According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family, and the drop-off for strangers isn’t very big: 88% of people trust online customer reviews.
Word of mouth is the foundational layer of any startup promotional strategy. If people are willing to promote your product or service to their friends any promotional efforts you invest in would be amplified. In other words, it would be like adding fuel to the fire. And if your users aren’t willing to recommend your services, then your baseline would be zero or even negative growth unless you heavily push your products yourself.
By definition, startups have a lot of growing to do and not a lot of resources for promoting themselves. Consequently, having customers who are willing to do the work and promote your product might be the difference between success and failure.
1. Nurture A Relationship With Your First Customers
As an early-stage startup founder, one of your main jobs would be talking to your customers in order to judge if you are moving in the right direction towards product-market fit. You should use this opportunity to nurture a personal relationship with your early adopters. Listen to them to understand their views and personal experience of the problem you are trying to solve and your proposed solution. The customers you are talking to will feel much more invested in your project, especially if they feel their feedback and opinion are valued, which would make them more likely to share their experience of your product.
While this strategy doesn’t scale—you can’t personally talk to each customer as you grow, it will create the first wave of brand advocates that can jumpstart the word of mouth process (and that will keep you honest).
2. Offer An Incentive: Referral Program
Incentives matter a great deal, so a referral program can be the best way to convert happy but passive customers into active promoters. The most famous startup referral program case study is Dropbox—their program was the main reason the company grew 3,900% in the very early stages of the business.
3. User-Generated Content
UGC is an extremely powerful tactic in the age of social media. People are much more likely to share online something that they personally created.
While this is a very intuitive process for content businesses, it can also be applied to other kinds of companies. For example, if you have a physical product you can run a contest with rewards for the best picture(s) of customers with your product. This way you are incentivizing word of mouth while at the same time generating great content for the online presence of your brand—your website or social media channels.
4. Encourage User Ratings And Reviews And Be Responsive
As mentioned, people value online customer reviews highly. You should actively encourage your users to leave reviews, and you should actively engage with each one especially in the early stages of your startup.
Seeing that you are taking seriously the opinions of your customers and addressing criticisms publicly (with the correct attitude) can add a lot of credibility to your company, which can work in your favor.
5. Use Influencer Marketing
Last but certainly not least, influencer marketing is information age word of mouth on steroids. Using people with a loyal following that has an overlap with your target market is one of the best ways to grow the presence of your brand.
Keep in mind that micro-influencers can give you the most bang for your buck, which is crucial in the early stage of your project when you don’t have access to a big promotional budget.
Use these five tactics to boost word of mouth for your startup project, but always keep in mind that to make your users promoters, you need to deliver an offering that truly adds value to their lives. People are promoting your products only because they make their lives better, so at the end of the day word of mouth is about what you can do for your users, not the other way around.
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