What’s the difference between influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing?

Mark Schaefer
7 min readNov 6, 2023

There has been a lot of attention lately on both influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing (WOMM). Are they the same? Not exactly. Today I’ll explore the differences, similarities, and opportunities of these two important strategies.

The goal

Both of these marketing methods are gaining traction and deservedly so — Edelman reports that trust in companies, brands and ads has dropped 10 years in a row. Who do people trust? Other people. So, let’s put marketing in the hands of those we trust — the basic philosophy of both tactics.

As I wrote in a recent post, my take on influencer/word of mouth is different from most. I think the goal for both tactics is simple: move your content. The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero, so it makes sense to find people who can spread content for us.

“Content” can be a story, an idea, a political philosophy. A product or service can even be conversational and therefore considered “content.”

Smart businesses know that helping our customers become our marketers — through Influencer marketing and WOMM — is an essential strategy.

There’s obvious overlap, but there are also differences between influencer marketing and word of mouth marketing

1) Relationships + reliability

In influencer marketing, there is normally a relationship (emotional or financial) between an organization and the person who is designated to spread the story. This assures some measure of accountability and reliability since the influencer has a dependable track record, a sense of obligation, and perhaps even trackable metrics. That dashboard-friendly security is appealing to many companies.

While some may think of influencers as YouTube stars shilling energy drinks, influencer marketing is a widespread practice across many industries, including B2B. An esteemed scientist, engineer, or business executive can be an influencer, too. Influencer marketing is even working its way down to small businesses and startups.

By contrast, WOMM is less dependent on relationships between a company and the people spreading a…

--

--

Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!