Breaking Down the Methodology Behind Word of Mouth Marketing

Jonah Berger

You’ve spent 12 months building the most wicked product on the planet. Now what?

Now, you need customers, revenue, and growth. So here’s the sequence most entrepreneurs follow:

Step 1: You launch a blog
Step 2: You launch your Facebook page
Step 3: You start promoting your writing to your fan community of 50

Then you wait. You’ve built it; why aren’t they coming?

You get pissed off. You hop in your car, go to the gym, or take a walk outside to take your mind off things. Then you see that big Coca Cola billboard with shiny, happy stock-photo people and blinding, bright colors — you can’t help but swoon. You’re craving Coca Cola’s fizzy goodness and wishing that Santa would bring you a $10 million paid advertising budget.

Hold it — the glamour of paid advertising is a total illusion


Get it together. Get back to your computer immediately and watch the first cat video that you can find. Little do you know it, but that’s your brilliant plan. It’s twice as powerful as any paid channel advertising strategy, and it’s free. Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) = your growth engine.

According to the McKinsey Quarterly, “word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising in categories as diverse as skincare and mobile phones.”

And thanks to digital media, it’s not about neighbor A knocking on neighbor B’s door for advice anymore. Social media, content marketing, and online commenting platforms take WOM marketing to data-driven scale.

WOM is about street smarts, not rocket science

What does it take to get you talking about something? Most likely, it’s made you laugh out loud, saved you time, and solved your most pressing problems. It’s caught you by surprise and has struck an emotional chord.

As Wharton Marketing Professor Jonah Berger puts it:

Any product can be remarkable. Any product can be emotional.

It’s about the connection you build with your end-user psychologically, functionally, personally, and emotionally.

Take one of the most ordinary products on the market, for instance — a blender. Does the word ‘badass’ come to mind? Probably not. Now read the following story about a company called Blendtec.

“In my favorite video, for example, they stick an iPhone in the blender,” Berger says. “They actually drop an iPhone in. They close the top, they press the button, and you watch the iPhone get torn up by this really, really strong blender. It gets reduced to shreds. Little shards of glass and all the other things that make up an iPhone. Lots of smoke. At the end of the day, it’s basically powder. Now you’ve never seen a blender tear an iPhone. You’ve never imagined that a blender could do that to an iPhone. Yet you see it, and it’s pure remarkability.”

What happens next?

You share the video with everybody, and all of a sudden Blendtec is badass. You need it in your kitchen to replace the frou-frou blades in your cupboard.

The “mystery” about WOM marketing

Like any good marketing plan, it follows a standard framework. Amazing marketers take the same basic skeletons and flesh them out.

“It doesn’t take a marketing genius — though they are smart marketers — to think about this,” says Berger. “What it takes is understanding the psychology behind social transmission — what makes us talk about and share thing.”

The trick is to stop thinking of your brand-building as a stream of consciousness, creative endeavor. Think like a system with the following steps:

1. Take Control: Controversy Gets People Talking

Want to be a powerful influencer? Then own it. To be an authority, your brand persona needs to project confidence and charisma. No matter what you do, this mission-critical component will be your wow-factor.

Ryan Holiday is a media strategist for notorious clients like Tucker Max and Dov Charney. His perspective? Great marketing starts with your product.

If your product sucks, everybody’s going to know. As much as you can successfully BS the world, you can’t BS yourself. And when you try to market BS, you’re going to fall on your ass.

“It’s not worth talking about, it’s not interesting, I can’t get excited about it,” Holiday wrote.

Tucker Max is a total asshole, and he’ll be the first to admit it. The people who love him think he’s awesome. The people who hate him? Well, ‘awesome’ isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

Thing is, he doesn’t give a shit. You can’t please everybody. ‘Awesome’ is always worth marketing, even if there’s a flip side that others hate. Don’t be afraid to polarize people. If you’re scared to put yourself out there at the risk of pissing people off, you’ll be missing out.

Controversy gets people talking, and in terms of WOM, that’s awesome.

2. Value = What Your Customers Care About

Tucker Max himself points out that value is central to the equation. Audiences can smell fluff from a million miles away (especially from a computer screen).

“Have you noticed I haven’t written one word about book reviews or magazine interviews or radio or any of that bullshit?” he says.

Because for the most part, I’ve found that they don’t really matter.

I can tell you from very extensive experience that my book has done so well ONLY because people who read it recommended it to other people, and they went out and bought it.

Word of mouth. Nothing else…lasting, real word of mouth can only come from one source: creating value.

It’s simple, folks. Know what your customers care about. What keeps them up at night, what motivates them to go to work in the morning, and what holds them back. It’s your job to give them exactly what they need.

3. Quit Being Properly Polite and be an Authentic Asshole


You probably hate the fluffy ‘be yourself’ advice. Thing is, you need to hear it. It’s natural to feel self-conscious and to hide behind a ‘professional’ mask. It’s natural to want approval from others. Thing is, it’s only going to hold you back. If you’re constantly trying to please others by looking like everyone else, you’re not going to stand out.

