There are plenty of free marketing strategies out there, some more effective than others. One of the most successful, however, is to put your customers to work on your behalf and have them generate word of mouth referrals.
Being referred a new customer by an existing one is an incredibly cost effective way to grow your client base. It is free in the sense that you are not paying to blog or advertise but if you really want word of mouth to work for you there is some investment involved.
To turn your customers into brand ambassadors, follow these steps:
Be THE BEST
First things first. No customer will sing your praises or refer business your way if you don’t do a great job / offer an amazing product.
Every aspect of your business, from sales and marketing to product and even billing, should focus on creating the best possible customer experience.
Up the wow factor of your product or service with all or some of the following:
- Consistent branding and professional presentation, from uniforms through to invoice templates
- Responsive customer care – e.g. if someone posts a question on your Facebook wall – write back!
- Quality control (i.e. don’t sell rubbish and take care of people if you inadvertently do)
- VIP treatment in the form of special offers and discounts
- Excellent service that is friendly, respectful and polite
- Delivering what’s promised in terms of goods as well as services
- Going the extra mile – e.g. a Thank You message included in the packaging or a free gift with purchase
- Following up to seek customer feedback
- Providing competitive value for money
[Australia Post asks its customers for feedback via email as a way of actively improving its services]
Without commitment to providing the best quality products and service, you may as well not bother with a marketing strategy. Take this a step further and surprise and delight your customers, delivering a product or experience they simply have to tell their friends about.
Depending on the nature of your business, social media provides an excellent opportunity to get your word out to the masses.
Creating images, articles and videos which resonate with your audience will turn them into instant brand ambassadors.
[This meme from The Story of Stuff has been shared hundreds of times across social media, including by Greenpeace International]
In some cases, strong opinion pieces or thoroughly researched articles can have your followers scrambling for the ‘share’ and ‘comment’ buttons, boosting your exposure on social media.
Coca-cola used an amazing ‘shareworthy’ strategy a couple of years back with their ‘Share a Coke with’ campaign. By releasing cans with names on them they created a social media sensation.
[People couldn’t resist posting personalised Coke bottles all over social media]
You don’t have to be as elaborate as Coke. For some businesses, including a message inviting customers to tag them in social media can create an unpaid army of brand ambassadors.
[Sirens Swimwear invites buyers to share #SeeMeInMySirens pics, creating an endless gallery of images they don’t have to pay for]
Gather online reviews
Once upon a time, if someone had a good customer experience they would tell three people. Thanks to the internet, they now have the power to tell the whole world.
Have you noticed how sometimes when you search for a business on Google, a lovely big square comes up on the right hand side sharing all the details including the location, the phone number and a selection of customer reviews?
Setting this up is free via Google My Business and doesn’t take long. Once you have done so, start inviting your customers to post reviews. The social proof shared in search results can be an effective way to drive your customers down the lead funnel.
Once you have added yourself to Google, look for other platforms where customers can share their feedback. Yelp, productreview.com.au and True Local are a couple of other websites which allow customer reviews.
[Crowne Plaza Canberra gets the thumbs up from reviewers on Google]
A winning tactic for businesses like gyms, dentists, chiropractors and those offering subscription models is to provide refer-a-friend incentives.
Contact your loyal customers and offer them a free class, a 25 percent discount or a $20 voucher in return for sending business your way. Set some clear terms and conditions, e.g. “If your friend subscribes for 6 months or more” or “If your friend purchases over $50 in products” so that you actually benefit from this. You can also offer the friend something for free, like a no-cost personal training session.
Emailing your customers with this incentive can be set up as part of your automated marketing. For example, once a customer has come back to your business for three or four appointments they automatically receive their refer-a-friend offer in their inbox.
Another tactic is to send a card via post, thanking your customer for their business and including a voucher they can give to a friend. This stands out as a more personal form of communication.
One company using the ‘friend reward’ system effectively is baby sleep toy manufacturer RiffRaff&Co. The steps are as follows:
- When a customer makes a purchase of the $65 toy, they are emailed a special code to share with their friends
- Those who buy using the code get free shipping
- If five friends buy using the free shipping code, the original customer gets a new toy for free
By doing this, RiffRaff&Co is creating a never-ending network of brand ambassadors and mums around Australia are getting a backup for when their child’s favourite cuddly toy gets left at the park.
[RiffRaff mums are a savvy bunch, posting their free postage links on platforms like Facebook and Gumtree in order to earn a second toy]
Be more than a business
Every business exists to make profits but recently a trend has emerged for having a higher purpose.
People will be more likely to support and talk about your business if your mission goes beyond selling and making money.
For example, hairdressers are a dime a dozen. However, if your hairdresser has a lovely setup, a friendly demeanour, excellent skills with the scissors AND you know they donate 5% of their profits to charity, you may be more likely to tell your friends about them.
There are plenty of options for being active at a philanthropic level. Your organisation can choose a charity to partner with and make regular contributions to. You can also investigate starting your own charity and using your business as a platform to raise funds.
[Sydney based real estate marketing business Campaigntrack sponsors an orphanage in the Philippines via its charity What is Success? They make regular visits and post videos to share the good work they are doing]
Another option which can cost as little as $200 per year is B1G1, or Buy One, Give One. Donate to this company then share with your customers that some of the profits from every product they buy goes towards socially beneficial projects around the world.
B1G1 itself is a powerful example of turning customers into ambassadors. By giving their supporters links to add to their email signatures, they are not only making the supporters look good, they are spreading the charity’s message all over the world.
[B1G1 is creating global change (and is also very good at marketing)]
Nominate VIP customers
Create an exclusive club of customers and offer them incentives to be your brand ambassadors in return for discounts and branded products.
A company doing this cleverly is The Skimm. Their so-called ‘Skimmbassadors’ are invited to promote the brand on social media, via email and on their websites. In return, they get merchandise, invitations to special events and the opportunity to apply for scholarships, internships and jobs ahead of the general public.
This strategy could also be used by a restaurant or venue. Set up a VIP club which gives your most loyal customers a regular discount and invite them to taste test new menu items or share their feedback on the latest cocktail. Encourage them to bring a friend and to share their experiences online for further discounts.
The extra benefit of this strategy is that you have an automatic focus group who can provide their thoughts on what you are offering the rest of your customers. Your VIPs can even help generate new ideas.
Brand your customers
Not literally! But by sharing ‘swag’ with your customers you can turn them into walking billboards.
Caps, t-shirts, bumper stickers, pens and office stationery don’t cost a great deal to produce and distribute but can go to work for you for years, spreading the word far and wide. Get creative and look for products which reflect your business, for example a keychain for a car seller or a beach towel for a holiday resort.
Send merchandise to your most loyal customers or create competitions and invite your database to enter to win.
[Marketing + revenue generation! Pedal Power ACT dresses their most fervent supporters in branded ‘kit’ and gets them to pay for the privilege.]
Above everything else, remember your commitment to providing excellent service is the most effective way to reap the rewards of free marketing and word of mouth referrals.