Let's face it. You may be crooning honest-to-goodness marketing truth sans any shred of hype, but these days that can amount to little more than hollering in a windstorm. What do the plugged-in, tuned-in folks making a buying decision today usually do? More often than not, they consult the opinions of other folks who are much more likely to communicate what really matters to them.
Word of mouth is a powerful beastie that doesn't submit to your business concerns. It is a communal watchdog that looks out only for your patrons.
Is that good for them and bad for you? It doesn't have to be!
Consumer trust in people-just-like-me reviews has grown from 20% in 2003 to an amazing 68% today.1 There are simply no profitable reasons to remain a company that poses for the public and attempts to distort reality. The goal is to embrace transparency.
Perpetuating blindness or ignorance to what customers are saying about you, your products and your services is just plain stupid. If there are customer concerns out there, folks will find them. Awareness and understanding of how customers are talking about you-from their interests to their issues to the very language they use to express themselves-present you with chances to develop specific, necessary content that tackles matters head on. Even negative information gives you an opportunity to develop good will and better meet the needs of your customers by having the courage to address it rather than run from it.
Most companies still think any negative word of mouth is harmful. This is simply not true. The iPod Nano had so much word of mouth energy that when it first hit the market, the news that it scratched easily (and rather hideously) didn't hamper sales. It just created an accessory market for Nano protectors. The 'negative' word of mouth about the scratches had still another positive effect: it managed customer expectations of the product experience!
When it comes to benefiting from word of mouth, it helps to understand the areas of consumer experience that trigger word of mouth. Roy H. Williams identified and labeled these triggers in a Monday Morning Memo.
Recall a time you participated in the word of mouth culture about your experience with a product or service. The experience that motivated you to share your story either exceeded your expectations or fell substantially below them. Either way, that word of mouth was a result of your experience with one or a combo of the following triggers.
Architectural. When a product or service is planned or controlled for a specific effect it is architectural. Aesthetics, a unique appearance and experience are architectural triggers.
Product examples - iPod Nano, Bose, BMW, Halo (video game), Moto Razr, Michael Graves
Experience examples - McDonalds playground, Apple retail store, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme store.
Kinetic. This trigger involves energy and 'performance' in the show business sense of the word. The fish market in Seattle, upon which the well known book/video Fish! was based, is the quintessential example of a kinetic trigger. Hipness, selection, fashion, and outstanding product performance are also kinetic triggers.
Product examples- Blackberry, Tony Hawk (video game), Red Bull, Starbucks products, Airborne.
Experience examples- Any slot machine, Cabelas store, HDTV, JetBlue, iTunes software.
Generous. When the perceived value substantially exceeds the price of a product or service, you've got a generous trigger. Extremely large portions in a diner, oversized seats on an airplane and consistently low prices are all generous triggers.
Product examples- Kia, Vonage, Skype, Hyundai, McDonalds Happy Meal Toys
Experience examples - A Great AYCE buffet, Costco, SteepAndCheap.com, the first generation of the iTunes Music store.
The more remarkable the experience, the stronger the word of mouth. Just barely exceeding expectations is not enough.
Customer reviews are one of the most potent tools in the transparent company's arsenal. But not all reviews are created equal. What makes for a useful customer review?
It has to be honest. Any sense of something professionally polished or edited comes off as phony or 'posed'.
It has to demonstrate a real experience with the product.
The more specifics and details about how the product helped the reviewer, the better the review.
You want to pay attention to the reviews that meet these three criteria. (You'll also notice the best customer reviews tend to speak to at least one of the three word of mouth triggers.)
Turn negative reviews into an opportunity to generate good will. Our buddy Sam Decker of Bazaarvoice, a managed software solution that allows online retailers to encourage and monitor customer-to-customer conversations, shared this story about how one of their clients generates goodwill with vocal and influential customers. The client reached out to a customer who wrote a high quality, detailed review of an item, in which he praised the item's design and features but criticized its workmanship and durability. Because the product was a best seller with a very low failure rate, the client responded by replacing the product and asking to learn more about how the customer used the product. The net result was a very satisfied customer who will likely influence many other customers in a positive way.
Use reviews to create compelling copy for your products or services. Relying on the customer base to drive merchandising and marketing decisions, the same Bazaarvoice client is also using customer reviews to identify which items to promote and how to promote them. They feature highly rated products with copy that emphasizes the "unanimous customer approval" of the product.
Use reviews to improve products and services. The company is also planning to use reviews to identify product issues and then engage vendors in research and development discussions.
You can't polish a stinker. Now more than ever, your customers' actual experiences, good and bad, are part of the public domain. Sorry. If your product or service is a loser, no amount of spin, marketing or branding is going to fix it. Nothing is more effective than actually creating a product or service experience that people want to tell others about.
