Whether deciding on a movie for the evening, a book for an upcoming flight, or a new restaurant to try, what influences you the most? Chances are your friends and family are high on the list. What we hear from the people in our lives inevitably influences our choices.

This observation is confirmed by the available data. A 2013 Nielsen survey indicated that 84% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, while another revealed that 77% are more likely to buy a product recommended by friends and family. Word of mouth drives $6 trillion in consumer spending every year, and determines whether or not a consumer decides to buy a product 10 to 50 percent of the time.

Clearly, thinking about how to effectively generate word of mouth (WOM) is worthwhile. Here are 3 principles for cultivating better word of mouth for your product or service:

    1. Focus on user experience
      No matter how useful, enjoyable or necessary a product or service is, user experience matters. Apple cornered the digital music player market in the early 2000s in part because their product provided an overall user experience that outclassed their competitors, even if others had better technical specs, or lower prices. This recipe for success was repeated with the iPhone with the same results. Part of the reason for this is that people are much more likely to recommend a product when they have a positive emotional response. Beyond the basic functionality of a product or service, the subjective experience of use has a huge impact on how it is perceived and shared.  Taking the time to think about how an end user experiences a product or service can be just as important as making sure it performs competitively when it comes to reaching a market.
    2. Give customers a stake in your success
      Making sure consumers have a reason to talk about you is a surefire way to improve WOM. An obvious way to do this is with referral marketing, which has proven to be highly effective.

      However, there is a more indirect way of accomplishing the same thing: make your product a symbol of identity.

      Take a second to think about your favorite movies, musicians, or sports teams. At some point in your life, you’ve doubtless spent time persuading a friend to check out your favorite Taylor Swift album or arguing with your cousin about why your favorite team is better than his. What motivates you to do this? Why should you spend time and energy advocating for a team or band you don’t play on yourself?

      The answer is that we have a stake in the success of the things we identify with. The athletes we support and movies we enjoy help form our identities. Likewise, the products we use can play an important role in how we define ourselves. Are you a coke or a pepsi drinker? Do you use Mac or PC? These too are questions of identity. By designing and marketing a product to signify something about a customer’s identity, businesses can unleash the full power of WOM.

    3. Make it easy for customers to share their experience

Think about the circumstances under which your customers are likely to bring up your product. While certain products come up in general conversation – “how are you liking your new computer?” “what did you think of that new cafe?” –  others are likely to be recommended or shared in specific circumstances. Make your product information as accessible and as easy to share as possible for consumers. Are your customers likely to text their friends about your product? Invest in a mobile-friendly site. Will your customers be offline when they discuss your product? Fliers or brochures might be a worthwhile investment.

Many agree that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool any business can utilize. There are entire websites devoted to the topic. I would recommend that you apply the principles discussed in this article to make full use of this approach.

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