Chatter That Matters: 4 Must-Haves for Word-of-Mouth Marketing That Works
September 18 is National Cheeseburger Day, celebrated with a full complement of coupons and deals -- aka excuses to indulge in a cheeseburger (or two). This holiday adds a bit of extra buzz to an ordinary week, and thousands of savvy businesses reap the benefits. But before you know it, it’s Wednesday and National Cheeseburger Day is once again 364 days away.
Nothing against fun calendar additions, but a business doesn’t have to create special events to get people talking about a new product or service. A solid, differentiating “talk trigger” can generate conversations that are passed from person to person year-round. Five Guys knows that.
Between 2006 and 2012, the Five Guys chain grew 796 percent, according to research for my latest book, "Talk Triggers." This extraordinary growth wasn't achieved with huge advertising campaigns and special events. Instead, it was fueled by french fries worth talking about.
The Five Guys menu offers a solitary side dish: hand-cut fries. The fry focus starts as soon as you walk through the door and see prominent signage showcasing the location’s potato supplier. But that’s just an appetizer for the chain’s talk trigger. No matter what size a customer orders, an extra, overflowing scoop of fries is always included and almost always elicits a reaction.
The most important takeaway? Getting customers talking about french fries is not a happy accident. Five Guys’ extra fries are a strategic operational choice factored into menu prices, which makes them the definition of a talk trigger.
Why your business needs a talk trigger now more than ever.
An effective talk trigger is a differentiating experience or unique twist on a product that compels customers to tell others about it. It might be the warm cookie when checking into a hotel, the humorous hold music or those extra fries overflowing in the to-go bag. Whatever it is, it’s not a one-off. A talk trigger is carefully crafted and woven into how a company engages each customer, every time.
Triggering word-of-mouth marketing is critical in today’s hypercompetitive, highly personalized marketplace. Not only is word of mouth automatically tailored by the talker to fit the perceived needs of listeners, but it is also independent, which adds to its credibility and persuasiveness.
A 2017 study by Engagement Labs found that 19 percent of consumer purchases in the U.S. are caused by word of mouth, both online and offline. And research conducted by Blanc & Otus and G2 Crowd showed an even greater impact in the business-to-business space due to the higher average prices, longer consideration period and smaller customer pool. Beyond what research can capture, many more purchases are likely substantially influenced by word of mouth, albeit more subtly.
In fact, when researching for his book "The Referral Engine," John Jantsch found that 63 percent of small and midsize businesses attribute more than half of their revenue to referrals. Yet for 80 percent of those companies, these referrals happen by accident. A purposeful word-of-mouth marketing plan built around a defined talk trigger enables companies to harness the power of customer conversations.
The first step to achieve a word-of-mouth boost is to identify the differentiator that gets the conversation going. Successful, results-producing talk triggers are:
Every business can carve out a differentiator from its peers, but few do. Maybe it’s because it comes with some risk. Staking out a remark-worthy talk trigger could alienate certain segments of potential customers, but the upside makes it worthwhile. In fact, according to ThinkJar, 72 percent of customers will tell six or more people about a good experience. Clearly, the value of giving customers something positively noteworthy to talk about pays off.
Jay Sofer of Lockbusters knows this all too well. Not only does Lockbusters provide a positive customer experience that's nearly unheard of in the locksmith industry, but it also has a unique, remarkable talk trigger that spurs word-of-mouth marketing. Soon after founding the company, Sofer realized he no longer needed tips to cover his expenses. So rather than just pocket the extra cash, he made a commitment to donate his tips to Sugar Mutts Rescue. Each time customers tip, they feel good about donating to a good cause -- and spread the word about Lockbusters' generosity.
An effective talk trigger conveys the company’s brand. If it’s too far outside of what the company does, it will fall flat. On the other hand, when a talk trigger fits nicely within the customer experience, it can pay dividends for years.
Indiana’s Holiday World Theme Park is the world’s oldest family-owned amusement park. In 2000, based on the founder’s gut instinct, the park began offering free beverages. Over the years, this differentiating perk has become a central part of Holiday World’s identity. And in an ultra-competitive amusement park industry that’s projected to grow at an annual rate of 10-plus percent through 2021, word of mouth matters, especially when competitors like Six Flags charge $14.99 for refillable cups.
A talk trigger is no good if people don’t believe what they hear. Experiences that are too unbelievable might spark conversations, but those discussions are often about the terms and conditions of your promotion -- this is not the word of mouth you want.
Graduate Hotels is a great example of a company keeping it real. Founded in 2014, each hotel is located near a university and completely localized to highlight the university’s history, traditions and culture. Brand-wide, Graduate Hotels has turned one of the most mundane aspects of a hotel stay -- the plastic keycard -- into a catalyst for conversation. Instead of merely featuring the company logo or selling the space as advertising, Graduate Hotels’ keycards are replicas of the college IDs of the local university’s most famous alumni.
The cards generate press coverage, and they’re regularly mentioned in the hotel’s online reviews. And when guests keep their key as a souvenir, the nominal cost of the card becomes word-of-mouth marketing dollars well spent.
Don’t mistake surprise and delight with a talk trigger. While empowering employees to go above and beyond for a customer can create a great experience, it’s a one-off. Talk triggers, on the other hand, are repeatable operational choices that are available to every single customer.
Even though one of them never utters a word on stage, Penn & Teller have a longstanding talk trigger. After each performance, the magicians go straight to the lobby to shake hands, take selfies and chat as the audience exits. (Spoiler alert: Teller even speaks!) They do this after every show, and it’s open to all attendees. As a result, audience members share thousands of social media posts and take part in countless conversations about the event.
Cultivating a differentiator that's remarkable, relevant, realistic and repeatable is critical in our hypercompetitive marketplace. Those differentiators trigger organic talk about your products and services. From there, word-of-mouth marketing takes on a power of its own that can elevate your product above the competition, attract new customers to your company and keep those customers coming back for years to come.