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Word-of-Mouth Advertising is the Holy Grail of marketing. It signifies a high level of Customer Satisfaction and it’s free.
Marketing is expensive. In fact, it’s one of the largest expenses in your company. Large Retailers spend more on their marketing than almost any other industry yet even the largest firms only spend 2% of their annual revenues on advertising. That amounts to massive sums of money and around 5000% ROI on the spending amounts. Smaller retailers don’t have anywhere near that amount of money and if they achieve 200% ROI they’ve typically done well.
I noticed this disparity when I was just starting out in consulting and t I started to wonder how the Fortune 500 retailers were doing this when they actually should be struggling to increase their ROI because of the nature of mass marketing.
Small businesses, in general, have the ability to dig deeper into niche markets and deliver more customer-focused product mixes. So why is it that they aren’t getting the same ROI or better from their adspend?
The answer lies in repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising.
How do we create word-of-mouth advertising? The short answer is social currency!
In this blog post, I’ll give you a few ways that will help you give your customers social currency so that they will share your marketing messages for you which means you save money on marketing. I’ll cover 5 ways you can create social currency that will increase your brand’s visibility, without adding a dime to your marketing budget.
But first, let’s discuss what social currency is.
Social Currency isn’t well defined. I first learned about it while reading the book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger, and I’m going to paraphrase what the book says about it here.
Social Currency occurs when your coworker shares that they are having a baby or bought a new car. It’s when a friend calls to tell you about a great first date. It can be when someone shares uncommon knowledge or news. It also comes in the form of magnanimous kind gestures. In short, it’s anything that makes you look good in front of other people.
Human beings have an innate need to build social currency.
It comes from our need for survival. We are social creatures and that dates back to our ancestors. There is strength in numbers. So we form tribes!
Our tribes provide social discipline, acceptance, and safety. They teach us how to be and how to live. Our tribes used to be location and ethnicity-based but now they’re more nuanced.
We form bonds around all sorts of hyper-specific interests that are fostered in Facebook groups, the Facebook News Feed, in the IG comments sections, on Clubhouse, and in DMs.
We build our stature within the group by utilizing social currency. This comes in the form of specialized information, news, special skills, and many other things that emphasize our individual value. For retailers, makers, and sellers giving social currency is a more direct exchange. You give your customers social currency and they give you revenue and shares or word of mouth advertising.⠀
So, what are 5 ways we can give our customers social currency?
Swagger is defined by Urban Dictionary as “How one presents him or her self to the world. Swagger is shown from how the person handles a situation.”
Swagger is a form of social currency that allows us to share who we are without saying anything. Think about it like this, it’s having the newest pair of Jordans, or the latest most technologically advanced Tesla.
They’re the things people notice about us that aid in giving us social stature. In pricing science, these are products that have high consumption visibility.
Think of high-end clothes, shoes, cars, or anything else that people can be seen using and enjoying. That’s what gives us swagger and gets people to share information.
So how do you give a customer swagger?
Well, If the product(s) you sell aren’t already talking pieces like jewelry or cars then you can do other things like having swag bags, t-shirts, or something else that allows them to attain social stature just by owning it.
You can give them gifts that come with their purchase that they can’t buy, or you could add items to your product mix that shows off your brand in a way that makes the customer look good.
Picture it like this, you could give away pens that have your brand on the side, but your customer won’t be excited to share about how they got that pen or to talk much about it at all (also because its so normal to see a pen with a logo on it we’ve all formed a mental shortcut, called a heuristic, where we probably don’t even look at it).
However, if you gave away a pen that was just a nice pen and didn’t have your logo or company branding on it at all, except maybe a small engraving, and it was just a really nice pen that came from doing business with you, then your customer would probably use that nice ass pen a lot, and any time someone asked to borrow a pen they would be the first to offer to show off their nice pen, and don’t let someone compliment that pen so they can tell them all about how they got it from doing business with your company.
The strategy, in this case, is to make it something that the customer wants to show off!
User-Generated Content (UGC)
User-generated content is just what it sounds like. It’s content that you get from people who have used the products you sell.
This comes in the form of pictures and videos of people using and enjoying the products.
This is called slice of life advertising and is useful in helping a customer understand how the product works and also what role it will play in their life.
When a potential customer looks at how another customer has used the product and how it works in their life the mirror effect starts to take over and the potential customer will begin picturing how the product will improve their own life and be more inclined to start their buying journey.
Since the information came from another customer who has no incentive to sell the product to them they will be less skeptical and more inclined to make a faster buying decision.
So on top of creating a ton of content easily and for free, UGC also creates a testimonial that convinces the potential customer on your behalf.
