Putting words in their mouths

Good recommendations from customers are marketing gold, but how do you make sure it happens?

Putting words in their mouths

A little while ago I took on a new staff member.

She interviewed well and came highly recommended by someone I had known for a long time and whose opinions I valued.

The only problem is that my new employee turned out to be a disaster and didn’t even last for two weeks.

Apart from causing me to re-evaluate my recruitment policy, this incident also got me thinking about the power of word of mouth – if the potential recruit had not come through a personal recommendation, I wonder if I would have offered her the job in the first place.

Regardless of what you are looking for – a future employee, a reliable builder or plumber, a new car or plasma screen TV – I’m sure we can all recall occasions when we took note of the opinions of someone else and these helped us to make our final decision.

And it makes sense. After all, the type of people that we seek advice from should have no vested interest in recommending anything other than what they believe is the best solution to our problem. As a result, we trust them.

Fine if you are the consumer, with all this expert and impartial advice just a phone call away, but what if you are the marketer trying to ensure that your product or service is the one being chosen?

How can you improve your chances of having people deliver positive word of mouth about your brand and thus improve its likelihood to be purchased?

The simple answer is that there is no simple answer (otherwise everyone would be doing it and we would have no mainstream advertising industry).

However, I do believe that there are five elements which, if carried out correctly, can maximise a brand’s potential to generate positive word of mouth.

First, it should have a clear, simple and interesting story – if you can’t find a story about your brand for yourself, how can you expect someone else to work it out for you and then pass it on?

Second, you should make it easy for people to spread the word – successful viral campaigns enable computer users to forward messages with just a couple of clicks. If they have to put in too much effort, they won’t do it.

Third, you should reduce the risk for the “sender”. Anyone who is passing on a recommendation to friends and colleagues via word of mouth is also saying something about themselves. Senders need to be reassured in their own minds that their recommendation will not come back to bite them.

Fourth, you should think about the warm glow that a recommender can gain from being able to impart their knowledge to a friend or colleague. If you are ever able to track down a positive endorser of your brand, be sure to say thank you. Those two simple, unsolicited words can help to reinforce the positive feelings they already possess and so their word of mouth becomes stronger in the future.

Finally (and this one can be a tricky one for marketers), be prepared to let go. Word of mouth is an elusive concept and won’t be tied down. The marketer who tries to control their word of mouth is in grave danger of destroying the very thing they set out to achieve. Concentrate on the first four points and then trust in people to do the rest.

Hope this helps – if so, please feel free to spread the word.


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