The most effective advertising a company can get is more difficult to achieve but much more effective and lasting than traditional media advertising. It is word of mouth advertising and it's earned rather than purchased. It is your customers' opinion of your product, which can fluctuate from very vocal with praise to very vocal with derision.
Word of mouth is available to start-ups as well as large corporations. It can be achieved with minimal cash outlays by just doing things right. Word of mouth can be earned quickly or over a long period of time, depending on the product or service you are selling, and sometimes it's instantaneous. After people view a new movie, they talk about what they've just seen. It could be "What a great picture" or "That was a stiff." Descriptive word spreads quickly, and new viewers of that movie result if those who saw and liked it tell their friends.
On the other hand, word of mouth can take a long time to develop for some products; you'll probably put a few thousand miles on a car before recommending it to others, or that new diet might not budge your scale for several weeks before finally proving all the work was worth it.
Here are seven factors to consider for creating good word of mouth for your company and its products:
- Quality: From your first day of business, all company employees must be aware of the importance of maintaining quality, and systems must be put in place to monitor it. Any products or components outsourced must be rigorously inspected to see that your standards are met.
- Service: Regardless of whether your product is a high or low service one, customers' problems must be addressed and solved with a minimum of effort on the customer's part and in a timely fashion.
- Instructions: Many products need to be assembled or explained. The instructions accompanying the product must be clear and concise. Many companies fail miserably in this area and devote little time and effort to it. Poor instructions can turn off consumers to all your future products and create bad word of mouth. Even if your product doesn't require assembly, customers will appreciate a thorough explanation of its uses and functions.
All contact with your customers and their inquiries must be courteous and knowledgeable. This starts with the telephone. Have a human answer your phones, not a computer like most large companies do. This simple move will start you on the path to good word of mouth with your customers.
Your receptionist, who I call "The Director of First Impressions," is a more important hire than most employers acknowledge. You want an upbeat, intelligent, pleasant person in that slot.
Don't forget that managers' interactions with employees, suppliers and stakeholders affects the word of mouth of your product and brand, also.
- Value: The value of the products you deliver to your customers is paramount if you want them to return and spread the good word about you. The value must meet or exceed their expectations. A good maxim to make sure all employees understand is under promise and over deliver.
- High integrity: You want all your stakeholders and customers to trust you. This trust must be earned continuously. It takes time to develop, but can be lost in an instant. Customer and client complaints must be addressed and solved quickly. Problems cannot be ducked, delayed, or shifted. Mistakes should be admitted and corrected. People want to do business with and work for trustworthy companies.
- Be a good citizen: There is no doubt that a company's prime responsibility is to make money. So do not be embarrassed to earn a profit. However, I believe the company has a responsibility to take actions to enhance the quality of life of its community and employees. This good citizen appellation should not be just empty promises for show. If your intentions are pure, it is also good for your business, your family, and your sleep.
Bob Reiss is the author of Bootstrapping 101: Tips to Build Your Business with Limited Cash and Free Outside Help, and has been involved in 16 start-ups, is a three-time INC 500 winner and has been the subject of two Harvard case studies, in addition to speaking frequently at university entrepreneurial classes.