Sales & Marketing

Let Word-of-Mouth Marketing Make Your Business the Talk of the Town

Let Word-of-Mouth Marketing Make Your Business the Talk of the Town

Long before marketing and branding were transformed into a science, there was the power of word-of-mouth. Learn how to hone this concept and put it to work for your business.

By Tara Remiasz


As a business owner, you are probably presented with lots of opportunities to attend seminars on topics such as how to build leadership skills or network like a pro. But, when is the last time you heard of a course about “Influence and Persuasion: The Art of Mind Manipulation”? While the title of this business workshop may be off-putting to some, it certainly piques the interest of others. And that is precisely why Olivia Fox Cabane, executive director of Spitfire Communications LLC in N.Y. and author of The Pocket Guide To Becoming A Superstar In Your Field, decided to use it as the title for one of her seminars. Cabane uses unique, preferably controversial strategies to elicit attention and spark conversation among potential customers. “I accept the fact that I’m going to alienate certain customers,” she says.

One of the most important skills that Cabane has mastered is the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing is essentially a strategy for inspiring people to talk about your business. It doesn’t need to be controversial, as Cabane prefers, but it does need to be unique or interesting enough to get people talking. Learn how to get people talking about your business by incorporating word-of-mouth marketing techniques into your business strategy.

Find Your Talkers
Before you begin initiatives to get people talking, it’s important to identify those people who will be most likely to talk about your business, says Andy Sernovitz, founding CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association in Chicago, and author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. In some cases the number of people who talk about a product or service will always outweigh the number of people who use it. For example, there are far more people who talk about Ferrari automobiles than who actually own one, Sernovitz says.

However, your talkers will most likely be the customers you serve. Create a profile of the type of person who is most likely to tell others about your business. Consider what this person gains from your business and what kind of offering might inspire him or her to talk about your business.

Individuals who are more highly engaged with your product are great targets and can serve as advocates in getting word-of-mouth campaigns started. These individuals request free samples, free t-shirts, visit your booth at tradeshows, run their own blogs on related topics or specifically about your product, they use your reply form on your Web site. Talkers can also be found by reviewing newsgroups and blogs about your product, industry and related products.

Talkers are motivated by a desire to be recognized, feel special or receive small perks.

Give Your Talkers a Target
Once you have identified who is likely to talk about your business, it’s time to create a reason for them to get excited, Sernovitz says. You can create excitement by either piquing people’s interests or offering something of considerable value. Jones Soda Co.’s Holiday Pack, which offers flavors such as Broccoli Casserole, Smoked Salmon Paté and Turkey & Gravy, offers a good example of how to get people talking, he says. And the media certainly took notice when White Castle began soliciting dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day. The key is to offer something unique enough that it will set your business apart from others. Sernovitz offers the following examples of how small businesses can give their talkers a target: Hold a two-for-one sale; offer snacks to people while they wait in line, give away postcards, hats or a tinfoil sculpture with leftovers.

Give Your Talkers Tools
Once you have identified your talkers and provided them with a worthy conversation piece, it’s time to help them spread the word. Tools such as an e-newsletter, a blog or a message board, enable your talkers to easily spread their thoughts about your business. When people write complementary e-mails or letters, it’s important not to just file them away. Post any endorsements from patrons on your Web site or in an e-newsletter if you have them.

First Impressions Do Count
“Word-of-mouth is all about the first impression,” Cabane says. “You have only a couple of seconds to hook people.” The key, says Cabane, is to use a short name or tagline that is telling enough so that people understand what it is you offer.

Something as simple as a name or title can help garner extra attention. Cabane’s title is designed to set her apart from competitors. Instead of calling herself a ‘business’ or ‘communications’ coach, she uses the term ‘charisma coach’ to describe her profession. Even if the thought of using a ‘charisma coach’ doesn’t appeal to someone, it’s unique enough to stick in people’s memories.

Deliver Value
You could execute all of the preceding advice perfectly, but if you don’t deliver value to your customers, word-of-mouth won’t give you the desired results. Cabane provides value by trying to deliver an abundance of pragmatic tools that will help entrepreneurs in the real world. For example, she describes specific ways that they can use body language to become more charismatic networkers. And instead of simply saying that a strong handshake is important, she tells her clients the exact mechanics of a perfect handshake.