How to Buy Word of Mouth
The price of making a powerful statement is cheap compared to the cost of ads that don't work. So make a statement that counts. This is the best advice I can give you.
I'm not talking about making a grand and sweeping claim, such as, “Lowest prices anywhere. We won't be undersold.” No one believes hype anymore. I'm talking about a statement that is bona fide, no loopholes, easy to experience. And it only takes one such statement to put a business over the top. This is why you should designate a percentage of your ad budget to purchase word-of-mouth advertising.
Word-of-mouth is credible because a person puts their reputation on the line every time they make a recommendation. And that person has nothing to gain but the appreciation of those who are listening. What are you doing to make sure your potential ambassadors feel secure? What are you doing to trigger word-of-mouth?
1. Word-of-mouth is triggered when a customer experiences something far beyond what was expected. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won't do it.
2. Don't depend on your staff to trigger word-of-mouth by delivering “exceptional customer service.” Good service is expected. It's bad service we talk about. Great service can increase customer retention and generate lots of positive feedback to the business owner, but rarely is it the basis for word-of-mouth advertising.
3. Physical, nonverbal statements are the most dependable in triggering word-of-mouth. These statements can be architectural, kinetic, or generous, but they must go far beyond the boundaries of what is normal.
4. BUDGET to DELIVER the experience that will trigger word-of-mouth. Sometimes your word-of-mouth budget will be incremental, so that its cost is tied to your customer count. Other times it will require a capital investment, so that repayment will have to be withheld from your advertising budget over a period of years. The greatest danger isn't in overspending, but in under spending. Under spending for a word-of-mouth trigger is like buying a ticket halfway to Europe.
5. Don't promise it in your ads. Although it's tempting to promise the thing you're counting on to trigger word-of-mouth, these promises will only eliminate the possibility of your customer becoming your ambassador. Why would a customer repeat what you say about yourself in your ads? You must allow your customer to deliver the good news. Don't rob your ambassador of their moment in the sun.
Your word-of-mouth trigger can be architectural, kinetic, or generous.
1. Architectural: This can be product design, store design, fantasy décor, etc. The piano store that looks like a huge piano, with black and white keys forming the long awning over the long front porch. The erupting volcano outside the Mirage in Las Vegas. A glass-bottom floor that allows customers to see what's happening far below them. Do you remember when McDonalds began building playgrounds attached to all their restaurants? It worked like magic for 20 years.
2. Kinetic: Activity. Motion. “Performance” by every definition of the word. The tossing of fresh fish from one employee to another at Pike Place Market in Seattle, (the inspiration for FISH!, that bestselling book and training film.) The magical, twirling knives of the tableside chefs at Benihana. Kissing the codfish when you get “screeched in” at any pub in Newfoundland. (A screech-in is a loud and funny ceremony where non-Newfoundlanders down a shot of cheap rum, repeat some phrases in the local dialect, and kiss a codfish. Everyone who visits that wonderful island returns home with a story of being “screeched in.”) While it may at first seem like a staff-driven, kinetic word-of-mouth trigger is a violation of number 2 above, “Don't depend on your staff,” it's really not. A staff-driven kinetic word-of-mouth trigger is constantly observable by management. It isn't a “customer service” experience delivered privately, one on one. Extraordinary product performance is another kind of kinetic trigger. If a laundry detergent dramatically outperformed all others, its performance would likely become a kinetic word-of-mouth trigger. But remember, slightly exceeding customer expectations is usually not enough.
3. Generous: Extremely large portions in a diner. Oversized seats on an airplane. Are you willing to become known as the restaurant that allows its guests to select – at no charge – their choice of desserts from an expensive dessert menu? You can easily cover the hard cost of it in the prices of your entrees and drinks. Flour, butter and sugar are cheap advertising. Are you the jewelry store that's willing to become known for replacing watch batteries at no charge, even when the customer hasn't purchased anything and didn't buy the watch from your store? Word will spread. And batteries cost less than advertising. Why sell them for a few lousy dollars when they're worth so much more as a word-of-mouth trigger?
Architectural, kinetic, generous: these are the flour, butter, and sugar of effective word-of-mouth. What can you make from these ingredients? Will you put their rich taste into the mouths of your potential word-of-mouth ambassadors? Or will you make ambiguous claims in your ads and hope that people are willing to believe them?
Roy H. Williams
PS – Today's memo is but a sharing of my own thoughts and observations. These ideas could be entirely wrong. They have neither been approved nor endorsed by the official Word of Mouth Society.
PPS – In a stunning effort I believe to be their best to date, poet Peter Nevland and guitarist Paul Finley have been joined by miracle animator ThatBaldGuy to create a 5-minute video about George, an old fellow Peter met while vacuuming his car one day. It is a powerful performance (kinetic,) featuring a distinct graphic style (architectural,) and it's free (generous.) Be sure your heart is in a quiet place and that you can protect 5 undistracted minutes, but definitely make time to enjoy this moving performance at www.SpokenGroove.com.