Revisiting Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Word of Mouth

If you were born after 2000, you may not be familiar with word-of-mouth marketing.

Suffice it to say that word-of-mouth was a hot topic in the early 2000’s.

According to referral marketing firm Extole, the term is attributed to psychologist George Silverman in the early 1970s. Silverman referred to word-of-mouth (WOM for short) as “teleconferenced peer influence groups”.

A simpler definition: WOM refers to users or fans of a product or service sharing what they like about it. Or don’t. It doesn’t cost a cent….unless you’re paying influencers on social media. And it’s a marketing tool every business should be using.

In their 2003 book, Creating Customer Evangelists, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell call these happy fans “evangelists”.  Here’s an excerpt from MarketingProfs.

In his 2006 book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, Andy Sernovitz talks about “honest marketing”. Your fans do the work for you, spreading the word about how great your  product is. It’s authentic.

And my personal favorite, Emanuel Rosen’s The Anatomy of Buzz published in 2002. Buzz is the “word-of-mouth magic” that happens when consumers are persuaded by recommendations by friends. Note: a revised copy was published in 2009.

Fast forward to 2022 and a recent Orbit Media Wine & Webinar featuring Jared Spool. His  presentation was titled “That One Weird Trick That Makes Marketing Soooo Much Easier”.

 Keyword: influencers.

The trick? Using word-of-mouth to turn customers into influencers.

Suggestion: go sign up for Orbit’s Wine & Webinars if you want to stay informed and entertained.

Back to Jared Spool.  An author, consultant, speaker and UX (user experience) expert. His job description is “Maker of Awesomeness”. And awesomeness is what he says marketers need to focus on. 

Spool suggests that people are so busy with social media that word-of-mouth (which falls under the social media banner) gets short shrift.

Ever hear of the Kano Model? I hadn’t til I heard Jared.

The Kano Model is a tool that breaks out the way people respond to a product (or service). It’s a way for you to determine customer satisfaction based on three criteria. 

The first criteria is Basic Expectations. As the term suggests, these are features your target market expects. If you’re buying a house, you expect a certain number of rooms, maybe a garage and basic amenities.  

Criteria #2 is Performance Features. These are the satisfiers. For the house you’re buying, central air conditioning and nice landscaping aren’t necessary (basic) but they’re attractive.

Criteria #3 is Excitement Features. And these are just that – exciting. They elicit WOW! reactions and delight the user. In your house hunt, a glam marble bathroom with a jacuzzi, soaking tub, heated floors and a big walk-in shower fall into this category.

Delight, The Ultimate Tool

The goal is to “enhance performance and increase customer satisfaction with features your customers will be delighted with”. Survey Monkey does a  good job of explaining how it works. 

A Positive User Experience (UX)

Whether you call it UX (user experience) or CX (customer experience), it’s basically the same.  

  • Figure out how to delight your customers.  
  • Make their lives better.  
  • Solve a gnawing problem.  
  • Exceed their expectations (or what Kano calls Basic Expectations).

Happy customers share their experiences. So do unhappy customers but that’s for another post.

Applying the KANO model.

Have you been delighted? Think about the last time you were delighted by a product or service.  I

I’ll start. I went into my local hardware store looking for a plant moisture probe. I knew they would have it cause they’re my “go to” neighborhood store and they have above and beyond what most hardware stores have. 

This time, however, the product was out of stock. So much for my Basic Expectations. 

But this store knows how to exceed expectations. The salesperson headed over to the computer, located the product I needed, ordered it for me and told me they’d send a text when it was in. An hour later, I had a text telling me it would be in next Thursday for me to pick up.

On Wednesday,  I got a phone call saying it was in the store and I could pick it up. Promise a customer something. Then exceed that promise.

According to the KANO model, this store’s service is above and beyond a basic expectation. So of course, I’ve already told more than a few people that it’s the best hardware store I’ve ever been to.

