Spread The Word

Mouth Manipulation

The first rule of word-of-mouth marketing is to do what you would like people to say you do. In other words, good word-of-mouth marketing starts with good products and good service.

Anderson makes sure people have good things to say about his landscaping company by performing extraordinary follow-up service. If a customer is unhappy with some aspect of a completed job, he goes back and redoes it at his own expense.

"People are taken aback that I would come back to do that at no cost," he says. "But I use a budget others would use for advertising and spend it on making things right."

Next, generate positive word-of-mouth by finding out who is already saying good things about you. "If you can identify a person who has sent you business in the past, then most likely they will send you business in the future," explains Cafferky, who calls such opinion-leading customers "champions."

Champions are the low-hanging fruit of word-of-mouth marketing: They produce the biggest results for the least effort. Locate champions by asking new customers how they heard about you. When a name crops up, roll out the red carpet for that customer with a discount, freebie or special service to make sure this influential individual remains positive about you and your business.

You can also go out looking for influential customers in hopes of turning them into champions. Cafferky suggests trying to find people who have recognized expertise in your area and aren't shy about spreading their opinions. For example, the president of a local wine-tasting club would be a strong champion for a wine seller. Once found, these people become your targets for exemplary treatment.

It's hard to employ word-of-mouth marketing when the whole world is your intended target. Identifying champions or potential champions narrows the playing field enough so you can get a handle on it. To start, create a list of names and addresses of opinion leaders you have or would like to have on your side, Cafferky suggests. Then ply them with newsletters, special sale announcements, coupons and other treatment to help build a positive impression. "Companies that don't make a list of names," says Cafferky, "can't get themselves organized to do word-of-mouth marketing."

Another reason to identify influential word spreaders is, if necessary, to control and reduce negative word-of-mouth. Raphel says a talkative, dissatisfied customer is actually a great opportunity for a savvy word-of-mouth marketer. That's because a vocal complainer can quickly become a vocal champion if you handle it right.

"Listen to what they have to say, then look them straight in the eye and say 'Tell me what you want, and the answer is yes,' " advises Raphel. "This is a great way to generate positive word-of-mouth."

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Spread The Word.

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