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11 Things That Will Shape Your Startups Word-of-Mouth Sales Referral

11 Things That Will Shape Your Startups Word-of-Mouth Sales Referral

Apart from converting better than any paid promotional channel, WOM doesn’t end with one interaction

Unique and quirky details often delight customers to great lengths and enable them to talk about your product to make a good conversation

Businesses are making $6.5 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, which is on par with email marketing

In a world of infinite noise and banner blindness — it is getting increasingly difficult for brands to retain attention. Paid promotions (advertising, endorsements, etc) aren’t very sustainable, for new, and especially bootstrapped product companies. As observed in MASB research, if there isn’t sustained advertising activity, it eventually leads to losses.

On the flip side, mediums like Word-of-mouth don’t cost as much as many paid promotional channels. Apart from being cost-effective, it’s easier to convert customers who’ve heard good things about you — since 92% of consumers said they trust such recommendations.

So throughout this article, we’ll explore several ways to promote WOM among your potential customers and generate more qualified leads and sales.

Why Is Word-of-Mouth Referral Important?

Just like we’ve learned to press “Skip” on a YouTube pre-roll advertisement every single time, our brain has subconsciously learned to ignore and nullify a lot of advertisements when we browse across the web (i.e. banner blindness).

The only form of promotion someone can’t ignore is when it comes from someone they already know. 

Apart from converting better than any paid promotional channel, WOM doesn’t end with one interaction. A tweet in its lifetime reaches at least 50-100 people, and that’s just one example. 

Given the ‘viral’ nature of a lot of these messages, WOM-driven messages are likely to reach and impact well beyond a hundred people. It also doesn’t die off as paid promotions do. WOM engagements will keep coming in as long as there are good things to talk about your products and services.

For startups and small businesses — this kind of WOM, or earned media in general, can work wonders. Trust plays an important role when a consumer tries out a new product — something that’s non-existent for new brands and businesses, as no one knows of them. Having your first few customers talk about your product publicly lends you credibility, and hence drives demand.

Now that we know how crucial WOM can be to a brand’s success, let’s explore a few ways to promote WOM among your target audience.

11 Ways To Promote Word Of Mouth Referrals

Create And Spread Buzz Online

People log in to their social accounts every day expecting to be entertained and brands that can push engagement and curiosity driving, entertaining content, get to be known for exactly that. This kind of content usually taps into audiences of influencers and other popular brands, creating content that uniquely relates to both your audience and theirs. This can be done by directly engaging with bigger brands and influencers, and if they respond/engage back, you’ve essentially expanded your content’s reach to their audience. And as you expand your reach beyond your own audience, engagement scales accordingly, spreading and strengthening your brand’s message.

As an example, look at a recent social campaign from Burger King. They went around Twitter liking 10-year old tweets on several influencers’ accounts. And as expected — these influencers came out asking Burger King about it.

Turns out — Funnel cake fries, discontinued in 2010, were back in 2019. 

Before you look at the engagement on this tweet and feel sad for Burger King for having put in all the work for so little — consider that Casey Neistat did an entire video with 3M views and counting.

Add Unique Details To Your Products

Unique and quirky details often delight customers to great lengths and enable them to talk about your product to make a good conversation. 

When was the last time you saw an automobile manufacturer make a car’s blinker sound like farts? If you already know what we’re talking about — it is a testament to Tesla’s excellent WOM. Will that make you buy the car? 

Probably not (Okay, maybe). Will it get you to talk about Tesla’s funny-sounding blinkers to your friends? Yes. Even David Dobrik talks about it in an Architectural Digest interview, a video with over 22M views – which goes to say, you may never know how far the word regarding a quirky detail could spread.

Overdeliver On Product Quality & Innovate

When you make something unbelievably good, you overdeliver on the consumer’s expectations, which pushes them to recommend others into trying the product.   

This can be seen at play for Apple’s Airpods — it was first of a kind when it came out and was an instant hit. It was a top-selling product for Apple, and Airpods sales figures started getting compared to revenues of big tech companies.


The reason why this happens is simple — there are often hidden problems and inconveniences that haven’t been addressed. When these are addressed — in Airpods’ case, making a pair of truly wireless earphones that make long phone calls cordless, ergonomic and convenient, people will show them off, and recommend them to their friends. 

Find And Enable Loyal Customers To Speak Out

If you’re coming across customers who are buying from you time and again, give them a reason to speak about you next. Offer them affiliate or referral codes, so they can discount their future purchases when someone buys using their code. Loyal, repeat customers make for great people to promote your product since they’ve been using it themselves and know the product better.

Dropbox is a great example of this — they had a referral program that offered existing and referred users 500mb of space each on their account if they used the referral program. Since storage space is a key part of their platform, almost every new member started referring to new customers using the referral program, which eventually resulted in a 3900% growth.

Leverage Influencers And Content Creators

Social media being the new Television. Influencers on those platforms are almost as powerful as movie stars. A small product plug (paid or otherwise) can drive tons of traffic in a rather short amount of time with some social media growth hacks used wisely.

As per a study conducted by Tomoson, businesses are making $6.5 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, which is on par with email marketing. Jeff Foster, CEO of Tomoson, says the reason it works so well is that social media users tend to spend more money and are likely to spread the word among friends and family. 

You can reach out to niche influencers and brands with bigger audiences using email outreach tools like SalesHandy, or by simply dropping into their DMs (Direct Messages) for content collaborations. 

