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The power of word-of-mouth

 9 September 2019     Donald Cooper 

Why is word-of-mouth so incredibly powerful? Because what we say about ourselves in our expensive advertising, which nobody much believes in these cynical times. But what other’s say about us is gospel. Back in the days before social media, it was said that one delighted customer would tell six or eight others about you. And then, with any luck, many of those six or eight people would tell six or eight more.

Now with social media, we have word-of-mouth on steroids. One delighted customer can quickly tell hundreds of people how wonderful you are – and then that good word can spread exponentially from there at no cost to you, except the cost of doing the work to be consistently awesome to each and every customer who comes into your store every day.

Then the traditional media can pick up on the buzz and tell hundreds of thousands of people about you. I’ve seen it happen. The Pie Commission is a tiny meat pie shop hidden in an alley behind a paint store on The Queensway, just east of Islington Ave in Toronto. You can’t find it, except thousands of people now do. You can’t go inside the shop, because there is no inside. You line up at a sliding glass window in the alley and order the most delicious meat pies you’ve ever tasted – and you’re thrilled to do so. They’re so good you order extra pies to take home.

They turned customers into raving fans. Folks were (and are) tweeting and texting about The Pie Commission. Word-of-mouth, fuelled by social media, made them ‘famous’ in less than two months. The internet is the most powerful free marketing tool ever and, believe it or not, it’s the most credible. Then, because of all the social media buzz, the founders of The Pie Commission got a more than favourable review in the Toronto Star, this country’s largest circulation daily newspaper.

Note: It’s not enough to rely only on others to tell your story on social media. You should be active on social media yourself. If you don’t understand how it works and how to do it, hire someone who does.

But there’s no ‘word of mouth’ and no traditional media coverage without something amazing to talk about. What’s your compelling story? What are you famous for? What are you doing that’s extraordinary, outrageous, thoughtful, human and kind?

Back in my days as an award-winning fashion retailer, we invited women to “Please take as many items in the change room as you wish!” Nobody in the world did that. We had electric, reclining massage chairs for husbands and boyfriends, a 28-foot pirate ship play area with a tree fort and pirate island for kids, and a selection of 10 free drinks for everyone. Our washrooms had change tables with free diapers, wipes and cream for babies in distress and we offered honest savings of 25% to 40%, every day – no games, no tricks, no lies. We had fun and our customers had fun. We invented the ‘Warehouse Boutique’ and thousands of women drove up to three hours for the unique experience – and then they told their friends. We broke all the rules, our customers loved it and they made us famous.

If you don’t have a compelling story, sit down over next ten days with some of the best minds and hearts in your business to figure out what extraordinary value or experiences you could always deliver (profitably) that will become your compelling story. To help you create that story, ask and answer the nine questions below. Some may not relate to your specific business, but most will:

  1. What are our target customers really trying to do – functionally, emotionally and financially – when they buy or use what we sell?

  2. What are they confused, concerned or stressed about when it comes to choosing, buying, using, enjoying, maintaining or disposing of the products or services we sell?

  3. What do our target customers hate or dislike about the usual process of choosing, buying, transporting, using, storing, maintaining or disposing of what we sell?

  4. What sense of urgency or speed of delivery might make us a compelling story?

  5. How might our commitment to traditional methods or ‘taking it slow’ become our differentiating story?   I’m reminded of Creemore Springs Brewery in the tiny town of Creemore, Ontario who differentiated themselves from their giant global competitors with the brilliant slogan: Creemore Springs…a hundred years behind the times!

  6. What do our target customers need to know to wisely choose, effectively use, maintain and truly enjoy the products or services we sell? How can we become their ‘caring coach’?

  7. How do our target customers want to feel when choosing, buying, using, maintaining or otherwise experiencing what we sell?

  8. About how much do they expect to pay for each of the products or services we sell?

  9. What extraordinary experiences, policies, selection, help, kindness or guarantee has never been offered before? What amazing things have none of our competitors had the creativity or courage to do?

For each thing you decide to do, or at least look into, get specific about what will be done, by whom, by when, at what cost and measured how. Schedule the next meeting at which you’ll all follow up and plan next steps. Businesses don’t die from a single shot to the head. They die from a thousand uncompleted tasks.

If you already have wonderful stories of the power of word-of-mouth, the traditional way or through social media, I’d love to hear from you. Reach out by e-mail at [email protected] or calling (416) 252-3703.


MIFF 2020
Sealy Canada
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.


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