Maximize Your Word of Mouth Marketing

fan

It isn’t just about finding customers anymore. You have to build fans. Take a look at the dynamics of word of mouth marketing and how they can cause your product to succeed. This article includes tips and references for helping you move through each stage in the cycle of fans, maximizing opportunities for word of mouth marketing for your products.

Conclusion

This is one of our longer articles. Here’s the conclusion from the end of the article. Read on to find out why this stuff is true, and find a ton of great supporting references and links to some fantastic marketing blogs.

Word of mouth is critically important to the success of your product.

  • Your product’s exposure comes from propagated reputation, aka word of mouth.
  • Word of mouth comes from fans who are encouraged to share (even when all you have is the absence of discouragement).
  • Users become fans when they are converted by the greatness of your product and your company.
  • When your software is adopted by customers, they become users. As long as it is easy for them to get started.
  • You get customers by sharing your message in a way that gets them interested.
  • The whole process starts when your target audience is exposed to your message.

For those of you who want to read the whole thing – here it is.

The Cycle of Fans

Cycle of Fans

Stacey Douglas turned us on with his article at Undocumented Features, The Adoption Cycle, where he points us to Geno’s article at Brains On Fire, Cycle of a Fan, the original source of the (larger version of the) diagram above.

The Church of the Customer picks up on Geno’s diagram, and identifies it as another view on the ideas in their articles on evangelism, where they represent a loyalty ladder that shows how customers become repeat customers, evangelists, and ultimately owners.

They also identify a great article by David Armano, where he classifies people as being users, customers, audiences, etc. David uses this classification to clarify and define market segments, in order to better communicate an understanding to stakeholders, etc. He makes the point that labeling should not subvert user-centric design (which should be built with personas). The style of David’s visualization of labels may have inspired the look of Geno’s diagram, which introduces the concept of the evolution of the fan as a recurring cycle.

The Evolution of the Fan


Stacey provides a couple real-world examples, and Geno describes the lifecycle of a person as they are initially introduced to a product, become customers, and ultimately propagate their positive experiences through word-of-mouth. And Geno describes it as a circle, which captures the message effectively that the additional introductions that you get from word-of-mouth kick off more cycles for more people, who tell more people, etc. If your product can effectively move all the way around the circle, this is a cycle of growth.

The Other Side of the Coin

Jennifer Laycock extends Geno’s idea, and focuses on the social-networking elements of evangelism. She made me laugh with this quote: “social media is mostly just word of mouth on crack.” Steroids might fit better than crack, but her message is more memorable. Remember – memorable is better than pedantic when it comes to marketing. Jennifer also wakes us up with the shocking realization that this positive cycle could just as easily be a negative one – and coins it as the Cycle of the Detractor.

The Funnel

tiny funnel

Business analysts often use the funnel as a metaphor for the sales pipeline. The top of the funnel represents unqualified potential sales, and as you move through the sales process, you also move down the funnel – with fewer sales at each stage. Qualification reduces the number of potential sales. Initial contact only happens with a subset of qualified customers. Only some of them are interested, some of those people engage in the sales process, and only some of those ultimately purchase. This is simplified a little, read a more detailed explanation here. (update 2017 – even more info about sales funnels here).

We can use the same metaphor when thinking about the cycle of fans and word of mouth marketing.

Exposed and Interested

exposed and interested customers

Your marketing efforts will expose people to your product. The better you distribute your message, the more people will be exposed to product. Think about all of the dot-bomb companies that bought super bowl ads in 2001. Lots of exposure. However, the funnel narrows immediately to only those people who are interested in your product.

This is where targeted marketing makes a difference. How many people who saw ads for an online wedding registry site during the super bowl were actually interested? There is a massive drop-off from exposed to interested people if your product isn’t exposed to people who are likely to be interested. David Meerman Scott writes a great blog, Web Ink Now, that provides tons of great guidance for marketers, like this and this.

This is also where good marketing copy makes a difference. You have a target audience of people likely to be interested in your product, and willing to listen to your message. But you have a lousy message. Your pipeline will still drop off dramatically. Seth Godin writes a lot about getting people’s attention. He uses a purple cow as a metaphor. How many people slow down when driving by a field of cows to look at one of them? What if that cow were purple? More people would slow down.

Brian Clark writes Copyblogger, also providing fantastic insights into how to get people to listen and purchase.
OK, now that your overt marketing is complete, you have customers.

Turning Users Into Fans

funnel for fans

Once you get purchases, you get users. At least for a few seconds. You have to make sure that your software is usable. And that means that it is usable for new users – the first ones to drop out of the funnel. How many times have you downloaded a trial version of software, installed and launched it, and been almost offended by the inadequacy of the product? You probably already validated that the software had the capabilities you needed, or the features you thought you needed. So what turned you off? The product was unusable.

The funnel narrows. And you lose some users of your product.

You have to make a product that is initially usable. And you need to understand the learning curve that your users must climb to become proficient at using the software. With this understanding, you can help your users transition from newbie to expert (or at least competent) user.

bridging the gap

Most of your users will be competent. Users don’t spend very long being new. They quickly want to walk across the bridge, in hopes of doing more. But only a very small percentage will invest the time and energy to make it all the way across the bridge and become experts. Most users will reach a level of competence and stay there.

If you don’t design features for those competent users, they will be in the canyon of pain, instead of enjoying the view from the bridge of competence.

User Centered Design and Bridging the Canyon of Pain

So now competent users have adopted your product. The funnel has narrowed some more.

How do you get your users to become converted? You need to delight your customers. Part of this is achieved through prioritization, some delight comes from product design, and part of it is achieved through customer service. Make these folks happy, and they’ll start recommending your product. And don’t forget the expert users – even though they are fewer in number, they tend to be more active vectors of good and bad product reviews.

Encourage Sharing and it Propogates

viral effect

Encourage people to talk about your product. Give it away for free, like Seth and David and many others. When I like something that is free, I will tell more people about it than when I like something that costs $100. This low barrier to exposure will get the word out that you have good stuff. And some of those people will come calling for the stuff that makes money for you. Some people will share the message because they want to, regardless of what you do. Other people just need a nudge. Those people should be encouraged.

With the internet, it is very easy for people to informally share their opinions with many more people than before. This effect is usually referred to as being viral because word spreads so quickly and somewhat unpredictably. People make comments in forums, write articles for blogs, and otherwise promote your product – it is more than just a casual conversation with a handful of friends.

And when the message gets out, it gets propogated. And that just feeds back into your funnel. Or maybe you want to treat them as a bunch of second-order funnels. I don’t know that one is better than the other.

Conclusion

Word of mouth is critically important to the success of your product.

  • Your product’s exposure comes from propagated reputation, aka word of mouth.
  • Word of mouth comes from fans who are encouraged to share (even when all you have is the absence of discouragement).
  • Users become fans when they are converted by the greatness of your product and your company.
  • When your software is adopted by customers, they become users. As long as it is easy for them to get started.
  • You get customers by sharing your message in a way that gets them interested.
  • The whole process starts when your target audience is exposed to your message.

The cycle of fans rings true, but to really take advantage of it, you need to think about what you do at each stage. You have a great product, so focus on the message. Or vice versa. You can make many smart moves along the way that have a compounded affect on your word of mouth marketing. And you’ll improve the power of your funnel.

funnel cloud

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