One example of a company that is great at collecting UGC is Article
Besides having a great product and an easy-to-navigate website, they also put pictures that they find on Instagram from their customers who’ve purchased the product and use it on their site.
So how can you start collecting UGC?
Article goes under posts where they see their products and ask customers if they can use that photo in their marketing efforts.
In most cases, customers will be elated to share if you’ve given them a great customer experience and they are happy with the product.
Sharing their experience helps them maintain psychological consistency. It also helps them become a part of the brand story which helps to build brand affinity
You should incorporate this in your overall customer experience program as a part of your post-purchase process so that it is always fresh and new.
You should also share this content on your social media channels so that your customers can share with their friends that your company shared their content.
Help Them Help Someone Else
This is the ultimate quid pro quo! When we help someone we immediately get much higher social status.
In fact, the vast amount of online articles and videos on youtube are all about helping giving so that, we. as experts, can elevate our social status in the eyes of our prospective clients or customers.
Many times we give in hopes that somehow the deed will be returned to us in some sort of goodwill. It also just feels good and doesn’t have to give us anything in return other than those feelings.
The latter form of giving is actually good for our personal well-being and self-actualization.
Giving can help us tell ourselves the story of how magnanimous and generous we are.
For example, I worked for Macy’s, a long time ago, they used to give sales associates “Family and Friend’s” discount coupons that were only for people who had gotten the coupon from a Macy’s employee.
It was the same discount we got as associates, so it was a pretty good deal. The gesture not only helped Macy’s bring in more customers and also generate more sales. It also helped me give a small gift to a friend. Since they were limited the people who received them got a small gesture that let them know that I cared and it helped them save money during the sale. By giving them the discount that increased my social stature and hence why I was always happy to share them.
You can do the same for your customers. You can give them small gifts that they can share with friends. Besides a discount, you can offer items that your customer would like to give as a gift.
You could also give away an opportunity to help someone who is in need which will give them massive social currency. They will tell the story of how they helped someone else and how your company was an integral part of making it happen.
When they tell that story it will bring more attention to your brand and create a joyous experience for a customer that they will share on your behalf with people who will shop with you. All for free!
Otherwise known as scarcity, exclusivity is a powerful motivator for people to take action.
If you notice, throughout these tips exclusivity is sprinkled in. Exclusivity is a huge source of social currency because it means that we have something that is truly special because not everyone has it.
Exclusivity can give us swagger, give more meaning to UGC and help us help others all at the same time.
When you have an exclusive product that has limited supplies it won’t be seen everywhere and many people won’t have it and that makes it special and worth mentioning.
The same is true when we give our customers gifts that you can’t buy. Because not everyone can buy it there’s an inherently special quality to it that creates social currency.
Like our example of the pen, it becomes news that they can’t wait to share.
However, customers are smart and they know when exclusivity is not real and thus won’t react in the same manner. They want authentic exclusivity, not offers that feign exclusivity but are in fact abundant in the market.
The best way to move forward with these offers is to make sure they truly represent your brand. It doesn’t have to be a direct representation, it can be metaphorical.
A plumber can give away a nice pen as a gift to a customer, which could represent the cleanliness of their service and their professionalism. To add the irony of getting a fancy pen from your plumber would add to the talking points and the likelihood of sharing the anecdote.
Emotionally Resonant Experiences
We do everything because of our emotions! Our emotional experiences don’t necessarily spark word of mouth sharing. They have to generate high arousal.
High arousal emotions are emotions that increase your heart rate slightly. The emotions of anger and joy are both high arousal emotions, while sad and happy are low arousal emotions.
There’s an old adage in sales that an angry customer tells 9 more people. This is actually true and even worse in the era of Social Media where they tell their entire followers list with a status update.
Most businesses are careful not to make their customers angry and they do as much as they can to make their customers happy but fall short of creating joy.
Joy is the high arousal emotion that customers experience when they are delighted by the experiences they have with a company. The delight comes from being helped in a way that feels like they got exactly what they needed. Companies can’t create joy by merely understanding what their customer may need but also anticipating it and delivering it when they need it before they really know they need it.
It can be as simple as sending an email when you notice a customer forgot to use a discount or going the extra mile to correct an error.
These small acts create joy for customers that they can’t wait to share with someone else. In doing so they will sell your company to the prospective customer on your behalf.
While these gestures are simple, they actually require a lot of work behind the scenes. It requires you to collect a ton of data points and connect them across platforms so you can track the behaviors of your customers.
One way to get started is to take this data strategy checklist to gauge your company’s ability to collect and analyze customer data.
It’s short and sweet and will give you a score of how prepared your company is.