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Can Engineering Marketers Create an Effective Word of Mouth Strategy?

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association claims that word of mouth (“WOM” from here on) is 100 times more effective than a paid media impression.  This is not a surprise in that of course they would say that. They are a WOM marketing association, after all.

20170928 Baer at Connex.jpgBut let’s say for a moment that this claim is at least partly true. If so, then engineering marketers would do well to include a WOM component in their marketing plans.

Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that an engineer is using a new software tool that helps to gather and manage requirements for his company’s new product designs.

If the new software is remarkable, that engineer might promote it for use within his company. And if it is really remarkable, he might also tell his friends, some of whom are also engineers that manage requirements.

In that context, I can believe that a recommendation from someone you trust (another engineer) is worth more than banner ads (which I hate to admit because we sell banner ads for a living, but we also care about truth).

The rise of social media has given all customers a voice to more easily recommend products. That makes the reach of WOM greater than ever. But it isn’t any easier to build a strategy for B2B WOM for engineers.

I was in the audience when Jay Baer presented his four key “talk triggers” in support of a WOM strategy at Conex17. Here are a few key takeaways for engineering marketers.

The fundamental underpinning of a WOM strategy is a differentiated experience that your customers will talk about to others. If some of those people they speak to are your prospects, as makes sense since engineers tend to speak to each other, these conversations can translate into new customers for you.

It’s easy to come up with examples from the consumer world, such as Zappos promising 5 day delivery of shoes and then delivering the next day, or the way Southwest airlines famously empowers their employees to go the extra mile for customer service.

It’s not as easy to come up with B2B examples, let alone ones that are directed at engineers. However, if you want to consider what a WOM strategy might look like for an engineering marketer, read on.

According to Baer, there are the four key things that a marketer must do to deliver differentiated experiences that trigger word of mouth:

  1. To be a differentiator that people talk about, the customer experience must literally be remarkable. It has to be different, special and interesting enough to tell somebody else about it. For example, a CAD vendor recently introduced a new feature called “generative design”. What the feature does is not important for the purposes of this post, but for those of you who know what that is, you will probably agree that it is interesting enough that people who try it may well remark on it and tell others.

If you don’t have a new feature that is remarkable, maybe there is something else that you can do, such as respond to all customer inquiries within 30 seconds whether via email, phone or social media. Or maybe you can give away t-shirts with your logo packed into every order? The point here is that you need to do something that is surprising in order to start a conversation between your customers and your prospects. 

  1. To be an effective talk trigger, your differentiator must be repeatable and available to all customers. If you create a fantastic experience for a single customer, make a video about it and share it on social media, that’s doesn’t qualify. It might make for interesting PR, but if a new customer can’t expect that it will happen to them, then it doesn’t qualify as a strategy. According to Baer, it’s worse than doing nothing, because, “Inconsistent customer treatment breeds contempt.”

So, what could you do as an engineering marketer? Could you have a senior member of your team make a follow up call to every single customer to ensure everything was OK? My friend Tom recently had this experience with a family car dealership – the grandmother called him 10 days after he picked up his new truck! And she calls every single customer. In her role as grandmother, it was clear that she would be able to exercise the moral authority to fix any problem that Tom had with his new truck. It was remarkable, and he told me about it. Is there someone in your company who is charged with customer service who could make that call and make it mean something? Could your CEO do it? Or his mom?

  1. To be a successful differentiator worthy of talking about, your differentiator must be realistic. If you promise a 75% discount on future purchases, that will breed suspicion rather than loyalty. Engineers will wonder why you aren’t giving a better deal on the first purchase. 
  1. And finally, and most importantly, your differentiator must be relevant. Not only does it have to matter to your customers, it has to connect to your brand. So right now, you can rule out giving away a chance to win an iPad as your remarkable differentiator (only Apple should do that). This means that things that are connected to your product are very good talk triggers. For example, if you are instrumenting your equipment in the field, can your field service team call your customers to tell them when a part is about to fail? Or if you sell software, can you deliver an extra free license to allow collaboration across a broader team? Or can you reduce your pricing for ongoing subscriptions? Amazon did this to us with their cloud services, which helped pave the way for us to become a loyal customer for 10 years.

In summary, word of mouth matters more in the digital age. You can leverage content and customers to work together through word of mouth to help you win.  If your customers say, “you won’t believe what happened to me when…” then you are on the path to winning WOM business.

I would be interested in hearing if anyone has implemented a B2B WOM strategy that has worked in the engineering space.  And with your permission, it could become a future story here.

Until next time, 


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