Blog Post

How 'word of mouth' CAN work for you.

Editor’s Note: Founder and tech blogger, Wayne Smallman, offered this response to our earlier piece, Why ‘word of mouth’ marketing won’t work. We like Wayne’s stuff. When you’re done here, definitely check out: Twitter Isn’t Jesus.

Finding cost-effective marketing techniques is a challenge. One such marketing technique defies the passing of time, and stoically remains both free and reliable — and that’s word-of-mouth recommendations…

I say word-of-mouth is free, but if you look at it in a tangible sense — from within the finely-defined territory of a sales funnel — there was some expense on your part.

Fortunately, that expense was in the form of effort, all of which was poured into a previous project, probably the most recent.

However, there’s a caveat… word-of-mouth recommendations only really work if you’re any good at what you do.

But according to Seth Godin, word-of-mouth isn’t all that great which is wrong, and flies in the face of the experiences of almost every single business person alive.

I can see what Seth was hoping for — the contrary thinker — but he missed the target. And in using politics as a starting point for his analogy, his argument just doesn’t make any sense at all:

“[Your customers] … lay low, because they’re afraid or shy or just not used to talking about brands and products or experiences.”


Many has been the time when I’ve heard someone extolling the virtues of a company they’ve used for one thing or another.

Amongst a multitude of such conversations, I cannot ever recollect any one of those people dipping into brand speak, or being uncomfortable discussing specifics or generalities of products or services.

On the issue of “products or experiences” — such things are the very cornerstone of word-of-mouth recommendations.

Imagine you’ve just bought 5 new computers for your office. For a small business, that’s a big buy, and you’re keen to see you’ve spent wisely.

Over the course of a day, the computers arrive, they’re installed, set-up, integrated into your existing network, tested and you’re then left with a solid support contract and 24/7 call-out number.

You’re happy. You made the right choice, and guess what? Pride gets the better of you and damn it, you just want to tell the next guy you meet all about it!

Seth’s argument has fallen between two stools; one of politics and t’other of business, neither of which quite works the way they should.

If it’s statistics you’re after, then how about this — about 3 years ago, 90% of my new work came from word-of-mouth recommendations. Today, it’s about 75-80%, but that’s only because I’m now partnering with a print design agency — who happen to be very happy about what I do.

In business, it’s about qualifying your leads. And if you have an enthusiastic army of clients happy to extoll your virtues to those they meet, you’re onto a winner!

If that’s word-of-mouth marketing not working, then don’t even think about trying to fix it…

For more on ‘word of mouth’ strategies see:

How Second Life found its 2nd wind.
You sell me, I’ll sell you

06208c8.jpg Wayne Smallman is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, a showcase of his passion for making complex technology issues approachable and accessible. He is the principle founder and managing director of Octane Interactive, a Web design, Web applications development, and Internet marketing agency established in 1999 and based in Yorkshire, U.K.

5 Responses to “How 'word of mouth' CAN work for you.”

  1. Hi Michael, I didn’t miss the point of what Seth was talking about.

    The overarching point is, he didn’t really make much of a point at all — thus my article.

    I regularly engage with about 20-30% of my client base, with the rest contacting me as and when they need stuff from me throughout the year.

    1% of clients as word-of-mouth marketeers is a really bad figure, since it’s probably not a figure that most people could accurately measured anyway. But it’s likely to be much lower than the real figure.

    As a recipient of word-of-mouth marketing, I can measure those numbers once a prospect contacts me directly.

    What of all those clients that are actively talking me up, but the prospect (for one reason or another) doesn’t follow the conversation up?

    And I know that happens a lot, because my clients tell me about these conversations. So for me, rather than 1%, I’m more in the 5-8% bracket.

    So far from being silent, some of my clients are actively selling me and my services!

    And I’m not an isolated case, either.

    As for the rest of our client base staying silent, it’s probably for a great many reasons, most of which having little to do with the quality of the service businesses offer them.

    You can’t turn a client into a word-of-mouth marketeer. That’s something they have to want to do, so it’s not as if it’s a channel a business can pump money into and develop.

    Thanks again for your comment, Michael. Always appreciated…

  2. You missed the point Seth was making.

    The far majority of your customers are not engaging in word of mouth. Those that do are effective, but you’re only looking at the 1% that engage in word of mouth – ignoring the fact that 99% of your customers are silent.

    Figure out why the 99% are staying silent – that’s Seth’s point.

    You say 75% of your new work comes from word of mouth – how many clients, past and present, are actively engaged in talking about you? If 1% of your clients are getting you 75% of new work, imagine what 10% of your client talking about you could do.

  3. Great insight Wayne!

    I addressed this post in a podcast this week, and I actually agreed w/ Godin.

    Here’s why: People don’t talk when they think there’s a chance they’ll be wrong or made to look foolish. That matches his example of the primaries. People make recommendations when there is a combination of enthusiasm (as you point out) and safety.

    In your example, safety’s not really in play, and that’s why people in that situation are prone to talk. There’s a lot of upside and virtually no downside.

    That’s not necessarily the case when recommending ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to a group of Southern Baptists. As great as the documentary is, you’re gonna get push-back if you recommend it to people who have a bias against it from the start.

    I totally agree with you that word of mouth is powerful (and downright easy) with enthusiastic clients. I would add, though, that even enthusiastic people tend to keep their mouths closed if they perceive that making a recommendation will also make waves.