The Limitations of Word of Mouth

“The farmer was very excited, he was telling everyone and calling all the other farmers over. I was trying to keep coolm but I knew it was a breakthrough.”
-Werner Swart, Founder of Drylo Bag, Africa Prize shortlist

Talking with African entrepreneurs, you hear some stories that might make you believe that word of mouth is an amazing tool to solve almost any problem. However, others will tell you that you have to be careful and not rely on it too much. These three stories show both the potential and limitation of word of mouth advertising.

##The Potential

“We started with the international fair. We get small scale farmers coming and that’s where the numbers really picked up, 2K passed through our stand and word of mouth has really picked up. People meet us on the street and want to know where to get one.”
-Musenga Siliwawa, Founder of Spot Agro

For Musenga, and Werner, word of mouth was critical in their success. Both of them were able to begin by working with farmers and rely on the power of close knit communities of farmers to then spread the word about their products.

“The thing is with farmers, they’re copycats if I can say that. If one is succeeding with something, the others will follow. Once they’ve seen it work and they’ve seen the results, I’ve had people contact me from other provinces back in South Africa and it just started growing.”
-Werner Swart, Founder of Drylo Bag, Africa Prize shortlist

This was possible because the farmers in question understand that they all have similar challenges. So if they see another farmer finding success with a product, they’re ready to give it a try. This, however, is not always how other types of consumers work, as Felix Kimaru learned.

##The Limitations

“Word of mouth is not enough. If you’re able to show how much this is going to improve the lives of their people, it’s a difficult sell but you have to start”
-Felix Kimaru, Co-founder of Totohealth, Africa Prize shortlist

When developing his health services product Totohealth, Felix initially thought word of mouth would be a more powerful tool. After all, his company was going to be making it far easier for rural East Africans to gain access to healthcare services and information. But those villages didn’t have strong connections with other villages dozens or hundreds of kilometers away.

The community connections between those rural people weren’t as strong as between the farmers that Werner and Musenga were selling to. That made the critical difference between finding success using word of mouth and not.