That said, the same word-of-mouth also works to hurt your company if you fail to satisfy a customer’s basic expectation. 

The customer who goes into that hot new Italian restaurant and has bad service and/or cold food will share that bad experience with anyone who asks how it was. 

A bad experience spreads like wildfire on social media. Think of all the restaurants that closed during COVID. The ones that were able to keep customers happy survived. The ones that didn’t have enough staff closed. And the internet became more important than ever for sharing experiences. And for cheerleading.

If you’re not currently using word-of-mouth marketing, add it to your marketing plan for 2023. 

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How to deliver a remarkable customer experience

  

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How to deliver a remarkable customer experience

Gordon's Ace Hardware Store in the Gold Coast

Last month, we blogged about what NOT to do when offering new products or services.

This month, we focus on how to deliver a remarkable customer experience. Because delighting customers not only keeps them coming back but also sharing their delight with others (can you say word-of-mouth marketing?).

I believe in learning from the companies that are doing it best. Like Netflix — which has figured out how to provide an amazing customer experience by streaming a seemingly limitless number of shows.

During Covid lockdown, Netflix kept us sane.  Stuck inside, we talked with friends about who was watching what. We shared on social media. Soon other streaming companies jumped on board. But Netflix was the first.

So I found it interesting to learn that Netflix is now partnering with Walmart (another company that seems to know exactly how to build sales) selling products related to recent streaming hits like Squid Game. They’ve created an area on Walmart.com for an online store called Netflix Hub.

A stretch you say? Hardly. It’s brilliant.

Netflix’s strategy is to develop new revenue streams to support their core subscription business. Promoting hit-show-related merchandise in a new marketplace allows them, as their EVP, Jeff Evans, says: “to connect with the Netflix fan base and potentially attract new customers.”

It’s probably safe to say that any small business would be over-the-moon happy with growth like Netflix. In Q2 2021, the company generated over $7.3 billion in revenue. Their growth curve since 2013 is one that makes investors smile.

What can your small business do?

Why not apply Netflix’s strategy to your small business marketing efforts?  What can you learn from them? What do they do that you don’t?

I found the answer I was looking for in this article in Media Labs.  And it’s pretty basic for a brilliant idea — “Netflix knows how to cater [to] their customers’ needs by giving them a remarkable experience. This is the real success story of Netflix..”

Creating a remarkable experience isn’t something that only big companies can do. Small businesses can absolutely do it. Maybe even easier. We don’t need to run it by layers of departments for approval. We simply need to make it part of our company culture.

Let’s see how that works.

I’ve identified 5 things that make for a remarkable client experience: ‘

  1. Offer Choices
    Make it easy for customers to get what they want. Netflix lets customers watch shows they want — when they want them — on a variety of devices.
  2. Offer Personalization
    In this HubSpot blog post, Kaleigh Moore writes about 8 Brands Creating Memorable Customer Experiences That Go Above and Beyond.  One company called Function Of Beauty lets customers create their own personal hair care products. They offer an online quiz to determine your hair type as well as colors and fragrances you like. You get a product created just for you. Talk about feeling special!
  3. Surprise Surprise!
    Surprises are the impetus behind mystery box subscriptions. There are boxes for almost any interest. They’re great for gifts when you’ve run out of clever ideas. You can find themed boxes for just about anyone on your shopping list. For example,…treat your mixologist brother-in-law to the Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club. Or gift your sister the crafter with Home Made Luxe so she can create homemade goodies themed to each month (for these and 28 other cool subscriptions, head over to Buzz Feed.)
  4. Outstanding Customer Care
    Marshall Field of the eponymous, now defunct, Chicago-based retail store said “Give the lady what she wants”. Fields was famous for their return policy of “no questions asked”. It takes “the customer is always right” to a whole new level.  Ritz-Carlton has one of the best customer care policies around. Employees are encouraged to “give the client what he needs”. And each employee is given up to $2,000 to make that happen. See #11 in this Qualtrics post titled: 11 examples of companies delivering great customer service. But you’re a small business owner. The above examples reference big companies. How does that apply to you? Great question! Which leads us to the 5th way to offer a remarkable customer experience……
  5. Make the customer feel special. Be like Ace.
    Ace Hardware has been around since 1924. Some of you may remember their jingle (we had jingles before the internet) — Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man. Ace is a franchise company with over 5,000 stores around the world. Most of these stores are independently owned and operated by local entrepreneurs. So even though the parent company is huge, each store functions as a small business.I want to talk about my local Ace store, Gordon’s Ace Hardware. This is in their profile: “As the helpful hardware folks in your community, we promise that, “helping you is the most important thing we have to do today.” And helping customers with really excellent customer service is exactly what they do.I stopped in there last week to have a key made. As I walked in the door, a salesperson asked if I needed help finding something, which I did because the key carving station had been moved. Got my key made in a snap. Stood in line for a few minutes chatting with a woman behind me who told me you could find ANYTHING at this store and how helpful the staff was.

