Word of mouth is a powerful marketing force. According to research from Nielsen, 84% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing.

The more people love your brand, the more they’ll talk about it. The more buzz they generate, the more your company grows. This amplification effect  has the potential to accelerate your business’s growth trajectory.

Research from Wharton professor Jonah Berger explored this trend in a recent study. He and a colleague looked at word-of-mouth data from 10,000 companies ranging from enterprise giants like Coca Cola to smaller startups. In another study, he analyzed the virality of 7,000 pieces of online content. Berger and his team of researchers identified 6 factors related to brand popularity:

  1. Social currency. People share content that makes them look good.
  2. Immediacy. Consumers will share content that is news-worthy.
  3. Emotion. People talk about brands that inspire them
  4. Visibility. People want to fit in.
  5. Value. Consumers love to educate, inspire, and help entertain their peers.
  6. Storytelling. People talk about companies that bring up a larger narrative.

Berger points out that ‘word of mouth’ is a science — something that marketers can control. As the trends point out, however, the strength of your ‘word of mouth’ marketing strategy isn’t proportional to your budget. Large and small brands alike can survive in this ecosystem. It starts with small moments and subtle touchpoints that  make your customers wildly happy. Here are 3 inexpensive, easy-to-implement ideas.

1. Be Naturally Funny

For inspiration, look no further than two Internet marketing legends: Dollar Shave Club and HelloFlo. Both companies launched with shoestring marketing budgets. Both, seemingly overnight, evolved to become viral legends. 

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They did it with virtually no marketing budget. — spending only several thousand dollars per video. There was no fancy studio. There were no famous actors. And yet, these two videos are timeless.

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What the two videos share in common is that they’re down to earth and wildly funny. Rather than presenting an empty sales pitch, they provide a compelling narrative — a breath of fresh air.

If videos aren’t your brand’s thing, no worries. You don’t need a marketing budget to be funny. You just need yourself and your team — to embrace who you are, and let your senses of humor shine in every communication touchpoint.

A brand that lives and breathe this concept is sports and outdoors retailer Moosejaw. Even their legalese is funny.

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And then there’s the CIA — one of the least funny organizations in the world. But their (genius) social media manager has made the government agency one of the hilarious, most buzzworthy organizations out there.

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2. Empathize

In addition to knowing the solution you’re selling, know your customers’ pain points. Feel what they’re feeling, and develop the deepest possible understanding by putting yourself in the trenches.

Customers come to your brand for a variety of reasons — one of which is that they’re likely frustrated about something. The highest-impact response you can have is one that truly shows that you care.

Typically, customer support teams are at the front-lines of an organization. They’re the team members who are fielding questions and communicating with customers on a day-to-day basis. It’s common for other (technical, strategic, and analytical) team members to hind behind this first line of defense.


It’s crucial for every person at your company to listen and learn from your customers. This deep understanding is subtle, but will truly impact every decision and every point of communication.

Eventbrite is an example company that has build a system around optimizing its brand-to-consumer interactions. The company’s customer team holds regular meetings for non-client facing team members to listen in on (read: lurk)  and personally handle live customer support calls.

The end result is that everybody from marketing to engineering, product, data science, and sales understands what the customer wants.

3. Surprise Them

Send a freebie every once in a while — a discount. A reward. Something amazing.

There is only one rule here. Your freebie needs to be something that people actually want. Even if you’re sending a coupon, it has to be a good coupon.

People are spoiled and very used to VIP treatment. If you give them something cruddy (like a cheap pen), they’ll probably get annoyed. If you give them an awesome, $10-off coupon, for instance, they’ll be thrilled.

You can even build in an incentive, like this email campaign from ModCloth:

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Or this mug, designed by a graphic artist that online publisher Slate designed to generate more sign-ups:

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If you’re not sure if your offer is cruddy or not, give it the ‘smile test’ by asking your friends, family, and teammates. You live and breathe your company, so you’re probably not the best judge of whether that brand tee shirt is actually awesome (or just junk).

Final Thoughts

What are some creative and inspiring ways that you’ve delighted your customers? What lessons have you learned the hard way? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.