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The Case Against Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of mouth marketing has long been hailed as a powerful tool for businesses to promote their products and services. In fact, it’s often cited as one of the most effective forms of marketing, with studies showing that consumers are more likely to trust recommendations from friends and family members than they are to trust advertising.

However, while word of mouth marketing may seem like a reliable and low-cost option for businesses, there are several drawbacks to this strategy that should not be overlooked.

In this article, we’ll explore the case against word of mouth marketing, including the lack of control businesses have over the message, the limited reach of this strategy, and the reliability concerns associated with relying on personal opinions. We’ll also suggest some alternatives for businesses looking to improve their marketing strategies.

Lack Of Control

One of the most significant drawbacks of relying on word of mouth marketing is the lack of control businesses have over the message that’s being spread. Unlike other forms of marketing where businesses can craft their message, in word of mouth marketing, businesses are reliant on their customers to accurately and positively promote their products or services.

Furthermore, word of mouth marketing carries the risk of negative reviews, which can spread quickly and damage a business’s reputation—sometimes even for things that have nothing to do with the business’s quality of service. In the age of social media, negative reviews can easily go viral and reach a wide audience, making it difficult for businesses to control the narrative and recover from the negative publicity.

I once knew a car dealer who posted a controversial opinion online and got spammed by 1 star reviews from people who had never even done business with him. His supporters then ran an opposite campaign to generate 5 star reviews, which generated almost twice as many positive reviews as negative. Ultimately, all these reviews ended up being removed.

Another issue with relying on word of mouth marketing is the difficulty in measuring results. Unlike digital marketing, which allows businesses to track clicks, impressions, and conversions, it’s hard to quantify the impact of word of mouth marketing. This can make it challenging for businesses to determine if their investment in this strategy is paying off.

Limited reach

While word of mouth marketing may be effective in certain situations, it’s important to recognize that this strategy has a limited reach. Word of mouth marketing is reliant on personal networks, meaning that the message can only spread as far as an individual’s social circle.

In contrast, digital marketing can reach a much larger audience, allowing businesses to target specific demographics and geographic locations. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter offer businesses the opportunity to connect with potential customers from all over the world, which is simply not possible with word of mouth marketing (though this technology certainly enhances it).

Additionally, word of mouth marketing is only effective for reaching customers who are already familiar with a business. It’s not an effective strategy for reaching new customers who may not have heard of the business before. This is where digital marketing can be especially helpful, as it can introduce a business to new audiences and help expand its customer base.

Reliability concerns

One of the biggest challenges with relying on word of mouth marketing is the reliability of the information being spread. Personal opinions can be biased and inaccurate, and customers may have different experiences or preferences that influence their recommendations.

Additionally, incentives can play a significant role in word of mouth marketing. Businesses may incentivize customers to leave positive reviews or refer friends, which can skew the authenticity of the recommendations. This can lead to a lack of trust between customers and businesses, further undermining the effectiveness of word of mouth marketing.

Furthermore, the influence of social media can also amplify reliability concerns. Social media allows for the easy sharing of information, but it can also facilitate the spread of false information and rumors, which can damage a business’s reputation.

In conclusion, reliability concerns with word of mouth marketing can erode the trust between businesses and their customers, making it less effective as a marketing strategy.

Alternatives to word of mouth marketing

Given the limitations and drawbacks of word of mouth marketing, it’s important for businesses to consider alternative strategies. Here are some effective alternatives to consider:

1. Digital marketing

Digital marketing offers businesses a wide range of tactics to reach potential customers. Some of the most popular digital marketing strategies include social media advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. These strategies can help businesses target specific demographics and geographic locations, and track the results of their campaigns in real-time.

2. Traditional marketing

Traditional marketing avenues such as print ads, radio ads, local TV and others work very well for local businesses. If you’re serving a single town or geographic region, you’ll often have substantial success targeting ads to that area—especially when your ads are in places where people are likely to spend a considerable amount of time (restaurant lines, public transportation, things like that).

3. Doing WoM right: customer referral programs

Word of mouth can be very useful if used properly. However, the majority of businesses seem to just try to let it happen by itself. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to take charge of the process.

Customer referral programs incentivize customers to refer friends and family members to a business in exchange for a reward. These programs can help businesses reach new customers while leveraging the trust between existing customers and their personal networks.

In conclusion, while word of mouth marketing has been a popular and effective marketing strategy for many years, there are several drawbacks to consider. The lack of control over the message, limited reach, and reliability concerns can make this strategy less effective for businesses looking to expand their customer base and build trust with potential customers. 

If you rely on word of mouth to grow your businesses automatically without supplementing it or working to control it, you’re put in a position of weakness.

However, when done correctly and paired with proactive marketing avenues, businesses have a solid way to control their reach. By exploring these options, businesses can build successful marketing campaigns that reach a wider audience and drive more sales. Ultimately, it’s important for businesses to consider all of their options and choose the strategies that work best for their unique needs and goals.

Thanks for reading. Have a fantastic week my friend.


I'm John Kakuk.

I’m a brand designer, web developer and marketer working with architects, engineers and construction companies. My purpose is to help others achieve the best versions of their businesses and themselves.

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