21 Powerful Word of Mouth Intensifiers

There are really two goals of WOM marketing. One is to get prospects and their friends talking about you. The second is to get current clients referring business to you. In the long term, both are probably important. The following tactics offer a mix of both – some geared more towards raising the buzz – and some more towards generating concrete referrals.

1.    Scarcity – limit access to your products and services. Raise the price. Make it very hard to get access to (but incredibly valuable when they do). Creating an air of exclusivity and secrecy will do more to get people curious and talking than anything you can do.

2.    Sneak Previews – before you launch a new product or service can you offer a ‘sneak preview’ of it to your key clients and hubs?

“The sneak preview is one of the most reliable word of mouth tools. The desire to get a preview is directly tied to the desire to talk about what you just saw. Think of talkers as your advance team. Always give them an early taste of your next, new thing. They will pay you back by talking to everyone and building demand before the product is even available. Give them an advanced look to keep them excited and enough information to look smart to the people they’re talking to.

Keep it simple. Create an email list for insiders with upcoming offers and developments.

Retailers: Offer private shopping hours for your talkers to the night before new products are available to the public. Restaurants: Host a preview meal to show off your new menu or chef. Car dealers: Invite your talkers in for a test drive of new cars before anyone even knows that they have arrived. Software companies: Send prerelease versions of software to anyone active on a related message board.

Cell phone companies have started sending new models not just to the big electronics publications but to hundreds of bloggers. That’s a radical change. New models used to be top secret with the manufacturers suing anyone who leaked the design. Now, leaks are a word of mouth motivator. (You should send out tester versions of new products to your fans, too.)” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

3.    Outrageous – do something outrageous to launch a new product or service. Do something that will get media attention or the attention of your industry. Do something that will have people talking about your business. Well crafted media stunts can work very well.

4.    The Unusual – Anything the differs from the norm will get talked about. The more unusual, the more people will talk.

5.    The Taboo (sex, lies and bathroom humour) – We want to talk about things we shouldn’t talk about.

6.    The Hilarious – Look at youtube. Hilarious videos get shared virally. Person to person. How many times have you sat someone down at your computer (or been sat down) to watch the funniest new youtube videoo someone just found (from someone else)?

“ . . . we want to be entertained, and we want to entertain others.  There’s nothing new about this.  The playwrights of the ancient Greek comedies understood about entertaining to hold people’s attention; Shakespeare understood it.  Buzz and word of mouth are just as predictable.” – Mark Hughes, Buzz Marketing

7.    The Secrets (both kept and revealed) – If you can tease people that something ‘big’ or ‘new’ is coming but that you can’t tell them what just yet – people will talk. If you’re hosting an event and there’s a ‘secret guest’ – people will talk and make guesses on who it is. If you offer to reveal that secret only to an exclusive inner circle – everyone will be asking them, “what’s the secret?” Secrets are the most coveted of buzz to have – they are the fuel of gossip. How DO they get the caramel in the Cadbury bar? What’s Colonel Sander’s secret recipe (besides atrocities committed to animals)? What’s this new breakthrough he came up with that he’s only going to reveal to 100 people at his one time seminar?

“Do you feel an emotional attachment to your backpack? JanSport knows that a lot of people do and offers them a very special lifetime warranty. You don’t send your bags in for repairs. You send them to “Backpack Camp” for a little vacation. You even get a cute postcard from your bag, telling you all about the fun it is having at camp and letting you know when it’s coming home. Silly doesn’t have to be complicated. For years, I’ve been publishing newsletter with like “Damn, I wish I’d Thought of That” and “You Can Be an Email Marketing Supergenius.” These newsletters are good, but the names get them noticed and forwarded.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

8.    Behind the Scenes – as Emmanuel Rosen puts it in his book, “The Anatomy of Buzz”: “Can you show them how your product is made, who is making it and why its producers are excited about it? (Even if you make a “boring” product, there must be something interesting in the way it’s produced or in the way you came up with the idea).”

