“Word of mouth” is traditionally thought of as something that happens mostly in face-to-face settings. In fact, the statistics support this: a study by Journal of Advertising Research showed that 75% of conversations between consumers about brands take place offline. Also according to them, 15% happens over the phone and “just” 10% takes place online.
That does not, however, mean that it can’t be worthwhile to construct word of mouth marketing strategies for online communication methods like e-mail. Even in an online setting, a recommendation from a friend will weigh much heavier than a regular advertising message. It is also to be expected that the percentage will keep increasing in the coming years, as the trend shows that less people talk on the phone and instead move to e-mail, social networks and online chat.
Encouraging e-mail recommendations
In its simplest form, word of mouth marketing with e-mail is just encouraging consumers to share something positive about a brand with their friends. Getting just one in ten customers to recommend the brand to a friend can have a significant impact on growth, so it’s definitely worth putting some effort into.
The most common method to encourage recommendations through e-mail is probably having an “e-mail to a friend” link on the website, similar to how many businesses have links to encourage sharing on social media. Unfortunately, these links are rarely used by visitors. It requires quite a bit of effort from the consumer, and there is usually no clear reward for using it.
A potential way around this is rewarding consumers for referring their friends to the website (through e-mail or other methods).This will have a much higher adoption rate, especially if the reward is good, but it comes with a big disadvantage: since the recommendations are technically “bought”, consumers will trust them less. If they know their friend gets a reward for inviting them, they’re less likely to consider it a genuine recommendation.
Another strategy that can increase word of mouth through e-mail is creating content that consumers find good/funny/interesting enough to forward to their friends. This is definitely not easy, and can take a good amount of experimentation to get right, but in the long run it may be worth it. Consider two online stores: one that sends out a weekly message simply listing new items and what’s on sale, and another that puts a ton of personality, fun stories and quirky videos in their newsletter. It isn’t much of a stretch to think that the second probably gets forwarded around a lot more.
There’s no doubt that e-mail can be a powerful vehicle to increase word of mouth online, but there are also many potential pitfalls. As with all word of mouth marketing efforts, making the recommendations appear genuine will be the hardest challenge. What works best will vary from business to business, and it’s important to remember that not all businesses are well suited for e-mail promotion. Usually it works best when there is already an existing e-mail relationship between business and consumer.