostly positive” with less than 10% “mostly negative.” Today 69% of offline WOM is mostly positive and only 7% is mostly negative. What is the implication of all this, post-pandemic? Recognize the primacy of offline WOM, and don’t leave the management of it to chance. Your potential messengers (including employees, customers, distributors, partners, and friends) will indeed talk about you in their everyday conversations—if they feel comfortable in knowing what to say, and if you are top-of-mind in those moments. You can’t control that outcome, of course. You can, however, make sure your marketing and sales messages are carved into interesting, bite-sized conversational nuggets. You can then share those nuggets with a wide range of potential messengers, and feed the system through thanks and acknowledgment. The offline world retains its oversized influence. Your business can shine in the many offline conversations that are happening this very day.
For Better Sales and Marketing Messages, First Get Everyone Uncomfortable

For Better Sales and Marketing Messages, First Get Everyone Uncomfortable

La-Z-Boy sells a lot of recliners. I don’t believe they win a lot of design awards, but then again their customers likely put a low priority on being fashion-forward in the family room. The recliner buyers wants to be comfortable and those big cushy chairs can indeed deliver comfort. That might be fine at home—but on the job comfort can wreck your marketing and growth plans. Too often I see internal teams running on auto-pilot in the ways they deal with customers and prospects. On the external side, you can be sure that competitors are trying to make your customers a little uncomfortable. And we have to make prospects similarly uncomfortable in order for them to consider doing business with us. ...
Ask Customers This in 2018

Ask Customers This

Sometimes, assumptions can hold our businesses down. I have come to recognize at least one assumption that often keeps businesses from selling more to their existing customers. The benefit of escaping that assumption can mean increasing your revenue by ten to twenty percent—or more.  The assumption is that your customers—even the loyal, longtime ones—know all of the things you offer. Why wouldn’t they? I mean, how long has your average customer been doing business with you? We are all creatures of our comfort zones. Your customers might be quite comfortable in what they buy from you today, how they have dealt with you in the past, and how they have come to think of you over time. ...
Using a Playbook for Better (and Faster) Sales and Marketing

Using a Playbook for Better (and Faster) Sales and Marketing

The playbook concept for bringing together marketing and sales teams has become increasingly popular. When conceived and used correctly, playbooks can align the efforts from marketing, sales, product development, and customer service to provide a consistent voice to the buyer. They are also inherently efficient, providing a ready central source of the information and guidance that sales and service teams need. Unfortunately, not all playbooks are conceived, structured, and used correctly, and thus some wind up providing neither consistency nor efficiency. ...

How customer conversations are cutting medical costs

Considering all of the technical advances and new complexities in marketing today (such as social, digital, and automation) I see the major opportunity for most organizations to be a decidedly analog one. Customer conversations—those interactions in real time, generally face to face—are ripe for improving engagement, service levels, loyalty, and growth. A remarkable study of the conversations between doctors and patients also shows that more proactive face-to-face interactions can even lower costs.


Customer Conversation Challenge 5: Coaching

It can be exhilarating to be elevated to the role of “coach.” But that rush can give way to a crash—for the coach, learner, and organization—if the coach doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

When it comes to customer conversations, I find that good coaches are few and far between. Several factors are at play: flat or reduced training budgets, leaner teams (in terms of headcount), and often little understanding of the skills needed to build good messengers. Taken together, that can me ...

Customer Conversation Challenge 3: Complexity

The joke years ago was that the world had become so complicated we were destined for lives with blinking "12:00" on our VCRs. Does anyone believe our world is LESS complex, now that we’re beyond VCRs?

The products and solutions of today are so complicated that they put tremendous pressure on both buyers and sellers. No buyer wants to be stuck with something that won't work--or won't work with the other complex thingies ("legacy infrastructure") that have already absorbed money and time. Sellers, for their part, struggle to escape lingo, acronyms, and technical specs that don't resonate with economic buyers.

The answer probably lies with a picture.

Seth Godin is among the smart marketers who have addressed our "Lizard Brains"--the tiny amygdala that hold us back when confronted with threats, new stimuli, and other complex stuff. For me, the compelling takeaway is that our Lizard Brains are incapable of processing verbal information.

Can your teams represent your products or services with a simple picture? I don't mean a technical schematic—that’s still too complicated--but rather a visual that can be created in real time during the course of a customer conversation.


Customer Conversation Challenge 2: Consistency

“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

"We just aren't on the same page."
"It seems like everyone is just rolling their own."
"Why can't we all sing from the same hymnal when we're out with customers?"

If you hear these phrases around your organization--or even catch yourself saying them--then there is ample evidence of inconsistency in your customer conversations. It’s common to have disconnections among units (Marketing, Sales, Service), geographies, product/service lines, or what potential customers hear online versus offline. I think that evolving work patterns, where more is happening virtually and teams rarely are in the same space at the same time, exacerbate the gaps. So have pressures on training and onboarding budgets.


Customer Conversation Challenge 1: Comfort

La-Z-Boy sells a lot of recliners. Some of those are, um, aesthetically challenged. Need we more evidence that people like to be comfortable?

I see marketing and sales as a recurring cycle of "de-comforting" and "re-comforting."

If you're on the hunt for new customers, then your biggest hurdle is likely getting that prospect to feel uncomfortable enough with their status quo to seriously consider a change. Sometimes the impetus for change makes itself obvious to an executive--disruptive technologies, new competition, regulatory mandates--but often the marketer must make the case for change. That means helping the prospect see their current situation differently through insights, fresh ideas, and examples. Then you'll need your prospect to feel most comfortable with you as providing the best path to resolving the problem(s).

If you're focused on retention and expansion rather than new business, then you still need to master de-comforting as well as re-comforting...unless you are somehow sure competitors would never, ever try to make the case for change with your customers. ...

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