9.    Special Events – can you stage an event that will excite folks and get them talking about your product? The bigger the event is – the less often you should do it. Think in terms of annual or one time only events that have something unusual about them that people just have to come to experience.

“Consider the best barbecue in New York City which takes place once a year at an annual church fundraiser. The scarcity of supply means that thousands of people come from miles away because if they don’t they’ll have to wait a whole year for another shot.” – Seth Godin
“The easiest topic you could possibly create is a good sale or special offer. You could put down the book, discount a favorite product, throw a sign up in the window, and someone will tell their friends. It doesn’t take a lot of finesse to bring people in and get them talking about a sale. Sales are a long-proven word of mouth topic.

Although sales won’t keep people talking forever; they create bursts of conversation.

Give it a little extra oomph by coming up with an unusual offer. A buy-one, get something-not-normally-for-sale offer, something crazy, or a catchy theme.

You can get a lot of conversation going with a creative message.

Keep the word of mouth moving with the sure-thing tool of exclusivity, or even just the appearance of exclusivity. These days, it’s common to get an email with a “secret” discount coupon supposedly just for family and friends of employees. Of course, these are designed to leak out and spread across the web. So create a special offer, put it in an email, and ask your employees to share it with their friends. Employees will be happy to be talkers, and they get the status of being able to hook up their friends with a deal. Word of mouth will take care of the rest.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

10.    Ongoing Events – Can you host regular events that allow your customers to come back and bring their friends?

11.    Celebrity Involvement – We all know that getting celebrities involved automatically lifts the appeal of an event.

“If I were running Hooked-on-Phonics, how would I create buzz?  Pitch Dan Quayle to be my spokesperson, of course.  If I were running Tylenol, I’d solicit Troy Aikman (or any other concussion-laden quarterback) to pitch my product.  If I were marketing Ginsu Knives, pitchman John Wayne Bobbitt would surely be my pick.  The point?  You may not need them to actually endorse your product (although it might be worth the money at a fair price)…but the audacity of conceiving and pitching such an idea alone is newsworthy enough to capture media attention.  (“Kitchen Knife Company Seeks John Wayne Bobbitt as Spokesman.”  Can’t you just see that headline in mainstream newspapers?).” – Mark Hughes, Buzz Marketing

12.    Visibility – can you make your product more visible then it is? Some products – yoyo’s, cars, suitcases with wheels are made to be seen. Consider the FedEx and UPS salespeople whose vehicles and uniforms announce their presence. Or the iMac computer that looks so different.

13.    The Right Name – One on hand, a name’s a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and all. On the other hand, the perfect name can make word of mouth subtly more appealing.

“This may sound obvious, but sometimes what’s obvious gets overlooked anyway. Pay attention to names and words.  Phonetics, rhyme, meter, and alliteration are amazingly important. Which sounds like more fun to you: Ultimate TV or TiVo?  AltaVista or Google?  Billpont or PayPal?  Lycos or Yahoo?  Gooseberry or Kiwi?  March playoffs or March Madness? There are certain words that are jut fun to say: “Banana” is a fun word.  “Kiwi” is a fun word.  “Google” is a fun word.  “Yahoo” is a fun word. So what’s the point? When it comes to buzzmarketing – getting people to talk about your brand – people are far more likely to talk about your brand if the name is fun to say. Make it easy to say; let it roll off their tongues.” – Mark Hughes, Buzz Marketing

14.    Build Community – Again from Emmanuel Rosen,

“Are you customers talking to one another? (The more your customers interact, the more involved they will become with your product and the more they will have to tell others.) Do your customers share a common interest or bond? Can you find ways to help them socialize or exchange comments? Can your website allow them to talk to one another? Can you arrange face to face meetings, such as through special events?”

15.    Is there a reason for them to tell their friends? Some products (e.g. myspace, facebook, youtube, local business networks, local currencies or barter networks etc.) become more valuable the more people there are who use it. If you throw a party and only three people come then it’s not that great a party – the more people who come – the better. If that’s true about your product – are you telling people?

