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When Word Gets Out...

Your customers are your best marketers.

Nina Riley knew that to effectively market her clear-liquid flavor enhancer for water, she needed to reach a core group of consumers: those who grasped the importance of drinking enough water. Riley, 47, has a marketing background with the likes of General Foods, General Mills and Unilever, and she knows the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Riley and co-founder Carolyn Frzop, 50, chose to zero in on the people who would not only buy their Water Sensations product, but would also be brand advocates.

Mary Morel, author of Talk Up Your Business, says that before you launch a word-of-mouth campaign, you should create a well-thought-out plan. "Keep it simple, and really think about what you want out of it. Look at the prospects' point of view."

For Riley and Frzop, that meant thinking about post-op bariatric surgery patients, who are required to consume 80 ounces of water daily--which they surmised was likely to be a chore. They advertised on a weight-loss resource website for the morbidly obese, ObesityHelp.com, and added a "free sample" tab to their www.watersensations.com site in June 2006. Word spread, and they saw a 10 percent increase in sales through Target stores within the first week alone. Now the Southport, Connecticut, company expects 2006 sales of $3 million.

If you're using word-of-mouth to promote your business, "you should be measuring and monitoring all the time," says Morel. Check on sales spikes, and set up a database to keep track of who you're talking to. Water Sensations is now reaching out to dieticians and diabetics while following Morel's other advice: "Treat your first and special customers especially well."

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: When Word Gets Out....

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