A Tiny Guide to Infusing Word-of-Mouth Marketing into Your Business

word-of-mouth-marketingYou’ve heard it before:

Word-of-mouth marketing can TRANSFORM your business!

…Then you’re shown a case study of a big business’ viral social media campaign,  just to end up being linked to “Dollar Shave Club” and told you can do it, too.

While these stories are impressive, they leave you thinking “Well, that’s really cool,” because they don’t give you actionable advice on how to engineer word-of-mouth marketing into your business.

So, instead of pointing at the remarkable successes of huge businesses or viral breakaways, I want to break down two tangible examples of small “boring businesses” and how they’ve leveraged word-of-mouth marketing has bring in additional leads and sales.

For a long time I wanted to write a book on this topic, but, instead of coming up with a 200-page dust magnet, I’ve created this short post as an “action magnet.”

At 1,600 words, it’s designed to arm you with a simple framework that will leave you saying, “I can implement this into my business, too,” — all in less than 15 minutes.

Let’s get into it.

The “AIR” Framework

While there’s been lots of research into why people share things, [1][2] it’s most actionable to break sharing activity down into three categories which I refer to as AIR:

  • Aspirational: When the act of sharing shows other people something about you or your aspirational self. (Why you might share this post)
  • Insanely Useful: When the act of sharing  is seen as useful or helpful to the people that you know. (The reason you’ll share this post.)
  • Remarkable: When you have a story or insight so remarkable you can’t help but sharing it. (We haven’t gotten to that point yet.)

WORD-OF-MOUTH-small

With these AIR as our lens let me introduce the two companies we’ll be using in this tiny case study:

  1. My first email marketing business and a little report that unexpectedly generated lots of business.
  2. A small yet remarkable laundry service in NYC that has a “shrink wrap” policy.

Full details in the video:

Before we get into the specifics of each of these businesses, let’s talk about the psychology of sharing and the two principles present in almost all word-of-mouth marketing.

Two Repeatable Word of Mouth Marketing Strategies

As I’m sure you know intuitively, word-of-mouth marketing is mostly psychological.

There isn’t a secret location where you can put your share buttons or a better email subject line that will get people talking.

So, instead of looking for tactics — I hate tactics — let’s look at two repeatable strategies that you’ll magically start to see everywhere.

Strategy 1 — Help them look and feel like a genius.

Since the first two AIR categories are all about helping the person express their aspirational self and helping others by offering useful information, one of the easiest ways to get people talking about your business is to make them look (and feel) like a genius.

Make them look smart at dinner parties, at the water cooler, and to their bosses and you’ve given them an easy way to talk about you.

I call this the Genius Principle and my close friend Derek Halpern is brilliant at it.

If you look over his 50+ videos he regularly gives people actionable insights based on psychology that empowers them to not only grow their business, but also look like a rockstar when talking with their friends and clients.

(If you aren’t subscribed to his stuff yet, you probably should subscribe now.)

Strategy 2 — Give them a story to tell.

For our final AIR category, we look to the power of stories and how you can actually give your customers and clients a remarkable one to tell about you and your business.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to infuse delight into your products and/or services.

To break this down, it helps to understand that delight in itself comes in many forms but that it is most powerful when it is unexpected.

For example, it’s one thing to have a great meal at a five-star restaurant, but it’s completely different thing when you stop at a random “hole in the wall” and are simply blown away.

Sure, you might talk about the five-star restaurant on Facebook to appeal to your aspirational self, but you’re more likely to tell your friends and family about the “hole in the wall” because of the way that they delighted you so unexpectedly.

unexpected-delight-blogpost

Digging into the Case Studies

Now that we’ve got AIR as our lens along with two repeatable strategies to look out for, let’s get into a little more detail on each of our case studies.

Boring Business #1: Email Marketing for Real Estate

email-statisticsMy first business was email marketing for luxury real estate.

It wasn’t sexy or flashy and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but three to four months into my business I had a realization.

Email marketing was one of the few marketing activities that could give Realtors trackable data about the marketing they were conducting for their clients’ properties.

(Being able to provide such data was particularly important to Realtors who were being entrusted to sell multimillion dollar homes in staggering real estate economy of 2006.)

