Trucks, shovels and flats of flowers are Fred Anderson's tools for designing and installing custom landscaping. But when it comes to marketing, he has only one tool: the human mouth.
One hundred percent of Anderson Landscape Construction Inc.'s clients come from referrals, either from professional architects and builders or from former clients. That makes the five-person Lancaster, Massachusetts, firm an extreme example of what marketers have always known but are beginning to rediscover and re-emphasize--that word-of-mouth is one of the best tools in any marketer's arsenal.
"It's the most effective form of advertising any business can have," says Murray Raphel, president of Raphel Marketing in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and co-author of the marketing guide, Up the Loyalty Ladder (HarperBusiness). "You have unpaid salespeople selling to others, encouraging them to use your goods and services because of their pleasure with your service."
Word-of-mouth not only works, it's inexpensive. Walla Walla, Washington, word-of-mouth marketing specialist Michael Cafferky wrote a manual called Let Your Customers Do the Talking (Upstart) because his small-business clients couldn't afford anything else. "I was forced to find marketing tactics with zero budget," says Cafferky. "Word-of-mouth is one of the most natural."
For some entrepreneurs, word-of-mouth may not merely be the best or most efficient marketing tool: It may be the only one. The wealthy estate owners Anderson sells to, for instance, don't base their buying decisions on TV commercials, billboards or phone book ads, he explains. "They choose the people they want based on other people's references. And they won't find those people in the Yellow Pages."