    At least three other people walked in while I was waiting to pay. One customer after another. Each was warmly greeted. I was surprised to see this kind of traffic since Amazon probably carries 90% of the merchandise Ace does. And probably cheaper.

    At a time when retail vacancies are high —  the vacancy rate in Chicago’s Loop is 20% — how is this small local shop thriving? We’ve had empty storefronts in my neighborhood since I moved here three years ago. And I know my neighborhood is not unique.

    What is unique is the way my local Ace Hardware makes customers feel.  Like we count. Like our business is valued. Like they’re happy to see us.

    I’ve never been in an Ace store where I didn’t get amazing service, so I know this focus on customer care is part of their corporate culture.

    After meeting my share of bored salespeople who obviously don’t what to be there, it’s awfully nice to be warmly greeted by kind people who really want to help you find what you need.

    And that just doesn’t happen when you shop at Amazon. It’s efficient and the prices are good. But it’s impersonal. And creating a remarkable customer experience involves human interaction.

    So what can you do to create remarkable experiences for your small business customers?  Have any ideas we haven’t covered? Feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear them.

    On a related topic, check out our post on how to nail customer engagement.

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5 traits that successful businesses use to engage customers.

figures reaching out to help a man climbing up a mountain

Successful businesses connect with customers. And they do this via 5 traits that are critical for client engagement: believability, authenticity, transparency, sincerity and dependability.

Let’s see how this works. One of the easiest ways to do this is by asking yourself 3 questions:

  1. Think about your favorite businesses. What is it about them that makes your favorite list?
  2. How do you FEEL when you interact with those businesses?
  3. Why do you keep going back?

What we’re doing here is identifying engagement triggers. Those traits that keep you engaged with vendors, shop owners, and service providers.

I’ll start…..

We count on certain colleagues and small business owners for various services we need — IT support, accounting, video production…..to name a few.

If we look at the commonalities of these vendors, we see a recurring theme.

They’re all dependable and believable. Believable because they’re transparent. What you see is what you get. It makes us feel confident that they’ll deliver on their promise and we’ll get what we were ordered. And then some.

Since we like working with people we like, we also hire people who are sincere and authentic. These traits are part of being a trusted provider. And that’s one of the things YOU need to do to build your client base.

Examples always help. We learn from others who’ve gone before us. So let’s look at some companies that have done a really good job of engaging their clients.

Successful Client Engagements

NetflixNetflix logo
The name Netflix is synonymous with offerings that no one else has. And what you see is what you get.

Can you think of the last time you heard anyone say something bad about their service? I can’t. What I DO hear is only raves about the latest hits that “you have to watch!” And the service is always dependable.