The Golden Rule in word of mouth marketing is to 'be real'. Work at and continually optimize customer experience with your product or service. Then - and only then - should you worry about spreading the word. Because if the experience customers have with you does not match the marketing hype you will get burned.
1 "'A Person Like Me' Now Most Credible Spokesperson for Companies." Edelman. http://www.edelman.com/news/ShowOne.asp?ID=102.
We've been busy bees over the holidays. Check out our services page - new services have already been launched and more are coming!
You'll also want to keep an eye on our publications page. We've been working on creating resources that will help you put many of our principles into practice more easily and more efficiently. We're just about to release several of our newest products, including Which Sells Best?: A Quick Start Guide to Testing for Retailers and The Conversion Experts Handbook.
Perhaps you're improving your conversion rate. That's nice to hear! And perhaps you're removing some stumbling blocks and giving your customers a little more of what they want when they want. Way to go! But the big question is: are you really digging deep and going beyond your customers' basic motivations?
We persuade most effectively when we understand the context of where our customers are coming from. Not just from tangible directions like TV ads or banners or emails, but also the intangible directions that depend on the nature of their experience with your product or service or area of specialty. How might they want to use what you sell or do? Are they ready for the whole nine yards, or the best of the best? Or are they dipping their toes?
Want to see what I mean? Let's start with the premise that you can't sell me rock climbing gear the way you sell me ski equipment.
I am an advanced skier and am always looking to buy the latest gear. I have my carving skis, and I have my powder skis, and I have my back country gear and a variety of clothing options for different climates. When I purchase my ski gear online, I generally know exactly what I need, and I look for answers to specific questions. The retailer (online or offline) who makes the final sale is the one that can speak to my motivations at each step on my way to the final conversion.
Converting me into a buyer just means giving me what I want when I want -the key here is that I know what I want!
In contrast, I am an inexperienced outdoor rock climber. I've been climbing indoors for a couple of years now and have recently started climbing outdoors. I didn't know how to make the transition from indoor climbing to outdoor climbing. I needed guidance not only how to learn what to do and where to go, but I also needed someone to help me buy the required gear (much of which I didn't even know I needed yet!).
I'd have been happy to purchase onlne, but I couldn't find much useful information. Lots of businesses simply weren't prepared to answer these questions for me. How was I going to figure this out?
I turned to the folks who hang around the climbing gym. They talked to me at my level, from their experience. They were helpful. I learned I would probably have to buy my own rope, and I should invest in some lessons. I also found out I needed a bunch of other hardware and a rope bag.
They explained I could use my indoor climbing shoes although they'd get torn up more quickly climbing outdoors. I even discovered there is this community of people who know exactly where to go climbing in my area; through this forum, I could hook up with climbing partners who could help belay me.
I couldn't find one online business to tell me all of this information!
My first purchase for my new exciting sport was a rope. This is how it played out.
First I looked online. While I found many ropes, the copy was not going to help me decide which rope was right for my needs. I found a bunch of retailers who were quick to tell me about the technical information such as diameter of rope and length of the rope and whether it was standard, dry, double, static and whatnot. None of this meant anything to me at this point!
I went to a brick-and-mortar retailer to get answers from the climbing expert employees, and within minutes, I'd bought my first rope.
How much of it do you want? You most certainly don't have to be a brick-and-mortar operation to get it. All you have to do is deal effectively with the fact I'm a novice climber. Help me understand my equipment needs as I make the transition from indoor to outdoor climbing. Do that, and $150 for the rope is yours.
It doesn't stop there. You can probably turn that $150 into a $1000 sale by helping me select other appropriate gear I might not yet know I need, by encouraging me to sign up for your lessons, by hooking me up with some experienced climbers in the community to find out where to go. You can up-sell and cross-sell me. In fact, I want to be up- and cross-sold!
How do you start understanding what your customers need to hear from you? Spend the time to do a full uncovery: identify who your customers are at a much deeper level. Know why they are coming to you and how to most effectively serve them in ways that exceed their expectations and maximize your performance.
I have now spent my $1000 on climbing gear. It seems absurd that a company claiming expertise in a specific sport wouldn't give me a simple text link that said "Just getting started in outdoor rock climbing?" Why, from folks with major insider knowledge, wasn't there a link that said "Find a rope that is right for you"" Why did I fail to find a rope online - where there are hundreds upon hundreds of ropes available - yet purchased an appropriate rope offline within minutes of talking to a real human being?
Want to be effective online? All it takes is aligning your sales process with your customer's buying process - that's the essence of Persuasion Architecture. It's a fatal mistake in today's online world to sell yourself short by failing to meet your customers' needs. And so unnecessary!