Take a quick mental scan through your purchases this week. From that bottle of hot sauce you picked up at the grocery store to that hotel you booked for your upcoming vacation, I’m willing to bet there’s a common thread to what made you pull out your wallet.
When my company surveyed over 1,000 people this past summer, we found that one in five purchases were directly caused by word of mouth, and 91% of business-to-business (B2B) purchases were influenced by word of mouth.
As consumers, we’re looking for safe bets. We gravitate toward buying things we’ve bought before or are recommended by our network of friends and influencers.
That’s not news to anyone.
Yet so many companies leave word-of-mouth marketing up to chance. You probably have a digital strategy, a content strategy, a social strategy, a crisis strategy, a hiring strategy – but the one strategy you probably don’t have is a word-of-mouth strategy.
What’s a word-of-mouth strategy?
Most companies just assume their customers will talk about them if they had a reasonably nice experience, but that’s not the way humans work. We have to be given something to talk about, something that triggers our desire to share our experience.
Like a cookie.
Have you ever stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton? Every person who stays there gets a cookie. That’s 75,000 cookies a day the DoubleTree is handing out. And when my company did a survey of DoubleTree customers, we found that 34% of them had told a story about that cookie to somebody else in the last 30 days.
Do the math: 34% of 75,000 cookies a day means that approximately 22,500 times every single day, somebody tells the story of the cookie.
(On a related front, when was the last time you saw a DoubleTree ad?)
The DoubleTree cookie is a “Talk Trigger,” which I define as a strategic, intentional differentiator in your business operations that customers notice and discuss.
Using Talk Triggers to spur conversation isn’t really marketing in the classic sense. We may call it word-of-mouth marketing, but a Talk Trigger is more like word-of-mouth operations. The result is that your customers become volunteer marketers for your brand.
Here’s how to make it work.
Talk Trigger Truth 1: Same is lame
One of the mistakes I see businesses making today is assuming that people competency creates conversation. If we just run a “good business,” then our customers should tell our story, right?
The problem is that they simply don’t. Nobody ever says, “Let me tell you about this perfectly adequate experience I just had.” That’s a terrible story.
When an experience is average, it fades into the very busy landscape around us. To create a Talk Trigger that sparks word of mouth marketing, you need to go above and beyond.
Talk Trigger Truth 2: There are five ways to drive word of mouth
Giving your customers a free gift – like the DoubleTree does – is one Talk Trigger. But it’s not the only one.
We’ve identified five distinct Talk Triggers, each which come with their own challenges and potential:
There’s no reason you can’t exceed expectations in every one of these areas. But to create conversation, you have to do so in at least one.
Talk Trigger Truth 3: It doesn’t have to be extravagant
The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is 5,940 words long. They make a chicken a mind-boggling 85 different ways. That’s their Talk Trigger, and it cannot be stolen, because no other restaurant would do what is required to have a menu that big.
But a Talk Trigger doesn’t have to be extravagant to be effective.
Consider UberConference by Dialpad. If you’ve ever been on a conference call, you probably have opinions on hold music. UberConference knows that, which is why their CEO wrote and performed a hilarious twist on hold music that guarantees people will talk about it.
That was a one-time operational decision that will work as a Talk Trigger for years to come.
Talk Trigger Truth 4: It has to be worthy of conversation
The worst way to come up with a Talk Trigger is to brainstorm a list of ideas, then pick something by internal committee. If it was that easy you’d already have one. Instead, you absolutely have to get customer feedback about what they expect of you in each step of your business operations. Because when you know what they expect, you know that they don’t expect; and that’s where the Talk Trigger lives.
Once you come up with a list of five or six candidate triggers, test the one that seems most viable and talkable. Carve out a segment of your customer base (customers of one particular product, in one location, one day of the week), and test the Talk Trigger until approximately hundred customers have experienced it.
Then, survey that test group with these three questions:
If you have a talkability rate of 20% or higher in the test group, then you know you have a Talk Trigger that will work when you expand it to the whole company.
Talk Trigger Truth 5: Your entire company needs to be on board
To work, a Talk Trigger has to be consistently executed. Every customer gets access to the Talk Trigger – not just your best customers, not only on ladies’ night, not just on your birthday.
Because of this, a Talk Trigger requires everybody in the company to be on board. That kind of cooperation can be tricky for some companies, which is why Talk Triggers are normally easier for small and midsize businesses to execute. For larger companies, we often recommend a staged rollout of your new Talk Trigger, just like you might do a software update.
Coming up with a Talk Trigger that’s wildly successful isn’t simple. But it’s also one of the most important things you can do to boost your business.
It’s time to stop doing word-of-mouth marketing on accident and start making word of mouth happen on purpose. It’s simply too important to hope that your customers will share your story on their own.
Let’s give them something to talk about.