Marketing v word of mouth – which is better?

business-247255There seems to be an increase in businesses who think it is better to rely on word of mouth to grow their client base rather than advertising or marketing. But is word of mouth really the most effective way of building a steady stream of potential business? Lets take a look at the case for, and against both methods

Word of Mouth

There can be nothing more rewarding than getting a new customer through word of mouth. It can really be the best way to advertise your business, as typically you were refered by a previous customer who must have had a satisfactory experience from using your service. Word of mouth is also more targeted – say someone wants a good quality roofer to fix a leak on their property, they happen to mention this to a friend who by chance had their roof fixed by a roofer who provided excellent workmanship on time and under budget, and didn’t leave a mess – you don’t get a better endorsement than that. This in turn gives you the added boost of gaining a testimonial or written reference, which depending on your business may well be requested from a potential customer.

Establishing trust is also a positive factor in gaining customers through word of mouth. People trust the opinions and advice of their family, friends and colleagues. If these people speak highly of your service, it can mean a lot more to the prospective client as opposed to seeing an ad that explains the benefits of choosing you amongst a dozen or so clones featured on the same media.

As you become better established over time, you will recognize that your satisfied customers will become a valuable part of your marketing strategy. I have spoken to hundreds of Companies that insist they havent marketed themselves for years and get all their business from word of mouth. This may seem a very fortunate position but in most cases it would take many years of growing your business over time to get to this enviable position. But like you – they all had to start somewhere!

 On the other hand to only consider word of mouth when you start your own business can be a dangerous tactic, as you need customers in the first place to generate quality referrals. If you decide that you wont market yourself at all in the first couple of years, your reduced to relying on people to come to you through hearsay, and one of the biggest problems with word of mouth is that it can take a long time for word to filter through to the person who genuinely needs your service.

Another problem with word of mouth is that through third-party referrals the nature of your ability may be lost in translation. Someone could have heard through the grapevine that you’re an excellent contract cleaner and give you a call expecting you to deliver the service they need – but the customer wants you to quote them for cleaning chemical and industrial premises – and you only wish to do small office cleaning on split shifts. They assumed you could give them what they need because someone ‘in the know’ gave them that impression. Many business find a lot of their time wasted unnecessarily by dealing with requirements from the wrong type of customer. True there is a case that whatever your business you will have to deal with customers who want a service that you simply cannot give them, but by purely relying on word of mouth alone to get you customers you can expect the number to increase.


Whereas word of mouth can only be successful by utilizing a single method to attract customers, marketing offers you an abundance of options for getting your Company name out to the public. It’s also instantaneous meaning as soon as your literature is put in front of your customers they have it there straight away and for as long as you wish to market to them.

 In todays digital age, with a well thought out and targeted email campaign you can hit your market as soon as you launch your business. You don’t have to break the bank either – simple business profiles and listings on some of the better known websites like hotfrog and qype can get you a response and they cost you nothing, listings on directories can also prove worthwhile, and as you steadily grow you can budget for more market specific media for as little as a couple of hundred pounds for a year.

Your website is arguably your most valuable marketing tool because customers like to research Company or business services before they contact them. This again can be linked to more popular sites that will drive traffic to yours. You can look at google ads or PPC ( pay per click ) campaigns. As you grow even bigger attending shows and exhibitions specific to your market can have huge benefits, but most Companies will only do this when they are established.

And then there is the tried and tested business card. You may think that the business card is a little old-fashioned today, but print and design companies at the moment are flourishing, and a huge proportion of their success is attributed to the surge of startup Companies and sole traders who are looking at cheap and convenient ways of getting brand awareness. I’ve seen companies offer a few hundred business cards for under twenty pounds which includes design, so it’s a good investment. It’s also what you can do with business cards – you can hand them to people in meetings, you can place them in shop windows you can hand a few dozen out to people who will hand them out on your behalf. There also convenience for the customer, as they don’t take up too much space in their wallet either!

However there are also perhaps less attractive considerations whichever method you choose:

the problems with word of mouth can include

Needing a strong custom base to generate referrals

Slow response

unrealistic expectations of your service

as a referral, they may expect a discount by using you (mates rates)

The problems with marketing can include

who to use in a saturated market

where to market first

the costs

the time it takes from dealing with your existing customers (networking etc)

the fact there are no guarantees of a return on a financial outlay.

Not that any of the above should dissuade you from choosing either option, as if you don’t then the one guarantee you can rely on is that you will go out of business if you remain passive – and fast!

After all – look at brands ranging from Apple to Coca-cola, they market themselves like there’s no tomorrow – but everybody knows who they are!

In summary, word of mouth and marketing can both work. So why pick one when you can have both?