Word of Mouth Marketing VS Advertising

What happens when two of the biggest marketing strategies square off? This week I dive into the pros and cons of each one. And stick around to the end because I’ll share which one I think works best. What’s up fellow marketers? I’m Chris Kapelski and this, is Marketing Tip Monday. Today’s marketing tip #129 Word of Mouth Marketing VS. Advertising.

Word of Mouth Marketing

The idea of word of mouth marketing is thought to date all the way back to ancient times. If you provided quality products or services, word would travel, and you would acquire new customers. Though the term itself was coined in the ’70s while psychologist George Silverman was holding focus groups. He was surprised to find a few influential people in each group were powerful enough to sway the opinions of the others in the group. Regardless of its origins, word of mouth is a powerful tool.


Did you know 80% of business decisions start with a referral? When you use word of mouth marketing correctly, you can be the recipient of those referrals. How much more powerful would it be for your business to receive more referrals? But just like any strategy, there are pros and cons. So let’s hop into it. Let’s talk about the pros.

PRO #1: It Works When You’re Not

At the core of word of mouth marketing are brand and culture. If you’ve worked hard as a business owner to create a culture that people want to share, you’ll benefit from this first pro. Your customers will become a part of your sales team. Even better, and unlike your sales team, those customers don’t take time off. They’ll share your products or services on the weekends, at parties, in the evenings. Often when you and/or your sales team are not.

PRO #2: More Trusted Than Advertising

This all boils down to the source. When you advertise, you’re the source. And every business always has good things to say about themselves. This leads to an expectation that reduces the effectiveness of advertising. In word of mouth marketing, the source is different. It’s your customers. This means it is critical that as a business owner you ensure EVERY customer experience is a positive one. Even if an issue arises, and it will, fix it! Make sure that customer leaves feeling like you did everything you could to solve their problem.

CON #1: You Can’t Control Your Audience

Let me share a story to highlight my point. A few years ago one of our best customers gave us a referral. At one of her son’s soccer games, she was telling another parent all about the marketing that we did. There weren’t a lot of details, just that we did marketing. That person reached out to us and asked if we could design a flyer for her business. There was just one problem… we don’t do graphic design! Luckily this story had a happy ending. We could control who we accepted as a customer. As a result, we politely informed the customer that we don’t do graphic design and referred her to someone that could help.

CON #2: “Speed” It Takes Time

If you’re like most businesses you probably have a sales cycle. In order to keep that moving you likely use strategies that revolve around a sales funnel. Meaning you need to be filling that funnel so prospects come out the other side, at some point in the future, a client. With word of mouth marketing, you can’t control the speed of which your funnel gets filled. This can lead to two big issues. The first is you may not get referrals when you need them. The second is you may get too many referrals when you are already slammed. If you find yourself dealing with either of these situations set expectations. Be honest and let customers know when you can and can’t handle the work they want you to do.


Advertising takes on a variety of shapes and forms. Email campaigns, billboards, social media ads, commercials, print ads. They’re all advertising! In it’s simple form, advertising is simply you dictating a value proposition to your potential customers. You’re showcasing a product or service and you’re telling them what you want them to hear about it. You’re in control. That’s a critical point to remember about advertising. With that in mind, let’s talk about the pros.

PRO #1 You Control Audience and Speed

The first pro of advertising is that you control who will see your message and when they will see it. If you’re trying to hit a new target market, look at a different advertising strategy that focuses on that target. Do you need leads now to keep the sales cycle running? Then increase your budget! Whatever you are trying to do, advertising offers flexibility that word of mouth marketing just doesn’t. That flexibility often leads to more opportunities for success. Or at the very least, to adjust strategies and avoid issues.

PRO #2: You Control Your Message

With advertising, you are 100% in control of your message. Remember the soccer game story from earlier? The issue there was we had no control over the message that was conveyed. Ultimately it was incorrect. When you are advertising this isn’t the case. By planning out your messaging, you can tell people exactly what you want them to hear. This leads customers down a certain path that you have created, which tends to lead to smooth transitions and success.

CON #1: Budget It’s Expensive

Advertising, especially in the consistent recommended form, gets expensive fast. If you want the power to be specific and control your audience and message, it takes a big budget. To make matters worse, you could be spending your budget in the wrong areas. We talked about that in Marketing Tip Monday #147 Think Like Your Audience. When you are advertising you have to be monitoring and adjusting your strategy to avoid spending money on things that don’t work. Otherwise, you may just find yourself out of business.

CON #2: Not As Trusted As Other Strategies

This boils down to our old friend I mentioned earlier, the source. Again, no business is going to share bad things about themselves. This has created the expectation by consumers that advertising isn’t authentic. Don’t believe me? When is the last time you watched a full YouTube ad or paused on that Facebook Sponsored post in your timeline? Even though these ads are targeting you, you don’t want to be sold and thus you don’t connect with them.

What Strategy Wins?

Through marketing for a variety of businesses over the years, I’ve learned that the most successful businesses do both. I know, you wanted me to pick one. The truth of the matter is that both strategies cover each other well. Word of mouth marketing is inexpensive and that is a good balance to an expensive advertising plan. However, with word of mouth you can’t control speed and that’s a disadvantage you can cover with advertising campaigns. So both of these strategies really work well together.


What if you have to pick one? Then I have two suggestions. First, go back through the pros and cons we just discussed and weigh them against your current strategy. Take some time and really dive in to which one you think will work best for you. Second, if you’re a super busy business owner and don’t have time, hire an expert. Advertising incorrectly can be expensive and bad word of mouth marketing can destroy your reputation. An expert can help guide you through the pros and cons and ultimately to the best strategy for you.

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