Word of mouth marketing is the oldest, most cost-efficient, and most effective way to create customers and grow any business. Research shows that word of mouth remains the most likely way that consumers make purchase decisions, and that effect is even stronger among younger consumers.
Despite its importance, word of mouth is somewhat under-represented in the business book genre. Also, there are a great many other books about business and marketing that touch on word of mouth or its components but aren’t ABOUT word of mouth, per se. These 10 best word of mouth marketing books are in alphabetical order by title.
- The Anatomy of Buzz, Revisited: Published 10 years ago, this seminal work from Emanuel Rosen remains a standard-bearer of the genre. Watch out for this Quote: Ironically, the more boring your product is, the easier it is to come up with a mismatch that people will talk about.
- Brains on Fire: Perhaps the best book ever about tribalism and igniting customer communities. The case studies in this book are legendary. Watch out for this Quote: Movements are rooted in passion. By their very definition, movements are born out of passion. Passion to unite and passion for change. There’s nothing dry and emotionally detached about something in which you believe deeply. Because when you believe in something, you give yourself over to it. The desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself is hardwired into just about everyone’s DNA.
- Contagious: This book by Wharton professor Jonah Berger may be the best-selling book of all-time that is squarely focused on the subject of word of mouth. It’s a fascinating read, mixing popular culture case studies with academic research. Watch out for this Quote: Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular.
- Creating Customer Evangelists: Terrific case studies in this one too, including longstanding word of mouth successes like Southwest Airlines, Krispy Kreme, and Build-A-Bear Workshop. Authors Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell put a lot of care into this book, and coined the term “customer evangelism”. Watch out for this Quote: We’re drowning in a sea of media and information overload. In a world with so much choice, how do people make decisions? By relying on trusted friends, colleagues, or family members. In the new world of marketing, evangelists act as key influencers on future customers.
- The Face-to-Facebook: Written by Ed Keller and Brad Fay (formerly of the KellerFay Group and now part of EngagementLabs) this book debunked the notion that social media IS word of mouth. The research chronicled here showed that in 2012, 90% of all word of mouth took place offline, not online. And even today, word of mouth is still 50% offline, according to their newest data. Watch out for this Quote: The most successful businesses in the future will be the ones that embrace a model that puts people – rather than technology – at the center of products, campaigns, and market strategies. They will recognize that people have a far greater impact on each other than we previously realized, and that consumers are not just a collection of individuals.
- Fizz: Ted Wright has probably achieved more as a practitioner of word of mouth marketing than any other living person. Fizz tells the inside story of how Ted and his team transform seemingly “meh” brands in beer, milk, and vacuums into word of mouth powerhouses. A must-read for anyone serious about the subject. Watch out for this Quote: When left to its own devices, word of mouth travels at a leisurely pace. Sometimes, as in the case of a new movie, that pace is a fast one because time is a factor. Otherwise, it can wait. So we have to as well. With rare exceptions, you can’t share stories with an influencer today and expect to see your sales increase a month from today. Word of mouth requires patience.
- Purple Cow: Perhaps unsurprisingly, of Seth Godin’s nearly 20 best-sellers on marketing and business, this one remains among our favourites. Purple Cow isn’t really about word of mouth, at least not in the executional sense. But it is such an important book on positioning, it’s nearly impossible to get into word of mouth without embracing this one. Watch out for this Quote: Because marketers have overwhelmed consumers with too much of everything, people are less likely to go out of their way to tell a friend about a product unless they’re fairly optimistic that the friend will be glad to hear about it.
- The Referral Engine: Word of mouth is often thought of as something that consumer-facing companies must have but is optional (at most) for B2B companies. The opposite is true. In B2B, word of mouth is often referred to as “referrals”. There are a couple of differences in the mechanics here (see my article on proactive vs reactive word of mouth for illustration) but the reality is that the data show that ~ 50% of ALL purchases are influenced by word of mouth, but 91% of B2B purchases are influenced by word of mouth. This book by John Jantsch (everything he writes is worth your time) talks about the mechanics of how to make your business referable, which is really “word of mouth, with more structure”. Watch out for this Quote: The hypothalamus likes validation – it registers pleasure in doing good and being recognized for it, and it’s home to the need to belong to something greater than ourselves. This is the social drive for making referrals. Human beings are physiologically wired to make referrals. That’s why so many businesses can grow and thrive by tapping this business-building strategy alone.