In such a competitive e-commerce market, brands are under more pressure to establish the individual value of their product and connect with consumers. But traditional marketing tools may not be the most useful approach for this, as new data from retail marketing platform Bluecore suggests that word of mouth is the most influential factor for consumers.
Bluecore surveyed over 1,000 U.S. shoppers on their marketing preferences and found that word of mouth was ranked as having the most impact on purchasing decisions by 68% of respondents. Moreover, it was the only method to be highly favored by a majority of respondents; the next most influential tools were online ads (49%), email (46%) and mailed pamphlets (40%).
Yet word of mouth is the one category that brands have no direct control over, presenting a real challenge for businesses. In short, companies must rely on their customers to be advocates for the brand. If it’s done effectively, this creates influential messaging at no additional cost; if done insufficiently, the business risks losing out on a large swath of their potential customer base.
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“Brands should focus on building a brand-human connection through a sense of community to amplify word-of-mouth marketing,” said Sarah Cascone, director of marketing at Bluecore. “Brands can do this by providing platforms for consumers that offer value beyond price and convenience, and creating experiences that foster an open dialogue and give consumers the opportunity to share their affinity for the brand and its products.”
Cascone highlighted Madewell’s Insiders program, which emphasizes information and connectivity over rewards points. The program helps to build relationships by connecting insiders with stylists and offering perks such as denim personalization. Other successful brand platforms cater to the growing consumer interest in having their voice heard; promoting shopper reviews on a homepage can put a human face on the brand.
And while word of mouth by nature involves consumers speaking to other consumers, brands can also help strengthen their reputation through influencer marketing — especially in the newer interpretations of the phrase. While influencers aren’t directly consumers themselves, they can still provide that more intimate conversation with shoppers that a brand cannot.
Influencer marketing was one of the more polarizing tools surveyed: While 35% described it as highly influential in decision making, 29% said it was the least impactful. Cascone attributes that to a mix of demographic discrepancy (older generations are less likely to be the target audience) and to the still-evolving nature of what it means to be an influencer.
“The concept of an influencer is moving away from the carefully curated aesthetic and clever captions of Instagram, to the more authentic and arguably addictive form of entertainment on TikTok — bringing more genuity to both the influencers and the brands they represent,” said Cascone.
In order to maximize on the impact of any influencer campaigns, Cascone recommends that brands assess which existing influencers most align with their core values; they need to be seen as “extensions of the brand, not just models.” This is particularly important when reaching consumers not yet familiar with the brand; Bluecore found that influencer marketing was the third most influential factor for consumers buying from a new brand.
“A TikTok influencer may serve as a conduit to expand the subscriber base of your loyalty program while an Instagram influencer may be directly responsible for increasing first-time buyers,” said Cascone. “These tactics should be weighted against the compensation of the influencer to ensure impact to the business.”