16.    Over-delivering – The engine that drives WOM is exceeding expectations. So, can you build it into your business systems to constantly under-promise and over-deliver? Why leave it to chance? Why not make that a silent standard that you hold in your business? Why not make it a policy to always tell people it will take a bit longer and cost a bit more than it will? And then – why not strategize about ways to not only under-promise – but also to over-deliver in the end? Can you – ironic as it sounds – systematize the surprises you give people?

“They treat me well” is an awfully powerful word of mouth topic. Nice guys, in this case, finish first. It’s not hard to get noticed when you do something special for your customers, because very few companies bother. With so much little remarkable customer service these days, anything generous, respectful or creative will get talked about.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

17.    Acknowledging referrals consistently – this one is so simple. But every time someone is referred to you have a human being pick up the phone, write a handwritten note, or call them (whatever is appropriate for the level of referral you’re getting) and say, “Thank you. Joe Smith came into the office today and we heard it was all your fault. We blame you and hold you responsible. Thank you.” If you don’t thank people for their referrals consistently – they will stop referring.

18.    Surprise Rewards – No one likes to feel bribed for their referrals. But they don’t mind being thanked. So, it’s good to give people some quick acknowledgement every time they refer – but it can also be fun (and effective) to give them a big, surprise reward once in a while? What if you kept track of people’s referrals – and, once you’d gotten five referrals you sent them a gift out of the blue – thanking them for helping you to grow their business? This is a very powerful strategy because there’s no expectation around it and they don’t need to feel like they just referred someone to get the prize from you. But implicit in the gift is the message that, “we take care of and reward people who send us business.” But they never know when it’s going to come. The key here is that it must seem random to them – otherwise it becomes a bribe – and this can turn some people off. They key here is to ensure that they know you deeply value their efforts on your behalf. The gift could also come in the form of a menu of options, “Please select the gift you’d most love to receive.” The key here is the attitude that, “this is just our way of saying thanks.” It’s a humble attitude of happy surprise that you’re so lucky to have such wonderful clients who send their friends.

19.    Give a gift to their favorite charity. Here’s a beautiful way to use an explicit reward with much less chance of triggering the ‘bribe’ switch in them. Tell them that it’s against your policy to directly compensate people for their referrals – that you don’t believe that’s ethical – but that you do like to express your gratitude. So, you’ve made it a policy to give $10 or $100 (or whatever is appropriate) to the charity of their choice for every person they refer. They can change charities at any point. And the charity will never need to know who it’s from – unless they want them to know. Plus the charity isn’t expecting it – so it’s just icing on the cake for them. You know a gift is working when people are energized and excited to give them to people. But where does that energy come from? From the gift being relevant, valuable and coming from a credible source and offered in a pressure free way.

“ . . . many of the stores that sell stuff on eBay for you offer to waive their commissions for local churches that want to sell donated used goods to raise money. It doesn’t cost the store much-and everybody in the church talks about it. Think abouth the talkers when you pick a group to partner with. Donating to the Red Cross won’t get you a lot of special attention. It’s too common. An unusual cause or a local group may be more excited about the relationship. You’re well within the bounds of good taste if you ask a partner to send an announcement about your contribution.” – Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz

20.    Be Powerfully Mission Driven: Set a goal that your business wants to help achieve that is big, bold, clear, inspiring and achievable. Maybe it’s to raise a certain amount of money for a local group. Maybe it’s seeing every human being have clean drinking water. And trumpet that goal. Maybe you give 100% of your profits away – as does www.earthwater.ca

21.    Push Your Industry: Be seen as a leader in your industry. Be seen as someone who pushed your industry to have higher environmental, social and ethical standards. And if you create an innovation – share it generously with your “competition”. Show the marketplace that your first goal is for a cleaner, more just and honest world. Show them that you’re not going to withhold an innovation that could make the world better just so you can make a buck. Challenge your industry. Host press conferences about it. Expose the dirty laundry in your industry and challenge it to clean itself up. Admit where you fall short but also state your vision clearly. If people see you as the ‘moral authority’ in your industry – watch out.


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