Most people have that one friend who loves a brand or business so much that she talks about it every chance she gets. She might swear by a certain cosmetic line or insist everyone try her favorite coffee shop.
    This type of person is undoubtedly influential, considering that 92 percent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over any form of advertising. Of course, this statistic from Nielsen reaffirms what most bridal salon owners already know: word of mouth is extremely powerful!
    This is true across the board, but perhaps especially so in bridal. The gown shopping process is an emotional experience, an important step in wedding planning and relatively unfamiliar territory for most brides. As such, brides eagerly tune in to other brides sharing stories of their shopping experience.
    So potential customers are listening, but are they hearing your story? Is word of mouth benefitting your business?
    While word of mouth is mostly spread organically, there are ways to amplify it. That’s where word-of-mouth marketing comes in. Basically, this involves either identifying or creating something buzzworthy about your business and then encouraging the buzz. Done well, it can help you build a team of trusted brand advocates.
    Here are four tips to help transform your customers into word-of-mouth champions.

1. Give Them Something to Talk About
If you want customers to tell their friends and family about your bridal salon, you must give them a reason to rave.
    Influencers, or the people most likely to talk about your business to others, share three personality traits, according to Ted Wright, CEO of word-of-mouth marketing agency Fizz. They like to try new things because they’re new; they love to share stories with their friends and acquaintances; and they’re intrinsically motivated to share what they know.
    Your job is to introduce your store’s story in a way that does not interrupt or intercept people (think the opposite of tactics used by telemarketers and mall kiosk salespeople). The story must be interesting so influencers will pick it up, as well as authentic and relevant to their social circle so they’ll share it.
    Wright recommends using the “brunch test” to identify what’s buzzworthy about your business. Imagine you’re at brunch with a group of friends and you tell them what is special about your store. Does it invite questions and create intrigue? Or does it stop the conversation in its tracks?
    Be brutally honest. Your store’s upcoming anniversary, for example, is not buzzworthy. As important as it may be to you, it lacks relevance in your customers’ lives. Consider these alternatives:

Sensational Service
Nearly every business hangs its hat on customer service. And in bridal, service certainly carries a lot of weight. Unfortunately, simply meeting customers’ expectations in terms of product, price and even service isn’t enough. Although it might satisfy your brides, it’s not likely to make them sing your praises the way you’d like. In order to generate word of mouth, you have to greatly exceed expectations and deliver memorable moments.
    Wright suggests that you break apart the entire bridal gown buying experience, and ask yourself how you can be awesome at each step along the way. Be specific. Consider how appointments are booked, how customers are greeted, everything. What can you do that is so over the top that customers will naturally want to tell their friends about it?

Amazing Architecture
In some cases, it’s the store itself that can get people talking. Housed in a restored church built in 1915, Little White Dress Bridal Shop in Denver attracts a lot of attention for having a unique space with character and history. The building features large windows, high ceilings and unique details such as eye-catching chandeliers and large-scale floral wallpaper that is recognizable as part of the store’s branding.
    Even ordinary spaces can be transformed into something special with the creation of ultra-luxurious dressing rooms, posh viewing areas or other theming and details that tie in with your salon’s brand.

Charitable Contributions
Supporting a good cause can benefit a business in several ways including creating positive word of mouth. More than 70 percent of consumers say they would recommend a brand that supports a good cause, according to a survey by public relations firm Edelman.
    Charitable giving resonates especially well with millennials. Research has shown that the millennial generation, which accounts for most of today’s brides, is more likely than Generation Xers and Baby Boomers to buy products from a company that gives to charity or to recommend that business to a friend.
    Choose an organization you can rally behind and find a way to donate time or financial support.

Standout Selection
Your inventory can spur word of mouth if selection is distinctly different than what can be found elsewhere.
    Carrying a roster of great lines and exclusivity with in-demand designers generates word of mouth for Little White Dress Bridal Shop, says Kelly Leggett, director of marketing. The store adds to that buzz by hosting trunk shows with the designer in attendance, as well as Veils & Cocktails nights during which a Denver-based veil and accessories designer helps brides customize veils amid champagne tasting and free hair and makeup trials.
    Responding to a different approach, customers at Encore Bridal in Fort Collins, Colo., spread the word about the store’s consignment or “gently loved” section where dresses sell for about half the original price.

Extraordinary Experiences
Sometimes being the talk of the town requires thinking outside the box. Brainstorm ways to provide an experience unlike any other bridal salon in the area. Wright mentions ideas like sending a limo to pick up brides for their appointments or staffing your store with good-looking (and knowledgeable!) male bridal consultants. You would obviously need to consider the logistics of each idea and whether it’s a move that fits with your business model and brand, but you can imagine how such a novelty would jumpstart word of mouth.
    The point is to be creative and put yourself in your customers’ shoes to think of what would make you tell your friends about a particular business. You can always try something out, evaluate its payoff and adjust accordingly.

2. Ask Them to Send Their Friends
While most people agree that organic word of mouth is ideal, sometimes the next-best way to get what you want is to ask for it. Rick Brewer with says the biggest misconception many bridal salon owners have about word of mouth is that it happens on its own.
    “You can’t assume that just because you do a great job that word of mouth is going to automatically happen,” Brewer says. “The number-one reason we don’t get more word-of-mouth business in the wedding industry is we don’t ask for it.”
    He suggests setting up a systematic way in which you plan to ask customers for referrals. It starts with finding out what they expect from their purchasing experience (so you know how to exceed their expectations) and asking for permission to request referrals later. This sets the stage for you to ask after the sale, “Do you know any other brides-to-be that you could send our way or we can call? We’d love to take care of them like we took care of you.”
    When customers follow through with referrals, you may choose to thank them with a card or small gift, which might encourage them to send more business your way. However, Brewer would be hesitant to monetize a referral program in bridal. Referrals can be tricky to track and can become disingenuous when incentivized, he says.
    “We should build relationships,” he says. “And when we do, we like to refer the people that we know, like and trust because we want our friends and relatives to have an excellent experience.”
    In addition, increase the number of unsolicited referrals you receive by keeping in touch with past customers and networking with other wedding vendors so you’ll come to mind when they have a chance to recommend a bridal salon in the future.

3. Get Their Approval in Writing
    Similarly, ask happy customers to share their satisfaction in a customer review. According to a survey by BrightLocal, seven out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to. In turn, 91 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 74 percent say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
    In addition to asking customers to write reviews, make it easy for them to oblige. Include links to review sites in your post-purchase e-mails.
    Wedding Belles Bridal Salon in Stevensville, Mich., takes things one step further with its review incentive policy. Customers who are excited about their experience in the store are offered a $10 gift card or store credit for each review they post on Facebook, Google or Yelp.

4. Continue the Conversation Online
Today, word of mouth often takes place online, particularly on social media. In fact, social media gives consumers a louder voice and a bigger audience than ever before.
    Be an active participant in the conversation and follow social-media best practices to maximize its potential. Specifically, strive to post interesting content that begs to be shared in order to gain exposure beyond your own followers.
    As well, provide “social media-friendly” photo opportunities for customers in your store. Allow them to snap pics with an “I said yes to the dress” sign or a celebratory toast during their fittings, and encourage them to include your hashtag, etc. in their posts. Also remind each bride to tag you in her wedding photos so you can see how beautiful she looked (and her friends can see where she bought her gorgeous gown)!
    Whether conducted online or in person, remember that word of mouth can make or break a business. Be sure to do all you can to deliver an experience you want your customers to talk about.