I Was There!

“This was fantastic – when they were saying nice things about us. But now…” How many times has someone in your business said those words? In the real world where real people are your biggest and most powerful advertisers, where no matter what customers read, hear, see, or read on the internet, TV, radio, newspapers or magazines, your customers still trust what others say even more than all your own communication. How can you manage the conversations to your benefit, and create positive word of mouth that goes viral?

The fact is that customers control just about all the media now, and some companies are learning to harness their voice. They use the internet, many websites and varied blogs, communities which they belong to, radio talk shows, letters and e-mails, banners, even stickers in the car window, to share their thoughts and feelings – negative or positive – and create more transparent and productive relationships between each other. (Indeed, many of them have become modern-day customer vigilantes.)

Word of mouth promotion has encompassed many different terms and meanings: Buzz marketing, viral marketing, evangelist marketing, referral marketing, brand blogging, grapevine, advocate/apostle marketing, raving fan marketing, and more. But no company can ignore word of mouth today.

It isn’t just the latest marketing fad – it’s a fundamental change in the nature of communications between customers and marketers.

People love to talk. What can your company do to influence the quality and quantity of communication that customers, prospects and others spread? How can your business best take advantage of the power of word of mouth – with a relatively small investment of resources?

Some subjects are just so easy to get conversations going, things like using sex, lies, or bathroom humour, doing something unusual, remarkable, hilarious or even outrageous to catch their attention, or letting them in on “special secrets or privileged information.” All these can guarantee success of your messages or ideas. The problem is that in today’s world it becomes ever more difficult to be original. Movie scripts, for example, seem to be clones of just a handful of plots and scripts, and one needs to create ever-larger special effects just to get the audience’s attention – with no guarantees of success.

But there are also a number of things that will make me want to spread your (positive) ideas:

  • I am just completely awed by the way I was treated, or what I experienced, and the only way I can repay you is to share this with others. (Creating fabulous customer experiences is the latest way to keep customers loyal, and they can range from simple things like remembering my name or something special about me, or giving me something small or meaningful for free; to complex strategies like designing your whole business to give me a personal and memorable experience – think Disneyworld or Ushaka Marine World.)
  • I feel generous or smart sharing what I have discovered with others. Alternatively, I care about someone enough, and my recommendation to them to deal with you will make them happier or healthier. (Think, for example, of a new diet you have discovered, like the Banting Diet.)
  • I want you to succeed because you’ve been nice to me or because I want you to do well.
  • I benefit financially or otherwise because of our relationship. Similarly, I want my friends to share in this too. This is particularly true when you look at new online companies like Groupon who essentially tell customers, “The more of you who buy into this cupcake offer, the cheaper it becomes.”
  • It may also be true that if I can get my friends to all come to you, it all works better. (Imagine if we all used one of hundreds of different types of software to just send emails. It would lead to chaos. So even though we may not like it, we all stick to either Windows or Apple.)
  • Something is just so funny – but it’s no fun laughing alone. Nandos has almost perfected this art, but you have to be careful to not offend others – as one recent cell phone advertisement did, (with a dog “humping” legs of various customers to make the point about being taken advantage of.)
  • Your idea says something that I may have trouble articulating to others, or it directly matches my values or beliefs or desires. A great example is the popularity of OUTA’s call to boycott payment of toll roads, but companies (like Tesla) that come across as being genuinely concerned about society or the environment will also be supported more and more. Another great example is a small airline in the United States called WestJet, which one Christmas arranged a special gift for every passenger on two flights, (having first used Father Christmas to ask them what they wished for at Christmas.) The response was phenomenal, but then the following year they went to a small poor village in South America and transformed the lives of every resident, upgrading the school and playground, buying one farmer a donkey and another a small tractor, and much more. (See the two videos on YouTube.)
  • I may feel alienated, isolated or just lonely, and sharing with others makes me feel a little less alone for a while. Or perhaps if everyone knew this idea I’d become more popular, or I’d be happier, or I’d be seen as a trendsetter.
  • I think your idea can help me to introduce other people to one another, and this makes me feel I’m helping to “found” a new community. Imagine if you were one of the founder members of the Harley Owners Group, or the HOGs.
  • I need to warn others in order to avoid an external threat to all of us. (WikiLeaks – need I say more?)
  • Or maybe you just asked me to do so, and I just can’t so no to you. (Another alternative: “Like us on Facebook and get a 15% discount.”)

It may need some innovation and planning, but it’s not hard, and it definitely doesn’t need to cost you much – provided you really want to do it. It’s too late when your motivation is to counteract some bad publicity on HelloPeter or in the social media.

Start now!


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