08/18/2010 05:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Word of Mouth Marketing -- Powerful Messaging Via an Affordable Medium

Word of mouth marketing has been getting a lot of buzz recently. Word of mouth marketing in its simplest form is a new name for an ancient hobby: talking about which things we like or dislike with friends, family, business associates, etc. Through these conversations, we are making recommendations and helping to shape public opinion albeit on an incremental basis. Marketers today are measuring and categorizing these messages utilizing new tools under the auspices of the much bantered around term social media. In my opinion, word of mouth (WOM) marketing is a medium which allows for powerful yet affordable messages to be spread through the consumer world.

First, what is word of mouth marketing and how does it work? The most basic definition of WOM marketing is that consumers do your marketing for you i.e. talk about your product or service. These customers are typically your most loyal customers who are enthusiasts. They tend to be almost evangelical. This group of people may be selected by you or they are so satisfied with your services that they speak and, in turn, market for you. You may have a link on your website for "ambassadors" or devotees to sign-up for free or discounted products/services, factory tours, coupons, promotional products (e.g. hats, t-shirts, etc) all designed to "fuel" your ambassadors with important and relevant things to say about your product.

Driving consumers to your website, and giving compelling reasons for registering and surrendering their email address is the initial objective of such a campaign. Harvesting email addresses from your customers and website visitors is your "gold." For example, one of the ways which I market my marketing firm is to send out a link to my own Huffington Post business blogs so that both potential and existing customers have my name in a regular fashion with some valuable/useful business information. Sending this blog (regarding WOM marketing) to my list of customers and prospects is a way to "touch" this targeted group so that they will notice me and then tell others. Here is the viral part: there is an instant trigger reminding the recipient of me and my services. Hopefully, this will translate into action prompting them to contact me or forward my information to others in their business sphere. You can see how this can spread thus the term viral marketing.

Here are some of the essentials for those who want to get experiment with this type of marketing program. First, try to identify user groups, communities or any groups of people who may be more familiar or delighted with your product or service. If the groups don't exist virally, facilitate their creation. Second, devise a way to communicate regularly with these groups either via email newsletters, corporate blog, events, outreach or any combination of these methods. And, third, give these groups of like-minded people a uniform positive message by providing consistently excellent customer service or improving the quality of your products. And last, recognize these people for their evangelistic efforts whether they are purposeful or not. HuffPost has a system of "badges" whereby they recognize bloggers with followers and those who regularly comment.

Remember: word of mouth marketing is only as good as your last customer says you are!