In an increasingly digitally-fueled communications environment, in which social media reigns supreme, personal endorsements and ‘word of mouth’ are beginning to overpower traditional advertising in relevance.
There are a number of cases which demonstrate this growing trend. A leading hotel group, for example, decided years ago that they weren’t going to spend huge sums of money on traditional advertising. They believed, and have subsequently proven, that a superior customer experience will lead to word of mouth advertising – based on referral. The group’s thinking was that ‘people trust friends way more than they do advertising’.
So, if I ask for a hotel recommendation and you – my friend or relative – give me one, it has far greater impact than a generic ad, brochure or travel agent recommendation for that same hotel.
All About Trust
Indeed, this trend is closely aligned with the way product and service endorsement is evolving in the explosive and fast-moving Internet age. People pay close attention to what other people are saying. Think about your own tendencies when searching for a good takeout meal, or a new car.
We increasingly rely on social media contacts and our friends. They know that it’s a trust and reputational issue for them if they recommend something which turns out to be below par. They also want to make sure we’re happy and have as good an experience as they did!
Donna Rachelson, a marketing and branding expert whose latest book, Branding and Marketing You Through Teams, highlights this growing personal referral trend, explains the importance for brands.
“Marketers who don’t recognise and grasp the power of personal endorsement are wasting a valuable opportunity to retain clients,” she says.
So, how can businesses harness the power of personal referrals?
Firstly, says Rachelson, you need to make sure you are totally referable.
“It’s not just about providing good service – it’s about providing outstanding service,” she explains. “In addition, you need to make sure that your customers are 100% comfortable with your service before asking them to refer you.”
From the outset, it is also important to create awareness among your customers and partners that one of the key ways you build your business is through referral. With this in mind, ask if there is anyone within their networks who would benefit from your service as well – people are often more willing to pass on contacts than you realise, they just need a little nudge.
Furthermore, if done right, you can also build an expectation of referral. For example, when you commence offering a service, you can state upfront that if the customers or clients are 100% comfortable with your offering following the service, it would be appreciated if they could refer your business to two or more suitable contacts.
Once the service has been completed, ask the golden question: ‘Would you recommend us?’
Finally, says Rachelson, you could also put a referral letter together for your key referral sources. This letter would explain what kind of customer you look for, and what you can do for them.
Remember, Change is Constant
Essentially, business leaders have to keep evolving their business-to-business, or business-to-customer communications. What worked even five years ago, may now be completely obsolete and ineffective.
“Younger generations don’t want to be treated like their parents were,” says Rachelson. “You have to keep your finger on the pulse of the marketplace and ensure that you grow as it grows.”
- Are you 100% ‘referrable’?
- Have you asked your clients and customers to pass your details on to their network?
- Have you asked your customers/clients if they are willing to refer you?
- Have you created a tailored referral letter?
- Are you tapping into your own network for referrals?