“My Business is all Word of Mouth”

Everyone’s business is word of mouth—”referral marketing,” “earned advertising” or “WOMM,” for the acronym-prone.

A 2013 Nielson survey found that the vast majority (83%) of people trust personal referrals, putting personal referrals above every other form advertising. But it rarely ends with the referral. People follow up on word of mouth before making their decision.

Case in point: A friend and I were having a conversation a while back—she’s more tech-invested than me—and she had been looking for a handyman, and had finally found one she trusted. A friend had recommended him.

But she went an extra step to verify the referral: “He has a website and everything, so he seems pretty legit,” were pretty close to her words.

So, she found the guy through word of mouth, but then looked him up on the internet to make sure he had a website. I mean, of course she did. We look everything up on the internet now, but how many handymen have websites? A few, it turns out. But how do most people find handymen? How do they find anything?

The concept of “niche marketing” relies heavily on generating personal referrals by focusing on a specific industry demographic, and creating strong word-of- mouth among people in that demographic. That’s the logic espoused by Geoffrey Moore in his high-tech marketing classic Crossing the Chasm, and I can’t see why it doesn’t apply to low-tech as well. No one person or business can be all things to all people, so it’s best to decide who you can satisfy, focus on giving them exactly what they need, and wait for them to refer you to their colleagues.

That’s the principle that I’m operating on: I focus on people in the trades because I know that on a job site, contractors talk and often ask one another for advice. Sometimes, you need to go straight to the internet, but most everyone would rather not operate in what I’m going to refer to as an “emotional vacuum.” Trusting the top results of a Google search alone is intuitively unwise: it’s asking a machine who to trust. The machine can only tell you what it’s been programmed to say. Humans seem like much more reliable information sources. Whether they really are is a matter of much debate.

Nielson refers to Word of Mouth as “earned advertising,” which makes sense: you’ve done well for someone, so you’ve earned their recommendation. But still, the doubt persists. A quality website (shameless referral for my colleague at Blue Deer Designs), with top-notch content (well, me), serves as a persistent point of contact, and a demonstrates your commitment to your business. And that’s often the clincher for those word of mouth recommendations.


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