Social Marketing: Word of Mouth Case Studies from Superdry and Starbucks



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This is a guest post by Matt Knight.

Word-of-mouth advertising is the holy grail of any marketing effort – it’s free, extremely effective and based on the heartfelt opinions of a company’s loyal customers rather than an image formulated by a marketing team. In the digital era, the ever-expanding social media channels make word-of-mouth marketing incredibly easy, allowing images, articles, videos, comments and other great pieces of content to fly across the globe every second.

Sometimes, all it takes is one Tweet for an unknown individual to be plucked from obscurity to become a household name on the other side of the world – in literally seconds. In early 2012, Leeds-based virtuoso guitarist Jon Gomm was a struggling musician, playing in small pubs in Yorkshire. Stephen Fry, after stumbling upon him on You Tube, became somewhat enamored of his incredible musicianship, and shared his song ‘Passionflower’ with his 4 million followers. That song now has 5.5 million hits on YouTube and Jon performs all over the world, earning a living from playing his guitar.

Superdry launched in 2004, combining distinctive Japanese characters and the word Superdry to form their logo. What set Superdry apart was a firm reluctance to invest or engage in any form of traditional marketing – relying solely on word-of-mouth recommendations. The founder, Julian Dunkerton, is an incredibly astute businessman, who started his career selling punk fashions in Cheltenham market in the 1980’s. The brand has grown exponentially over the last ten years, largely due to the organic evolution of mentions via social media. Superdry has also succeeded in obtaining the type of advertising that usually costs millions of pounds – celebrity endorsement. Both David Beckham and Nicole Scherzinger are proponents of wearing Superdry clothing and were seen in various items. This led to fantastic publicity for the brand and allowed it to expand even further.

Starbucks, now a 1.4 billion dollar company, had humble beginnings. The first store was opened in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market in 1971. That single, modest, store with a slim shop front has multiplied into 15,000 spacious outlets in 50 countries. This is largely due to three important factors.

Firstly, they focused on bringing the best Italian coffee to the US and tried to instill a sense of community in their cafes, by creating a ‘third home’. A fixation with providing quality beverages and excellent customer service led to organic word-of-mouth marketing. Those who had a good experience told their friends, family and work colleagues and the brand quickly grew.

Simultaneously, Starbucks deliberately avoided investing in traditional forms of marketing such as advertisements in magazines, billboards, newspapers and celebrity endorsements. Since the arrival of the digital age, Starbucks has been very active online, extending their sense of community through social media channels. A significant amount of their recruitment is focused on social media strategy and digital production, allowing them to create a fully interactive platform for their supporters and customers. In addition to the conventional channels, for instance, they also have site called ‘My Starbucks Idea’, to allow anyone to submit their ideas, suggestions and feedback to help develop the brand and improve the service.

In conclusion, although conventional advertising can be highly effective, it is essentially one-way communication based on market research. Social media is not only free for companies to use, it’s also a wonderful tool for stimulating word of mouth recommendations, not to one’s neighbors or friends, but a global audience. More importantly, customers can now communicate directly with their favourite brand and enter into a conversation, rather than feeling like they are facing a “corporate well.”

Matt Knight is a Content & Online PR Executive who enjoys writing about digital marketing and the applications of social media.

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