Be like Dollar Shave Club’s Michael Dubin. He doesn’t pretend to be a fancy business dude. And still, he has infinite amounts of cred. His secret to success? He brought his formal training in stand up comedy to his business. His unique attitude helped him stand apart. That talent got him thousands of customers… almost overnight. If that’s not CEO cred, then nothing is.

There’s also James Altucher, a financial expert and entrepreneur who built some of his biggest businesses through blogging. As he puts it in his Twitter bio: “For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog.”

Why’s he so popular? Well he writes about topics that make us human, not rich. He helps us understand why our bosses are assholes and why we should think twice before judging a genuinely good person.

Ask yourself some questions: Would you say what you’re about to say to your best friend over a beer? What makes you passionate beyond the cubicle? That is what you should bring to the table.

Here’s a fun hypothetical exercise; wear a rubber band on your wrist. When you catch yourself saying something that doesn’t represent you, or that echoes someone else, pull the rubber band and snap it onto your wrist. Not only does that condition you to be more honest, but it is a funny talking point and will make you more remarkable (re: quirky, weird). “Oh, yeah — I’m trying to be more honest, and I caught myself trying to be someone else. That thing I just said? I didn’t really mean it.”

You know when you meet that really boring person at a networking event or party. Yeah, they’re plenty smart and articulate, but man will they put you to sleep. Don’t be that guy. When you’re authentic, you’re interesting.

Tucker Max is interesting because he’s an asshole. He stands out. You don’t need to be an asshole, but you can and should embrace your inner edge.

4. Where Technology Meets Social Psychology

WOM is not about knocking on your neighbor’s door. It’s about tapping into social psychology to connect with customers on a human-to-human level. Technology amplifies that process and helps you do it at scale.

The brilliant growth hackers at AirBnB, for instance, have built a technology model to auto-post to Craigslist.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved — both the people renting out their places by tapping into pre-build demand, and for renters, who see much nicer listings with better photos and descriptions,” wrote Andrew Chen for his blog.

5. Be Relentlessly Emotional

lightning in a bottle 2

Logic keeps people intelligent and informed — but emotions move them. Word of mouth marketing depends on your brand’s ability to keep people engaged, energized, and inspired. It’s about love, anger, and humanity that’s powerful and raw.

Never, at any point in the game, let the fire of your emotional hook die. Write with emotion, tweet with emotion, and no matter what the hell you do, do not hold back. You’re lightning in a bottle.

Talk to some of our Word of Mouth Marketing experts on Clarity to setup your WOM campaign.

Tags: , ,
Free Guide: Straight-up Startup Advice

Learn From The Best
Top Entrepreneurial Advice
150 Entrepreneurs Share Their Secrets

Free Guide: Straight-up Startup Advice


  • Dave Gallant

    Solid post. I got value from this especially point #3.

  • Glen Richardson

    Bravo Dan, exceptional article. I’ve just e-mailed a link to our team with the subject “MUST READ”! Thanks for sharing, hope all is well with you.

    • Dan Martell

      Thanks Glen, much appreciated. Was a passion piece for me to write.

      • Glen Richardson

        It shows too, great work!

  • Dan Waldschmidt

    I love what you guys do. This is another great piece of advice…


  • Saul Colt

    Great post Dan.

  • Miro

    Great article

  • Nate Johnson

    Great post Dan, we are actually rolling out a new referral program for our cards next quarter and I’ll be passing this on to the marketing team.

    Have a great weekend!


    great post sir

  • Ben Smith

    Great article, I love it. Reminds me of what Derek Halpern does (social triggers). His mannerisms and the way he speaks on his videos actually grates and annoys me, however I am drawn in and remember him for that. Relates also with Seth Godin’s Be Remarkable. No-one notices if you are boring.

  • Bryant Jaquez

    I LOVED!!!!! this post. I’m going to go tell everyone I know about it. 🙂

  • Dave McClure

    good shit.

  • Rich Becker

    Smart advice, all around. Be direct. Tell people how it is. No apologies.

  • Mical Johnson

    Really great post. Love the examples with Dollar Shave Club and Blendtec

  • Arun Venkatesh

    Good article.. really informative! Point #1 & #3 highlight to this post!

  • Pingback: Dan Martell: How to Build A Real Connection With Your Customer

  • CasinovaRoyale

    Superb article…I just added ur site to my bookmarks

  • harrynaghavi

    Nice Post

  • guest

    “word of mouth produces more than twice the sales of paid ads in categories as diverse as skin care and mobile phones.” McKinsey Quarterly words are indeed true, but must be supported product and good distribution. And for example, the product is obat untuk mengatasi wanita frigid

  • guest

    mouth by mouth marketing method proved to be very good, but it needs to be supported by a good product and excellent service, and both of these factors have owned jual obat keputihan di jakarta

  • febria asfihani

    mouth marketing method is good according to the jual crystal x asli nasa and mengobati keputihan yang gatal