Word of mouth marketing is the oldest, most cost-efficient, and most effective way to create customers and grow any business.
Research from just last week from Marketing Charts shows that word of mouth remains the most likely way that consumers make purchase decisions, and that effect is even stronger among younger consumers, per a study I conducted last year.
Despite its importance, word of mouth is somewhat under-represented in the business book genre. When working on our own book about word of mouth, my co-author Daniel Lemin and I spent hundreds of hours reviewing the existing literature on the topic, both business books and academic papers.
I’ve been asked for recommendations, so I finally sat down and wrote up this list of my favorite word of mouth marketing books. Note that while there are other good books about word of mouth, this list represents the books that I personally prefer. Your mileage may vary.
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. I have some notes about that at the end.
These 12 best word of mouth marketing books are in alphabetical order by title. Links are not affiliate links.
The Anatomy of Buzz, Revisited
Published 10 years ago, this seminal work from Emanuel Rosen remains a standard-bearer of the genre.
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. Authors Robbin Phillips, Geno Church, Spike Jones, and Greg Cordell are still driving the WOMM conversation, 8+ years later. Also check out the follow-up from Phillips and Cordell: The Passion Conversation.
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.
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. Also look for the follow-up: Invisible Influence.
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.” It was released to excellent reviews, including in The New York Times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Made to Stick
Made to Stick isn’t really a classic word of mouth book and might instead be classified as one of the catalysts for the modern “business storytelling” phenomenon. But as one of the best-selling marketing books ever, this book from Chip and Dan Heath (their other books are also excellent) is a foundational text in the word of mouth world. Don’t try to run a business without reading this.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, of Seth Godin’s nearly 20 best-sellers on marketing and business, this one remains among my two favorites (alongside Permission Marketing). Purple Cow isn’t really about word of mouth, at least not in the executional sense like Fizz or Talk Triggers. But it is such an important book on positioning, it’s nearly impossible to get into word of mouth without embracing this one. If you like Blue Ocean Strategy but want to actually be entertained, read this (and Different, mentioned below).
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.”
A more recent book on a similar theme is the also-outstanding Clarity Wins by Steve Woodruff.
My project with Daniel Lemin is the most recent of these books, and we are standing on the shoulders of giants. In fact, we interviewed almost every author mentioned here for Talk Triggers, and we simply would not have a book without their work.
What Talk Triggers adds to the word of mouth literature is a SYSTEM, a proven, methodical framework for how to create, test, implement, and measure word of mouth. We also included a highly varied collection of case studies from B2C and B2B; from small and large businesses; and from American and global firms, to make sure that all readers can see how Talk Triggers applies to them.
For more on the Talk Triggers system, visit TalkTriggers.com where we have a lot of helpful, free resources. And of course, if we can help you create a winning word of mouth strategy for your company, please get in touch.
People have the power now in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This is why the time for talk triggers has never been better – or more necessary. Businesses’ ability to unilaterally dictate consumer attitudes and subsequent purchases and loyalties is fraying like the hem of a cheap dress.
The best organizations are running ahead of this shift, purposefully crafting differentiators that get customers to tell authentic, visceral, trusted stories about the business and its products or services; stories that create new customers through referrals and recommendations.
The Tipping Point
In some ways, the granddaddy of them all. Malcolm Gladwell’s book about mavens and connectors changed the marketing and communications lingua franca forever and crossed over into popular culture. One of the most important marketing books of the last 30 years, The Tipping Point is required reading for all business owners and managers.
In the same way that Purple Cow and Contagious are terrific companions to Talk Triggers, The Tipping Point makes a great pairing with Fizz.
There is more than one way to tip an epidemic, in other words. Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating. And when an epidemic tips, when it is jolted out of equilibrium, it tips because something has happened, some change has occurred in one (or two or three) of those areas. These three agents of change I call the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.
Word of Mouth Marketing
A popular and powerful book that looks at why word of mouth is important, its primary drivers and functions, and how to make it work for business. Excellent examples throughout from Andy Sernovitz, one of the founding members of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. This one holds up as an important read, even years after it was first published.
More Recommended Reading
As mentioned above, there are many outstanding books that I highly recommend that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as word of mouth marketing books in the classic sense but are still required reading for anyone interested in the field.
Different – possibly the book that influenced Talk Triggers the most. By Youngme Moon from Harvard Business School, this is an exceptional book on positioning, and doing something unusual.
Create Distinction – a fantastic book on the importance of standing out in your category, from my friend Scott McKain. Also grab his new book: Iconic.
Fascinate – a killer tome on how to make people pay attention to you. Filled with psychology evidence of what works, and why. An important book from my pal, Sally Hogshead.
Pink Goldfish – in the spirit of Purple Cow, Stan Phelps lays out an excellent formula for zigging while your competitors zag.
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