Businessman and businesswoman standing at water cooler.Word of mouth is the most powerful decision influence. If a friend recommends a restaurant, you are more likely to try it out. If you go to someone you trust to ask about purchasing a new computer system, the brand and system they recommend is most likely what you will purchase. This phenomenon is not limited to consumer purchases. Business purchases are also heavily influenced by word of mouth.

From healthcare providers to outsourcing your IT department, all purchasing decisions are influenced by word of mouth. Even with the vast amount of information available online to do research, purchasers will be more influenced by the number of stars highlighted from others who have also purchased the product than anything the company can place online about that product.

Many executives believe that influencing word of mouth is not possible. Fortunately, this is not true. Word of mouth can be an effective tool in building brands and influencing purchase behavior.  Good public relations is a start, but advertising and direct marketing play a key role in word of mouth programs.

It starts with customer-centricity.  In order to positively influence word of mouth marketing teams must first understand the types of buyers that are a part of their target audience. Then create a program that positively influences word of mouth.

Challenge the Norm:  First it’s important to realize that you can build a program that influences word of mouth. Then, recognize the differences within your target audience in order to build audience specific programs. Now you are ready to create programs that align with each of the three subgroups you typically find within any target audience. It is critical to understand these three groups and how they purchase your products or services:

Prime Customers – this group is most experienced with your product or service and usually comprises a small subgroup of your potential target audience. They are important in that they influence the opinions of a larger group. For example, if your organization manufactures productivity technology, then a prime customer would be elected officials or corporate executives. They are able to influence a large number of people who are in your target audience because they are considered both knowledgeable and trustworthy.

Think of ways you can initiate and leverage their opinions about your product or service. Invite them to VIP events or round tables. Getting their support means you can highlight it throughout your marketing, lending credibility to your products or services.

Early Adopters – particularly in technology, early adopters are an important group to understand. They might follow the lead of a prime customer, and are quick to purchase new products or services. This group is also very happy to share their opinions, so having a system that embraces their opinion is key to influencing the next sub group of customers as they are more involved in the purchase than the average consumer.

Because they want to be involved in the evaluation of new products and services, the general market will look to them later when they are ready to buy. In technology, early adopters make great beta testers. Providing special access to new information or targeted public relations efforts is also important in maximizing the power of this influential group.

Target Audience – the largest group of potential customers are also the last to purchase. The call to action for this group is often to request more information. However, pointing them in the direction of the early adopters will provide a level of credibility to your products and services while giving the target audience an expert next door to solicit opinions and ask questions.

A more broad media and marketing approach can be used to reach this group and encourage them to seek more information. Because you have done a great job of soliciting good information from prime customers and early adopters, now you have a positive word of mouth presence that helps this larger group become very comfortable in purchasing your products or services.

Each group influences the last. Prime customers will influence early adopters to consider your brand. Early adopters will dig in and provide detailed information to your target audience. And the entire word of mouth cycle is now customer centric because you simply made sure to put each subgroup in the center, rather than force feeding sales data. You have taken charge of what your customers say!

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