Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2010

Why IS Word Of Mouth The Most Effective Form Of Advertising?

Well, the first answer is that word of mouth means that someone, probably someone who you know, is telling you that Olympic Pizza has the best pizza, or that Fred’s Auto Repair does fantastic and reasonable work. You’re hearing it from a person, someone that you know and (probably!) trust.

Compare this with normal advertising: TV, Radio, news papers, magazines, web, direct mail, etc. Let me ask you this, as a consumer, do you BELIEVE what you see advertised? I mean really, if you get a flyer in the mail offering you a “low cost mortgage”, do you believe it? If you see an ad for a cheap airline ticket to Florida, are you suspicious that it may be a scam? Do you wonder if the quoted price for the ticket actually includes things like airport fees, taxes and that your baggage actually gets to go with you?

By far the majority of consumers, when they hear any advertisement, wonder: “What’s the catch?” We look for the fine print. We think, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!” We have all heard the pat phrase, “new and improved” so many times that the words don’t have meaning to us. The point is the very few people completely believe ANY regular advertisement. We know that ads all too often contain exaggerations, half truths, gimmicks and sometimes even complete fabrications. In case you haven’t noticed, this trend is getting worse, not better.

But if someone you know, or better, someone you like, or even better, someone whose taste or opinion you respect, tells you that the Mocha’s Espresso stand on 4th and Main is awesome, or that the North Cascade Veterinary Hospital is the best around you will listen. If you have a connection with the person telling you about a business it becomes much more believable. Another reason for this believability is that the person has no reason to mislead you. The person telling you about the fantastic service North Cascade Veterinary Hospital probably doesn’t work there, or get commissions from them, so we reason that they don’t have any reason to mislead us.

There is also a common statement that not only is word of mouth the best form of advertising, but it’s the cheapest. This brings up the question of how to determine how much it costs to attract a new customer, client or patient. Most businesses I see are sorely lacking in any effective method to track where their new customers come from, but at least they can say how many new clients they had in a month. Calculating the “cost of each new customer” is not too difficult, simply add up your entire expenses for advertising and marketing for a month and divide this by the number of new customers, and there you have it, you can now see how much you “paid” for each new customer. This is a great exercise, by the way and I highly recommend not only doing the calculations but sharing the results with ALL of your staff.

Of course if you are really on the ball and can track not only how many new clients you got in a month but HOW each new client heard of you, it is possible to calculate the cost-effectiveness of each form of marketing you use. (Look for a new blog entry coming soon on tracking new clients.) For example you can see how much your yellow page ad cost, and how many new clients it brought you and do the math. This is a very enlightening exercise and the most intelligent way to make decisions about where you spend your advertising dollars.

In either case I bet you will be surprised to see how much one new client “costs”. In a later article we will revisit the idea that word of mouth is the cheapest form of advertising, so stay tuned!



  1. I like the style you took with this subject. It’s not typical that you just find a subject so to the point and informative.

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