Per this article in Forbes,  “While the company hasn’t been without the occasional controversy, a report in the Wall Street Journal going so far as to describe its corporate culture as being “transparent to the point of dysfunctional,”

TargetTarget's logo
If you shop at Target, you know their stores are uniformly clean and well-stocked and the service is outstanding. You rarely have to search far for assistance. So you can get in and out quickly and generally find what you need. Their mission is to “provide Target shoppers a hassle-free experience” and the effort starts with making sure inventory is available in stores and on its online site. They nail it.

Read more about Target’s outstanding customer service n this article in Retail Customer Experience.

Trader Joe’sTrader Joe's logo
Trader Joe’s is another company that delivers on customer care with impeccable service. Jolly check out people, helpful shelf stockers, and easy returns make shopping there enjoyable. Well, other than the Covid lines outside the stores. But the lines are there because Trader Joe’s wants to keep you safe. They are precise about the number of people allowed in their stores at any given time. So you feel like they really care about you as a customer.

Warby Parker
I love Warby Parker! They take customer engagement to a whole new level. For one thing, it’s fun to go into one of their shops. It’s like going into a wonderfulwarby parker's packaging bookstore but instead of books, there are glass frames. Which you can touch. And try on. At your leisure. You can browse…..

as much as you want. And when you’re ready for help or have a question, there is always a knowledgeable and friendly sales associate to help you out.

Their make-shopping-fun branding is outstanding. “Nice to see you” is printed on the inside of your glass case. It’s fun and charming and makes you feel good. Like they really care about making you happy with your purchase. And they include a bright colorful lens cleaner that makes you smile every time you clean your glasses. Super marketing. Super company.

QuinceQuince
Familiar with Quince? They embody all of the traits I mentioned at the start of this post — believability, authenticity, transparency, sincerity and dependability. Plus one more, sustainability.

Their tagline — “Everyone should be able to afford nice things.”

An online retailer, they offer top quality clothing and organic bedding at remarkably low prices. Think beautiful quality $59 cashmeres and washable silk items that would cost triple that at a traditional retailer. Their secret? No middlemen, they sell “Factory direct to your doorstep.” Low-cost minimalist packaging. And what they call “specialist factories” around the world that pay sustainable wages.

Add in a commitment to green manufacturing, reducing carbon footprints and a beautiful clean website designed for accessibility, and you have a company that truly understands millennials and probably a lot of their parents as well.

Bottom line: you feel good shopping Quince. You feel like you’re helping others receive living wages and not hurting the planet. And their Mongolian cashmere sweaters are yummy soft.

What can your small business learn from companies like Quince?

How do you build trust into your client relationships?

We offer 5 key takeaways:

  1. Believability – Make honesty a part of your culture.
  2. Transparency – Let clients get to know you. This is how you engage them and build relationships.
  3. Authenticity – Be genuine. Whether you sell products or services. Quality counts.
  4. Sincerity – We like doing business with people who are sincere. It makes us feel good.
  5. Dependability – Without this, you can’t have much of a business.

Companies that don’t deliver what they promise don’t stay around long. Especially with social media that enables anyone to share your lousy products or crappy customer service with half the world.

From a consumer standpoint, the internet affords us a multitude of ways to buy. If your company doesn’t make customer care a priority, there are plenty of others that will.

Read more about keeping your customers happy..

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Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

graphic image of the word create

Many thanks to Lum3n for use of this Pexels image.

A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal jumped out: Target Posts Record Quarter.

Really? Month 6 of a pandemic. Life is anything but normal. Shops still closed. Restaurants going out of business. And Target can’t get out of their own way.

What’s Target doing that others aren’t?  It’s simple, really. They’ve listened to their target market. And provided solutions.

Their customers want to be safe. They want to shop from home and pick up purchases without getting out of their cars. Or get deliveries. They also want convenience and to save time.

Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

Target ramped up their online presence and made it easy to shop their website. Don’t want to go into stores to browse back-to-school items? Their robust website has everything your kids need online. So you can easily shop from home, then pick up at a dedicated pickup location or get your items delivered.

No, it’s not the same back-to-school experience we knew. No browsing the aisles so your kiddos can find the right color glittery folders. No picking that perfect pencil case and backpack. No trying on new clothes.

