It’s been quite some time since I last posted. Much has changed in the word of mouth space. The rise of social media has increased the speed and intensity of conversations that are taking place. People have a number of platforms for spreading their opinions on products, people and politicians. We got much to talk about so stay tuned.
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Many organizations miss a golden opportunity to turn a negative in to a positive when they discount, minimize or ignore the value that customer complaints can add to decision making. Early customer expressions of dissatisfaction can serve as a warning system that alerts decision makers of the need to make changes to their product, brand or delivery systems.
The tendency is for organizations to put their head in the sand and hope that customer dissatisfaction and the negative word of mouth it creates will somehow disappear on its own. Customers who have taken the time and effort to let you know that something may be wrong should be embraced and serve as inputs to a continuous improvement program.
Acknowledge them and use their feedback to make changes. And be sure you tell them you did. They could become your staunchest advocates.
E*Trade’s talking and singing baby campaign has resulted in tremendous buzz about the brand. This demonstrates another way to create word of mouth. The challenge with this approach is continuing to maintain the freshness and innovation over the long run. How well they treat their customers during these trying economic times will generate more organic word of mouth. Better to offer real help than hype when it comes to trying to influence word of mouth.
As marketers pull back on making expenditures in traditional marketing tactics, low cost -no cost word of mouth marketing becomes a cost effective alternative. Consumers are not spending the way they used to and companies that earned their loyalty and trust are most likely the ones they will continue to do business with. So now is the time for companies to begin to do ordinary things extraordinarily well.
The conventional wisdom that it costs more to get a new customer than retain an existing one takes on more meaning when the economy is down. Now is the time for businesses to delight their customers and give them something to really talk about. Companies like Hyundai are thinking outside of the box and creating excitement about their brand, giving prospective a sense of comfort by offering to buy their cars back if they lose their jobs. It’s a bold move on Hyundai’s part but it is bound to give people something to talk about. It’s a sign of the times.
So I go to Sears the other day to replace a part on a weed whacker. I approached what seemed to be a mildly disinterested cashier. You know the type, typical summer help, there to get through the day without any hassles. I show her the part and ask, “where can I find a replacement?”. I knew before asking that she had no idea what it was and sure enough, she replies,” I don’t know, what is it?” and proceeds to call for back up. This is when I decide to have a little fun. As the cashier and her supervisor return, I say “Didn’t they give you any training on where things are? You should ask them to train you so you could provide better service to your customers.” The response from her supervisor was priceless, she says” She’s just a cashier, she doesn’t need to be trained on stuff like that?” I am quite sure that Sears management would not publicly admit to such a policy. Yet the supervisor was equally as clueless about the part as the cashier, so obviously she couldn’t be much help in making her a better cashier. Luckily, there was a young man who knew everything, but then he wasn;t a cashier.
Well this was not a complete customer service disaster. I was pleased because of the story content this encounter provided and how it ended. As I was getting ready to pay for the replacement part, the cashier tells me that Craftsman has a lifetime waranty on replacement parts and that there would be no charge. Of course that made me happy and the cashier and Sears was somewhat redeemed in my eyes as a result.
Customer service across the board is disappointingly low, even though great customer service is a sustainable point of diiferentiation. While I believe that every employee in a company should be customer focused, employees on the front line especially need to be. A lot of word of mouth about companies is a result of experiences with front line employees.
Many small businesses and a number of larger ones have no clue if their marketing is bringing in any new customers or generating enough sales to justify the expense. Most don’t have a way to measure the effects of marketing.
Many small businesses have a hit-or-miss approach to marketing. There seems to be little rhyme or reason and no overall plan for the marketing. In fact, many small businesses conduct what I call “ego marketing”. They will put up a billboard on a well traveled highway with their picture on it, so every day when they drive by their ego gets inflated, the sign company gets rich and the small business owner gets zero sales from it.
Don’t get me wrong, outdoor advertising has its place, but in most cases it’s a waste of resources. In this highly competitive, high cost business environment, small business owners need to make smart investments in marketing. So what should a small business person do?
Well, before you spend another dime on a brochure, flyer, billboard or newspaper ad you need to just stop and take a careful look at what’s going on in seven (7) key areas of your business:
1. Customers- Who do you want to sell to and who are you really selling to?
2. Products- What’s your value proposition or why in the world would anyone spend money on what you’re selling?
3. Pricing – What’s your pricing strategy? ( Ah…yeah you should have a strategy for each of your targets and it shouldn’t be to make the most you can on everybody. A lot of businesses have gone out of business with predatory pricing. Subprime mortgages…nuff said)
4. Place – How are your customer’s gonna get your product? In the old days you needed to have a store to sell your wares. That cost a lot of money. Today, you could be selling to customers in Dubai and never leave Cleveland, or wherever you live, because of the Internet. Your distribution is part of your marketing (Betcha didn’t know that!!!!)
5. Promotion – This is what most people think marketing is all about. But if you don’t pay attention to the other Ps of marketing (there are 4), then you’ll end up with ego marketing or marketing that doesn’t do diddly squat to your bottom line. ( Yeah… I said it)
6. Competition – You gotta think outside of the box when it comes to your competition. Don’t think about just the other folks selling the same things you do. You got to consider everything your customer could be doing with their money and come up with a darn good reason for them to give it to you ( uh…that’s what your value proposition is all about, see how this all comes together?). Your value proposition is that compelling reason for a customer to select you and your product over all the other things they could do with their money, including the alternative of keeping it in their pocket and doing nothing. Sometimes customers doing nothing is your toughest competitor.
7. Branding -What do people think of when they think of your product? That’s what you brand is all about. For example when I think of Volvo, safety comes to mind, Walmart, low prices. Nordstroms, great service. They didn’t get this way by accident, but by consistently delivering on their brand promise over a long period of time. (Did ya notice I didn’t say anything about advertising or logos or any of that stuff when talking brand?)
So all you have to do is get your arms around these seven areas. The first step in doing so is to do an audit. Stay tuned to this blog for more information on how to do a “Small Business Marketing Audit: A Guide for Understanding & Managing the Marketing Mix” or better still “The Seven Secrets to Making Cent$ Out of Your Marketing”. Both of these sound like the titles to a book. Which do you prefer?? More soon.
Some years ago I worked in financial services. One of my colleagues was a woman,we’ll call her Betty B, whose job was competitive intelligence. At the time I thought, how cool is that, she’s kind of like a spy, going undercover to find out all the secrets about our competitors. Boy was I disappointed when I found out how she really got all of her “intelligence”. No covert operations, no disguises, no passing of envelopes in deserted parking lots. Instead, Betty would work the phones. You see over the years she developed a network of colleagues, all of whom had similar functions, who she would call and ask about a new product or service to get a sense of their experiences. These competitors would freely share information with each other. They would get together at conferences and seminars and share insights and experiences.
Corporate types tend to be risk averse. It’s highly unlikely that a middle manager in Corporate America is going to be the first to try any new product or service, recall the saying “nobody ever got fired for using IBM”. He’s going to call around and find out how others in his industry have fared. So yes, word of mouth works in B2B. In fact it has worked for years, it’s nothing new.
You can influence WOM in the B2B space by attending the conferences your clients go to. Get involved in the discussions, develop relationships and most of all listen. Submit articles to the trade publications your clients read and establish yourself as a trusted resource and get in the game of spreading the word.