Why Word of Mouth Doesn’t Happen

This post is a special Make a Referral Week guest post featuring education on the subject of referrals and word of mouth marketing and making 1000 referrals to 1000 small businesses – check it out at Make a Referral Week 2010

Sometimes, what you do is done as well as it can be done. It’s a service that people truly love, or a product they can’t live without. You’re doing everything right, but it’s not remarkable, at least not in the sense of “worth making a remark about.”

What’s up with that?

Here’s a smörgåsbord of reasons:

  1. It’s embarrassing to talk about. That’s why VD screening, no matter how well done, rarely turns into a viral [ahem] success.
  2. There’s no easy way to bring it up. This is similar to number 1, but involves opportunity. It’s easy to bring up, “hey, where’d you get that ring tone?” because the ring tone just interrupted everyone. It’s a lot harder to bring up the fact that you just got a massage.
  3. It might not feel cutting edge enough for your crowd. So, it’s not the thing that’s embarrassing, it’s the fact they you just found out about it. Don’t bring up your brand new Tivo with your friends from MIT. They’ll sneer at you.
  4. On a related front, it might feel too popular to profitably sneeze about. Sometimes bloggers hesitate to post on a popular source or topic because they worry they’ll seem lazy.
  5. You might like the exclusivity. If you have no trouble getting into a great restaurant or a wonderful club, perhaps you won’t tell the masses because you’re selfish…
  6. You might want to keep worlds from colliding. Some kids, for example, like the idea of being the only kid from their school at the summer camp they go to. They get to have two personalities, be two people, keep things separate.
  7. You might feel manipulated. Plenty of hip kids were happy to talk about Converse, but once big, bad Nike got involved, it felt different. Almost like they were being used.
  8. You might worry about your taste. Recommending a wine really strongly takes guts, because maybe, just maybe, your friends will hate the wine and think you tasteless.
  9. There are probably ten other big reasons, but they all lead to the same conclusions:

First, understand that people talk about you (or not talk about you) because of how it makes them feel, not how it makes you feel.

Second, if you’re going to build a business around word of mouth, better not have these things working against you.

Third, if you do, it may be a smart strategy to work directly to overcome them. That probably means changing the fundamental DNA of your experience and the story you tell to your users. “If you like us, tell your friends,” might feel like a fine start, but it’s certainly not going to get you there.

What will change the game is actually changing the game. Changing the experience of talking about you so fundamentally that people will choose to do it.

Seth Godin is author of ten books that have been bestsellers around the world. His most recent titles include The Dip and Linchpin. His books have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work.

17 Terrific Tactics to Inspire Customer Love (and Get New Business)

This post is a special Make a Referral Week guest post featuring education on the subject of referrals and word of mouth marketing and making 1000 referrals to 1000 small businesses – check it out at Make a Referral Week 2010

There are two fundamental approaches to generate more business: The first is to focus on making your existing customers insanely happy, so that they want to tell others about how much they love you; the second is to simply be a resource, or be helpful, to those who aren’t customers yet.

Specifically, here are 17 tactics:

1. Have a goal. Set a clear goal with a specific timeline – for example, you want an x increase in referrals over the next six months. You know that old adage about how you can’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going? It’s true.

2. Monitor the web and primary social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for people talking about you or your company. Say thank you (if they are saying nice things). Reach out and ask how you can help (if they aren’t).

3. And if they aren’t, BTW: Apologize for mistakes and solve problems fast. Speed is your ally.

4. Monitor the web and social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for specific keywords relevant to your business. Be approachable, conversational, and helpful there. Engage, don’t sell.

5. Join LinkedIn groups relevant to your expertise or industry, and build conversations with relevant individuals. Chime in when you have something to contribute, and be helpful with your advice, suggestions, opinions. Again: It’s about engaging, not selling. (This bears repeating.)

6. Create a blog with content that helps your customers with a problem, or gives advice on a difficult situation, or walks them through a hard decision, or just takes the customer’s point of view, generally. Be a resource, and don’t simply toot your own horn.

7. When someone comments on your blog, respond. Talk back. Thank them for participating with a follow-up email. This is a dead-simple thing, and something a lot of people don’t do.

8. Read other relevant blogs in your industry, or by your customers, or would-be clients. Comment there, too. How? I almost want to repeat that bit about engaging-not-selling again, but I know you get it.

9. Put something on your front door (if you have one) that reminds people to tell their friends about you. (This is an idea from my friend Andy Sernovitz.

10. Put a “tell-a-friend” form on every page of your website. (Another idea from Andy.)

11. Put a special offer in easily forward-able mail.

12. Add a small gift and a word of mouth tool to every package you sell. Do something unexpected. (Andy once sent me a few packets of Bacon Salt with a copy of his new book, for example, which inspired me to blog and tweet about it.

13. Create a mechanism to keep in touch with existing customers or clients, even if they aren’t in buying mode. Perhaps you publish and “insider’s” newsletter, guest-blog on their blogs, or pick up the telephone and call every once in a while, just to say hello.

14. Be generous in your business practices. Go the extra mile. Offer extra service or follow-up support as a routine way of doing business.

15. Be generous with your own referrals.

16. Say thank you. Someone refers new business to you? Send them a note. An especially nice touch in this digital age is a handwritten card. The kind that arrives in the mail.

17. Be nice. Does this sound lame? It’s not. People refer people who treat them well, are approachable, and likeable. Be that person.

Your turn. How else do you generate referrals, or inspire positive word-of-mouth?

Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, the world’s largest community of marketers. Follow her on Twitter at @marketingprofs

It Is Make a Referral Week!

I've declared this week, March 8-12, Make a Referral Week with the intent of drawing attention to the act of making referrals rather than simply receiving them. In fact, I have set a goal to challenge 1000 businesses, large and…

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