But this is a new school year unlike any we’ve seen before. And these are the realities. The retailers who GET it……like Target….are seeing sales soar. And they’re not alone.

What can you, a small business owner or an entrepreneur, take away from Target’s example?

Here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Pay attention to what keeps your customers up at night. Then find a solution that you can offer them.
  2. Let them know. Share those solutions/new services on your website, in emails and newsletters and on social media. And ask people to retweet, reshare and tell their friends.
  3. Reach out. As soon as you’re aware that your clients are having trouble, let them know you’re there to help.
  4. Make it easy for them to contact you. Everyone has different ways they like to connect. Give them options — phone, email, text, Facebook Messenger.
  5. Research new products or services you might provide. Can you offer free delivery? Extended payment terms? (Be careful about that one). You might discover some new income streams, and that would be a win-win for you and your customers.

These are challenging times but that doesn’t mean your business can’t survive…..or even thrive. These are conditions that smart entrepreneurs look for.

What opportunities for growth do you see?

Now is the time to figure out exactly what you can do to move forward. Need more inspiration?

Read about some companies that are household names that successfully launched during wretched economic times:  13 Massive Companies That Started During a Recession by Kelly Bertog. You might be surprised. You’ll probably be inspired.

And if you end up coming up with some ideas, let us know. We love small business success stories!

Read some of our other articles to help you market smarter:

Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

Marketing Morsels: How Clear is Your Brand Voice?

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Understanding Customer Care.

Whether you’re a shop owner or a service provider, your customer care will influence how clients feel about you and your products. And those feelings will impact future sales –including whether or not there will BE any.

Customer service with a smile.

We seem to remember the best and worst customer service experiences. For instance, if you go into a store and can’t find a salesperson, odds are you’ll be frustrated. You’ll probably leave without buying anything.

But when you’re warmly greeted by a smiling saleswoman you’re likely to linger and browse around. The more you browse, the more you’ll discover. And the more likely you’ll be to make a purchase…..or two.

We tend to be forgiving — even if we can’t find something we wanted — when we receive good customer service. The fact that we’ve been acknowledged says “they give a damn”. And that feeling is key.

As more and more products and services are discovered and consumed online, face-to-face communication happens less and less. This makes building relationships difficult. The personal touch is gone….replaced by bots and apps.

So how can online retailers build relationships with customers they’ve never met….and never will? Simple, actually. It’s all about communication and customer care.

New Orleans restauranteur, Ella Brennan, who ran the famous (and fabulous) Commander’s Palace, was the queen of customer care. Reminiscing on her recent death, her executive chef said “she understood that business is about how you feel when you walk into a restaurant. You may not recall the quail or the Chardonnay, but you remember a feeling a restaurant gives you.”

A savvy business woman, Brennan made sure her staff provided outstanding customer service. If a customer complained, she responded immediately. She understood customer care, and she will be remembered for making French dining accessible and fun. (Source: Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2018))

Smart companies know that poor customer care can kill a deal….and worse, go viral….quickly spreading the word that you’re a lousy company to do business with. Social media and business rating apps like Yelp make it imperative for companies to stay on their toes. Constantly. Because reputations can be sullied in a heartbeat.

Case in point: Starbucks. Wonder how much business they lost last month after arresting two black men who asked to use the bathroom while they were waiting for a meeting but didn’t buy any coffee. It hit national news immediately and became a full-blown nasty stain on the Starbucks brand.

To deal with the fallout, all locations were closed for mandatory 1/2 day training. For all employees. Stores with closed doors can’t do business, so this was a costly error for Starbucks.

Poor treatment isn’t easily forgiven. Odds are when you think of Starbucks, the racial incident will be top of mind for a long time to come. And all because of the ineptitude of one employee.

How much smarter to make customer care an integral and ongoing part of employee training. It may determine whether you succeed in business or fail.

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