According to the Business Dictionary, Word of Mouth
Oral or written recommendation by a satisfied customer to the
prospective customers of a good or service. Considered to be the
most effective form of promotion, it is also called word of mouth
advertising which is incorrect because, by definition, advertising
is a paid and non-personal communication.
We define Word of Mouth Marketing a little differently here at
Convince & Convert:
Turning your customers into your most effective sales and
marketing asset by doing something they don’t expect, thus giving
them a story to tell.
But as a practical matter, that’s not quite nuanced enough
either. Because even when you succeed in getting your customers to
talk about your business, there are still two different types of
word of mouth: reactive word of mouth, and
proactive word of mouth.
To achieve either, you need to first understand that competency
doesn’t create conversation. When you do exactly what your
customers expect and anticipate you will do, they do not mention
that to anyone because there is no STORY there.
I have never said — to anyone — “Hey, let me tell you
about this perfectly adequate experience I had recently.” That
would be a terrible story. Not interesting to tell, and not
interesting to hear. Word of mouth requires story crafting. If we
help you create and propagate the story of your company,
Competency doesn’t create conversation. #WordOfMouth
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Once you have a story catalyst (we call them
Talk Triggers), you will prompt one or both of the two types of
word of mouth.
To demonstrate the
difference between reactive word of mouth and proactive word of
mouth, let’s use one of our favorite examples, the chocolate chip
cookie at DoubleTree Hotels. Every day, for nearly 30 years,
DoubleTree has given each guest a warm, chocolate chip cookie at
Those cookies are LEGIT. And people tell stories about those
cookies constantly. How often? Our research found that 34% of
DoubleTree’s guest have told a story about the cookie. That means
that given that they give out 75,000 cookies each day, the story is
told approximately 22,500 times every 24 hours. That’s a LOT of
word of mouth.
And that’s why you don’t see much advertising from
DoubleTree. The cookie is the ad, and the guests are the media.
34% of @DoubleTree’s guest have told a story about their warm
chocolate chip cookies. #WordOfMouth #TalkTriggers
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Reactive Word of Mouth Definition
When your customer mentions your product or service when
prompted, in the midst of an offline conversation, an online
exchange, or similar.
For example, if I was with some friends at dinner and someone
asked, “We’re going on a trip to Houston, any idea where we
should stay?” I might chime in with “Yes! The DoubleTree at the
Galleria is terrific, and the chocolate chip cookies at the front
desk are the best.”
I am reacting to the situation and am making a recommendation in
that context. “Referrals” is what reactive word of mouth is
called in some instances.
Proactive Word of Mouth Definition
When your customer introduces or inserts your product or service
into a topically unrelated offline conversation, online exchange,
For example, if I was at the same dinner, with the same people
and someone asked, “Anyone do anything interesting lately?” I
might answer “Yes! I was in Houston last week. I stayed at the
DoubleTree, and you would not believe the amazing chocolate chip
cookies they hand out at the front desk.”
In this scenario, I am not waiting for the topic to come around
to hotels before mentioning DoubleTree and their famous cookies.
Instead, I am inserting the cookies into a broader conversation and
turning the topic toward DoubleTree.
Which Type of Word of Mouth is Best?
Both are important. In fact, word of mouth is the most
persuasive and most common way that people make buying
However, proactive word of mouth is the superior type because it
requires your customer to be so enthralled with your product or
service that they are compelled to find a way to bring it up in
conversation, even if it’s not on topic, per se.
Telling a story when asked is one thing. Telling a story without
being asked is something else entirely. It requires more conviction
and more passion.
To make sure the word of mouth about you is proactive as much as
possible, you need to make certain that your Talk Trigger is truly
differentiated. You have to do something different, that your
customers do not expect, and then find irresistible.
The book that Daniel Lemin and I wrote about this topic
includes dozens of case studies that might inspire you to find your
own differentiator that creates proactive word of mouth.