To start, I generated a handful of branded reports — their logo not mine — and sent them to my best clients, recommending they that they share the impressive results with their clients.

Then, I waited and listened for the response.

Not only did these Realtors share it with their clients as a “point of good news” — it was a tough time for the economy so they really needed this — they also bragged about the results with other successful Realtors.

Soon, these statistics reports that took less than 30 minutes a week to generate became one of my word-of-mouth marketing campaigns as well as a key factor behind that business’ rapid growth.

AIR: This campaign worked well because it gave these clients a remarkable story to tell and an insanely useful tool for their business.

WOM Strategy: Made them look like a genius to their clients and gave them a story to tell.

Boring Business #2: Just Another NYC Laundry Service

If you’ve ever lived in Manhattan, you’ll understand the necessary evil of laundry services.

On just about every block you’ll find one.

Most of them will take your laundry, ship it to a central processing warehouse where they perform scary unthinkable things before they have your clothes come back and ready for pick-up in a tightly wrapped plastic bag noticeably faded and smelling just a little “funky.”

Faced with the choice of dropping your laundry off or carrying 50 pounds of laundry down to the boiler room just to realize you’re 25 cents short because the machine stole your quarter — just for the frustration-to-benefit ratio — there is no doubt that laundry services are the way to go even if it meant possibly ruining your clothes.

That was until I walked past a place called Brown Bag Laundry.

brown-bag-laundryThey had their own machines, offered reasonably priced pick-up, and promised to do all of your laundry like you’d normally do it at home — using energy-efficient appliances and eco-friendly detergent.

Convenience, cost effective, and eco-friendly? I was sold on all levels.

But that wasn’t enough.

When I picked up my first cleaning, they gave my clothes in a nice canvas bag and told me about their “shrink wrap policy.” (If you haven’t already seen the video, do so now.)

Not only were my clothes cleaned by a great service,  they also gave me a story to tell to spread their message.

(I don’t know the owners and receive no compensation for telling their story, yet I do it anyways because they have simply made it easy.)

AIR: Being eco-friendly made them aspirational, being the kind of service that I really wanted (and my friends would want) made them insanely useful, and their shrink wrap policy gave me a remarkable story to tell.

WOM Strategy:  Made me look like a genius to recommend it to my friends and, due to their “shrink wrap policy,” they gave me a story to tell by leveraging unexpected delight.

WOM Action Points: The Reason You Read this Guide

When you’re inside your business hustling on the day-to-day items, it’s often easy to conclude that implementing a WOM strategy is “hard.”

But, if you see things through the AIR lens and look for a repeatable WOM strategy that you can use, engineering a word-of-mouth marketing campaign isn’t nearly as hard as it looks. In fact, I believe that any business can engineer one regardless of how “boring” they seem to be.

To help get your creative juices flowing, below is a list of pointed questions to help you identify some of the most easily overlooked opportunities:

  • What dysfunction do you help solve for your clients? What story is your business giving them to tell?
  • What small tweak could you add to your service that might provide your customers with unexpected delight?
  • How can you remind your customers that your service is INSANELY useful to them in a way that they can not only logically, but more important, emotionally connect to?
  • How can you get your customers to be public about working with your company? (What’s in it for them?)
  • Is there a third party that could benefit from the interaction between you and your customers? (Think Tom’s Shoes)
  • If your business is going the premium positioning route, how can you infuse MORE aspirational qualities into the story that your clients are telling?
  • What can your business do that is remarkable enough to get your customers to tell their family and friends?

The Big Picture

When you really get down to it, word-of-mouth marketing is about the emotional connection you build with customers and the story you give them to tell.

There are no tactics.

There are no shortcuts.

Word-of-mouth marketing is about understanding how you fit into your customer’s life and engineering your experience in order to get them talking about you.

The tools are in your hands, excited to see what you do with them.

Always on your side,

PS. My hope is that you’ve been unexpectedly delighted by this short guide and that you’ll share it with just one friend whose business could use it.

References and Footnotes

  1. This interview with Jonah Berger about why things catch on, is your best bet if you want to dig deeper into word of mouth marketing. He also has a book called Contagious, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet but have heard it's good.
  2. Mckinsey has a very technical but worth while article on word of mouth marketing.