WOMM Works for Retailers, Pass It On
I was having lunch a couple of weeks ago with a friend I consider somewhat fashion forward, and noticed his new messenger bag (I have a very serious thing about finding the bag that will change my life). It was very sharp, and I told him so.
That afternoon, he emailed me a link to the site from which he bought the amazing item. I’d never heard of the brand, so I went online to take a look. You know where this is going, right?
I bought the bag. And I loved it. (And still do, until another, better bag catches my eye. My affection can be fleeting.) Every time someone said, “Great bag,” I immediately told him to check out the brand.
My sharing didn’t stop there. I texted photos to my closest pals, emailed some guys at work and shared pics with my 2,000 Facebook and Instagram friends.
Then a few of them told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on and so on. The word-of-mouth marketing cycle was rolling.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes “the sophistication and wizardry and limitless access to information … is going to lead us to rely more and more on very primitive kinds of social contacts.” As Gladwell explains, these primitive social contacts – word-of-mouth interactions – gain influence in proportion to the growth of digital culture.
In the decades since the publication of The Tipping Point, word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) has evolved in reaction to technology. WOMM’s newest reincarnation comes in the form of branded visual content. Thanks to social media, photos and videos are proving to be powerful retail marketing tools.
Retail marketers can increase the impact of branded content by leveraging two important factors: the trustworthiness of WOM and the reach of social media.
The word-of-mouth phenomenon involves more trust than any other advertising technique. According to a 2013 study by Nielson, 84 percent of respondents cited word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends as the trustworthiest form of advertising. Respondents were also likely to trust recommendations that other consumers post online.
Trusting close relationships is a human reflex ingrained by years of social development. For marketers, gaining this trust is the ultimate win. WOMM is only as valuable as the social circles it operates in, and at one time these circles were too small to influence mass consumerism. This is where social media, and in particular visual content, can help increase the impact of WOMM.
The smartest retail marketers are using social media channels to drive brand conversations and sell products. Social media offers WOMM a platform for unprecedented reach, where a single shopper’s recommendation can be broadcast to thousands.
Visual content takes WOMM a step further. Photos and videos have proven to be among the most popular ways to communicate with friends and family. Social channels are forever modifying their platforms’ algorithms to highlight visual content. Text-based content is always going to be an integral part of retail marketing, but to really stand out in the digital era, visual content must play a pivotal role in the marketing mix.
Photos and videos allow marketers to tell stories that resonate with shoppers on a personal level. And where there is personalization, there is sharing. When visual content is timed with a live event, like a stunt or a sale or an in-store celebrity appearance, the blend of WOMM’s trust with social media’s reach can be even more powerful.
Several retail brands have done an exemplary job of activating social media WOM with visual content, including Zappos, Starbucks, Lululemon and American Giant. It is clearly possible to engage thousands of prospects in a word-of-mouth way with just a few sharable images.
As technology continues to grow, the ability to leverage digital visuals in combination with word-of-mouth will become even more critical. As Gladwell concludes, “understanding [the] principles of word-of-mouth is more important than ever.”