The Burger King campaign we shared in the first point is a great example of this. Skittles, a candy company, sending over a candy dispenser to Music Producer Zedd’s house as a housewarming present is another great one. The brand makes an appearance in Architectural Digest’s video touring Zedd’s house — and it’s got plenty of views. The skittles machine has been the biggest attention driver towards the house and it’s covered by other media outlets as well.

Practice Thought Leadership

If you are a thought leader with context and stories to share — publish them on platforms like Twitter, Reddit, or Quora where an audience might exist. Good pieces of content will often get shared, and you will gain a following based on your popularity. This group of followers can later be leveraged to build awareness around your products and brand. People will inevitably talk about you and distribute your content for you.

Asim Qureshi is a great example — he started publishing answers on Quora when the platform started taking off, with an intent to drive web traffic to his startups. Today, he’s one of the most viewed writers on the platform with over 105 Mn views to his answers — the most viewed answer being to a question regarding his startup, Jibble. 

Similarly, Naval Ravikant, the founder of Angellist also used the same principle to build a huge audience on Twitter. It serves to bring him his investing deal flow and influence in the venture and angel investing community.

Sell Your Story

If you have a story behind founding your company — share it with everyone and make it part of your growth story. Everyone loves a good founding story, most of which are likely to be about the founder’s hustle, courage, and unusual business encounters. It makes for entertaining content, and press outlets love that, and will happily write about your brand. 

It’s not only consumers who’ll read these stories — fellow entrepreneurs, founders, and investors will know of it as well. Your stories, being inspiring and educational, will then also be spread by these very people who carry a lot of credibilities, giving your brand a boost.

Airbnb has a cool story — the founders were in $20,000 of credit card debt and needed to clear it off and gather startup capital. They went on to repackage breakfast cereal, called it Obama O’s, and sold $40,000 worth of it in 3 days. They got covered on media outlets, and since then grown into a huge company that once sold cereal to clear credit card dues. 

Provide Exceptional Customer Support

If you are in the services business or sell a product that needs frequent after-sales support, it pays to provide a great experience throughout. Consumers hate dealing with customer service – so if you’re making their lives easier, they’re likely to talk about you, or recommend you to their friends. Consumers aren’t just buying with money —  they’re also placing their trust while making a purchase, and hope you’ll help them throughout the life of the product. 

When you come through on the other side and help customers solve problems without the hassle, it makes up for great customer experience and a great story for them to share. This translates into WOM, a proxy for a trust for other potential customers, who also end up buying from you.

Elon Musk’s response to a Tesla customer is probably the best example of this. For context –a serial entrepreneur running breakthrough technology companies like SpaceX, Neuralink, and Boring Company apart from Tesla Motors.

His response came in a wee hours— while the customer couldn’t get an answer from the dealership and customer support. It’s a huge relief for the customer, and Elon’s ~40M followers see this as a huge signal of Tesla’s commitment to its customers. It’s probably the reason the company’s been crushing in sales, beating the likes of BMW, Toyota, Ford, and Porsche, all without a single dollar spent on paid marketing activities.

Engage With Your Audience Online

Online communities on social platforms like Facebook, Slack, Reddit, Quora, Hacker News, etc. are a great place to start talking and pitching to your potential customers. The groups typically exist to enable members to solve each other’s queries and grievances. So when you find a community where members are talking about products and problems relevant to your brand – you should drop into that conversation and share your views or solutions. 

Being a regular contributor to such conversations earns you credibility within these groups. It opens up an opportunity for members to recommend you to other members who might benefit from you. 

Petra Odak, Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals says—  “We made sure to be present in Facebook communities and every time someone had a question about sales, web development, design, or something we knew a lot about, we were there to leave a comment and sometimes, pitch our product. It took a lot of work but after a while, people started recommending us everywhere — even people who never used our product”.

Generate Great Reviews

Now that almost everyone (70% of US population) shops online — it’s really important to have great reviews wherever your customers might find them. New customers almost always check the reviews on a product before buying it, which implies that reviews could make or break your product demand, depending on where you stand. Not only that — good reviews enable your customers to refer your product to other potential customers, making it easier for them to trust you and make a purchase.

Superhuman is an email client that has been generating great reviews online — which probably is responsible for their long waitlist (more on that in the next point). They incentivize these  reviews by engaging with these tweets – the founders themselves and other team members usually will like or retweet tweets praising Superhuman.

11. Get Exclusive

Exclusive, limited access to an innovative product often makes it more desirable for the consumer by simulating artificial scarcity. Fear of missing out on the product later, or joining a long waitlist, since a long waitlist signifies a great, in-demand product drives chatter around the product.

As mentioned in the last point, Superhuman generated great reviews from early adopters and then kept interested customers on a waitlist, which at one point crossed 275,000, making it really popular. Kickstarter campaigns work similarly by restricting access to buy their products in limited quantities. In their case, they use the “% completed of goal” figure to signal users regarding the project’s popularity.

Create Magical Products And Better Experiences  

WOM mostly comes down to one thing — how are you helping your customer look, and feel better? It is either by making them feel they’ve made a good purchase decision, solving an unaddressed problem, making them seem smart and informed to other people or just providing an entertaining story or topic to talk about. 

The only known way to achieve this is by creating almost unrealistically good products, and backing it up with a great experience. All great products we’ve come to know from companies like Apple, Tesla, etc, are prime exhibits of this. The more you try to replicate those characteristics, the better your chances will be to get your customers to talk about you. 

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.