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Word-of-Mouth Marketing in a New Digital World

Zach Binder

Co-Founder, Bell + Ivy

Cynthia Johnson

Co-Founder, Bell + Ivy

The economic crisis and changes in consumer behavior brought on by the pandemic forced many entrepreneurs to rethink how they run and market their small businesses, especially when it came to digitization in an already increasingly online world. 

According to Zach Binder and Cynthia Johnson, co-founders of branding agency Bell + Ivy, the secret to a successful pivot during a crisis is to pay attention to your core customers, build trust in your brand, and not be afraid to spend a little more until things return to normal. 

As important as a strong SEO strategy and Google rankings were before the pandemic, Binder said they became even more important during it. 

“Influencer marketing became really tricky in the last year because influencers weren’t going anywhere and they weren’t doing anything,” Binder said. “So I think for a lot of people it was about getting back to basics and relying on good, old-fashioned, positive reviews online, good SEO, good rankings, and probably a healthy mix of paid advertising as well.”

“When you’re looking at large corporations that are going through these global or national crises, the brands that always win are the ones that spend more and don’t stop spending during that time,” Johnson added. “And the reason is that people remember how you make them feel. They remember seeing you when they needed you the most.”

Wise investments

That said, it’s important to consider the best way to make your budget stretch the farthest before immediately pulling out your wallet. For instance, Johnson and Binder warned against immediately jumping on every new social media bandwagon before considering if it is the best way to communicate with your target consumer. 

“Spend a little time researching, seeing what other companies are doing before you overspend on new platforms,” Johnson said. “SEO and advertising and whatnot requires a certain amount of content. But video content is significantly different and more difficult to create — especially with social media — because you have to create so often.”

The best way to target your social media strategy, Johnson advised, is to go back to your core consumer base and foster a community among customers who already know who you are and what you do. Then you can use that community’s feedback to strategize a way to reach new customers. 

“For example, when COVID started, there was a company we had helped that was selling jewelry, but they were selling to buyers. So, they actually created a Facebook group and were doing live videos to sell the jewelry to their buyers, because they couldn’t go in stores anymore and show them the product,” Johnson said. “But they went back to their current customer base. They invited them to these online shopping experiences that were exclusive to them because they had purchased before and they would sell live on Facebook instead of having to go into their stores.” 

This strategy was so successful, in fact, that Johnson said that it actually became a business win, freeing up more time to expand their outreach once lockdowns began to ease. 

“And now that they’ve adopted that for current customers and they can spend more time going after new customers in stores now that they’re allowed back, and less time going back to the same stores over and over again,” Johnson said. “So that created a growth opportunity.”

Personal branding

Another cost-effective way to build a community of customers and brand trust is by personal branding. 

“People want to work with people they know they like, they understand, and that they trust,” Johnson said. “It helps weed out the people that shouldn’t be customers to begin with because you don’t want to work with someone that is going to use your personal life as a judgment on your business.” For example, as a mother, she wouldn’t want to work with an investor who would be put off by her kid. 

Personal branding can also cut costs because you end up spending less money on sponsors or cross-brand opportunities. As the face of the company, you are the voice of authority already. 

“We’ve spent very, very, very little, money, if any at allon traditional advertising, because we’ve relied so much on using our personal brands as vehicles for promotion for the business,” Binder said. 

Going viral

You can also take advantage of other social media users’ personal brands without going the traditional pay-per-post route, simply by identifying viral, genuine content. 

One good example is the TikTok video of a man on a skateboard, listening to Fleetwood Mac while sipping from an Ocean Spray bottle. After the video went viral, Ocean Spray sales skyrocketed. So rather than inventing a character to represent your brand, you find one out in the wild. 

“It’s more if the Marlboro Man is already some guy that has a ranch in Texas that’s on TikTok and he gets 300,000 views on all of his videos of him just yelling at his cows to come in every morning,” Binder explained. “And I’m pretty sure there’s a guy like that; I’ve seen him on TikTok.”

An opportunity for companies to take advantage of this kind of content are viral videos of brand employees out in the field. 

“You have tons of videos online of Amazon drivers interacting with communities and pets and neighbors on their routes. And these videos go viral, they get tons and tons of views on TikToK and Instagram and all of these places,” Binder said. “How does all of that content, which is already so engaging and so entertaining for so many people, get converted into an actual, proactive marketing effort on behalf of the brand?” 

The lesson, at the end of the day, is to keep it real. The most effective marketing is always by word-of-mouth, and the best way to get word-of-mouth advertising online is to keep all content genuine, targeted, and impactful. 

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