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Published:February 27th, 2008 11:15 EST
Word of Mouth Packs a BIG Punch

Word of Mouth Packs a BIG Punch

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

One of our customers has been on television lately. He's in a commercial for his bank, and seemed pleased that I'd seen the ad. It was interesting to hear him explain all that went into the filming.

We eventually started exchanging ideas about advertising in general. We both agreed that, while necessary, advertising is a calculated risk and often frustrating. When it comes to spending money on such, it's sometimes like hot coffee. When you get a mouthful of it, whatever you do next is going to be wrong.

Occasionally, though, through branding, advertisers and the businesses they represent hit the jackpot and reap word-of-mouth promotion. That is what happened when my brother related to me what happened on a flight he boarded in Houston. The pilot, he said, made the following announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is we'll be delayed an hour. The good news is I just saved 15 percent on my auto insurance."

I recounted this story in a speech, to illustrate the power of humor to relieve stress; thereby again indirectly giving the insurance company some advertising. As I told it to my banker customer to point out how powerful it is when advertising goes from media to word of mouth, and how word of mouth is advertising at its very best, the company was promoted a third time.

Along this line, I began thinking of how one might, apart from branding, cultivate word-of-mouth advertising. Here are just a few ideas:

1. GET PERSONAL. There is a sure-fire way to change impersonal transactions into real people and people into members of our business family: Call them by name!

Dale Carnegie said that the sweetest and most important sound in any language is a person's name. To apply this principle is to establish with customers the sort of relationship they'll be reluctant to break, and that they'll want to tell others about.

So, listen carefully for the name, repeat it in conversation and file it away (in writing or memory) for future reference.

2. DELIVER. Often we spend a great deal of money in advertising, to tell people what our products or services will do for them. Then after we get them in the door, it becomes somewhat like a bad marriage. We fail to deliver what we sold in courtship. The result is that negative word of mouth then goes around the world long before word about the "good stuff" ever gets its boots on.

3. GO THE EXTRA MILE. Rather than failing to deliver what we promise, we ought to be willing to do more than our advertising promises. Because this is so unusual in business, it will definitely give folks something to talk about. And, though we ought not apply this or any principle for manipulative purposes, the fact is "givers gain."

4. GET INVOLVED. I once had an old gentleman tell me that people never forget what we do for their kids. I know this to be true from experience with my own children. I vividly remember things others did for them. I also see how appreciative customers are when I attend their children's sports events or when they receive special treatment during their haircuts.

On a larger scale, it's hard to resist the kind of person who thinks, talks and acts along lines of our own interests. This might involve children, hobbies, recreation, civic organizations or charitable causes. It would be logical to want to do business with such a person, and to tell others about him or her. "He (she) is so nice, and really cares about people."

BARBER-OSOPHY: The best advertising comes when people put their (word of) mouth where their money is.