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Say What?

How to get customers buzzing about your business

People love to talk, and when they say great things about your business, it translates into increased sales and a strong growth curve. Buzz is all about what's hot, new and interesting. It's more persuasive than traditional advertising, because buzz is based on trust-we're more likely to believe what's told to us by friends or co-workers.

Influencers and opinion leaders are the engines of buzz. These people can be experts, members of the press, politicians, celebrities or well-connected customers others rely on for information. For example, when Oprah recommends a book, it soars to No. 1; or when Sarah Jessica Parker wears a new dress, it's pictured in fashion magazines. The fuel these influencers require is compelling information, whether it's about the latest books, fashion or software. Your public relations and referral programs are the keys to generating this information.

Avoid Bad Buzz

The trick is to give people something positive to talk about. Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word-of-Mouth Marketing (Doubleday), believes the more interconnected your customers are, the more crucial word-of-mouth becomes. Thanks to the Internet, bad buzz can spread fast. According to Rosen, "Very often, buzz is truthful. If people have a bad experience, they'll say so."

How do your customers learn about your products or services? If it's through chat rooms and discussion groups, you can monitor customer comments and fuel positive buzz by fixing any problems that arise or dealing directly with any customer complaints before they become big problems. Companies that ignore this strategy risk suffering the same setbacks that Intel did back in 1994, when a complaint posted on the Net concerning its Pentium chip was belittled by the company. The result, says Rosen, was more than 25,000 customer phone calls a day about the problematic chip.

Get People Talking

Companies that are masters of good buzz never stop innovating and sharing information, and they use samples, demos and events to get the word out. Trivial Pursuit was an unknown game until its producer's PR department began sending copies to the celebrities mentioned in the game. Celebrities received a letter from the company president clipped to the game card that held the question about them. "This kicked off Trivial Pursuit parties in Hollywood," says Rosen, and the buzz soon spread nationwide.


"Very often buzz is truthful. If people have a bad experience, they'll say so."
Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Say What?.

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