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Word of mouth marketing creates lasting relationships

by Steven Feldman

From time to time, various people ask me why we cover retail group conventions. One reason is that the outside speakers they commission to educate their members are experts on any number of topics, most of which are integral to every flooring retailer in the land. And it is only through these pages their insight can be shared beyond the respective members.

Case in point:  At the recent Flooring America convention, The New York Times best-selling author Andy Sernovitz (“Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking”) spoke about the importance of earning the respect and recommendation of your customer so they tell their friends to do business with you. I can’t overstate the importance of this. As Sernovitz said, “That recommendation changes your business. Everything gets easier. You get free customers because you don’t have to advertise to get them in the store. You close sales faster because they have been told you are the right guy to do business with. And business gets better when the community wants you to succeed.”

I know you hear it over and over, but offering good service and an attractive showroom with the right products and right prices are no longer enough. That’s expected; it’s the cost of entry. You need to go above and beyond. That’s when people start talking. And, it starts with the idea of making people happy. When businesses make you happy— when you don’t expect them to make you happy—you tell people.

Example: The Drury Inn hotel chain offers free long distance phone calls, which gets people calling their friends. “I’ve nothing to say to you, but this call is free!” Sernovitz likens it to having its customers in their hotels telemarketing for them.

But the key is having that reason to talk. And when you stop providing the reason, the conversation stops. Think Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Think about the first time someone brought you to a Krispy Kreme store. You didn’t go; someone brought you there. What was special about it? Hot doughnuts. With apologies to Homer Simpson, “Mmm….doughnuts.” Krispy Kreme gave you something to talk about. But guess what? No one is talking anymore because Krispy Kreme doughnuts are now cold and shrink wrapped and sold at the gas station. There’s no reason to talk about them anymore.

How do you make it easier for people to share? Here’s an idea. The GAP wants to have a sale. It may cost it $1 million to tell consumers about the sale via traditional advertising. Or it can send an email to the stores with “top secret sale” for friends and family with a secret employee discount code. You know everyone will share that code with their customers.

So how do you get people talking about you? First, you have to find the “talkers”—the people who want to talk about you, Senovitz said. The opening of the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas is a great example. They asked themselves, “Who will tell people about this great hotel? Who talks first in Vegas? The cabbies.” So, the day before the hotel opened, the Wynn let every taxi driver in town stay at the hotel, eat, shop, etc., for free. Taxi drivers are not the typical Wynn customer. But they are the first people visitors see when they arrive in town. Nine years later, they will still talk about the Wynn.

Talkers are the people who surround your customer. In our industry, it’s the real estate broker, mortgage broker, decorator, neighbor—anyone who may talk to the potential customer.

There is a whole lot more to word of mouth marketing, which we will delve into within the next few issues.