Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you. You’re browsing through your Instagram feed when you see an influencer promoting a new headphone. Everything about it seems just right - the look, the functionality, even the price! That’s it, you’re sold, and off to Amazon you go to make your purchase. But once you get there, you’re in for a rude shock. That fantastic phone you just saw, the one that seemed to check all the right boxes, has some terrible reviews. What happens next? Naturally, the sale is off.
Let’s think about this for a second. If the views of a random set of strangers off the internet hold that much power, just how influential would the opinions of your family and friends be? Extremely. And that answer is precisely why word-of-mouth marketing at scale is primed to be the new normal in the wake of Covid-19.
As the second wave of the pandemic played havoc across India, companies in every sector and industry were forced to evolve and adapt themselves and their operations in order to stay afloat. The impact of this situation has been especially dramatic on the marketing fraternity. The banner-bearers of their companies’ fortunes, the outbreak of coronavirus in 2020 saw marketing teams grapple with an almost impossible task – effectively and empathetically promoting their brands to the public at a time when the world was in upheaval and all the rules had changed.
In the time since, it has become apparent that traditional marketing methods no longer hold the relevance they once did. That’s precisely why the future of the industry in this new world lies with crowd marketing.
Crowd marketing – a breakdown
Naturally, a statement as definite as that begs the question – what precisely is crowd marketing? Also known as word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing at scale, this term describes a marketing technique that encourages customers to organically promote a product, service, or brand. This approach results in unpaid promotional activity carried out on a company’s behalf by an army of trusted consumers (not paid influencers) who truly believe in a brand and its products.
By amplifying the voices of these loyal customers and rewarding positive promotional behaviour, brands are positioned to drive authentic conversations. And perhaps the best part of this approach is that it solves a longstanding problem that has plagued marketers - an inability to successfully activate large fan followings on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
Building a community with WOM marketing
Crowd marketing can take many shapes and forms, but it is best expressed through the creation of user-generated content (UGC). UGC is a wide-reaching term that is used to describe any piece of content – from text and images to videos – created by a fan about a brand. Featured on social networking platforms, this content plays a critical role in shaping public opinion and perception towards a company.
As such, brands should do everything within their power to maintain and encourage an active and thriving vocal community. By highlighting fan content and actively engaging with their consumer base, brands strengthen the bond with their community and deepen brand loyalty.
In addition to amplifying a brand’s own marketing efforts at no extra cost, UGC (and WOM marketing at large) has also proven itself to be the most effective testimonial available to a brand.
The advantages of WOM over alternate marketing avenues
According to a study conducted by Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers believe suggestions from friends and family more than they do advertising. The importance of effectively harnessing crowd marketing is even more important given that 70 percent of consumers consider online reviews the second most trusted source of brand information, while 50 percent view UGC as more trustworthy than a brand’s own social media content.
The reasons for this are immediately apparent and tie into our nature as social creatures. We trust the words of those we personally know over everything else. Therefore, their stamp of approval on an item automatically grants it an enormous measure of authenticity. Our crowd marketing platform shows that WOM marketing boosts engagement rates by a factor of between x5 and x8 – at a third of the cost of influencer-led social campaigns.
The viability of WOM marketing as a way forward for the industry is further boosted by the shortcomings of the available alternatives. Influencer marketing in particular has witnessed a spectacular fall from grace in the eyes of the public over the last several years. Users have come to realise that most content is bought and paid for by brands. Consumers are savvier than ever before, with only 4 percent trusting what influencers say online. Couple this with the massive fees most influencers charge and the difficulties of coordinating large campaigns and it’s apparent that brand managers are longing for more efficient alternatives.
The future of marketing
The onset of Covid has had a profound impact on the marketing industry. Methods that were once accepted as conventional wisdom are now on their way out, supplanted by newer and more effective marketing channels. These include social media tools that empower brands to pinpoint vocal advocates who promote their products and reward them for their loyalty. The end result is an organic, cost-effective marketing campaign that serves as a symbiosis of a brand and its fans. WOM marketing is an integral part of marketing’s future. Any brand with the foresight to accept that is bound to come out on top.
(The author is national director, Brandie)