So simple it has to work: Harnessing word of mouth marketing

As someone who wants to stay update to date in all things related to marketing for business and campaigns, I read a lot. I recently finished reading The Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing by George Silverman (have put up some pieces from it previously and still have another 5 pages of notes I may share, depending).

Each time I pick up a book of this kind, it’s great to find some kernel of wisdom that really rings the bell. Here is that bell ringer for me.

I wrote down a heading (like the studious little freak I am) of “Six Steps to Harnessing Word of Mouth” with every intention of transcribing it (you can take the gal out of marketing but…)- anyway, I subsequently let my holiday get in the way, and being short on paper, wrote down some key points under the heading without looking.

Welcome to the Bek-lish version of what the author probably didn’t have as his six points but my brain decided what they meant.

Each made me think about situations I came across in 2011. In no particular order they are:

Give, give and give a little more

I had a particularly rough summer last year. A mainstay client had not paid for several months and I was owed about $6k. Painful by anyone’s standard, but for a freelancer it was critical, especially one with a “no credit or borrowing” policy.

It’s hard to stay focused on marketing for business projects when you can hear your stomach rumbling.

I was reduced to two minute noodles and sleepless nights. Australia was shut down for Dec/Jan and so new clients seemed out of the question in the bigger leagues and as everyone always attests, the smaller operations though needing marketing and copy rarely have budget.

Trying to get a fulltime job was also out of the question. The tissue box was coping a smashing. BUT- as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and I disembarked the pity train and came up with “Swap Creative”.

I took my problem of not having a heck of a lot and married it with small businesses and start ups needing marketing help and bartered my assistance for access to their products. I promoted it on places like PlanBig and the usual social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as my website and blog.

By January end, I had received a case of top quality olive oil for consultation with a producer in Victoria, several beers and meals from the Alexandria Hotel in exchange for web copy, swapped a little bit of directional advice and touch base kind of consultation in the early days for a garden table and a yoga voucher from Open Shed (who are now a regular client), and small but regular amount of work from paid client in Imperii who originally got in contact to see if I wanted any tee shirts but found some cash instead.

All of these things helped take the bite out of my economic situation, but also got me tremendous amounts of good will AND helped me cope with the stress and feel connected to other proactive, caring and compassionate people.

Giving got me through. Helping these guys and speaking to others on PlanBig giving and receiving advice helped keep the negativity and feeling of “arrrrrgh, what the heck have I done by quitting full-time work!” at bay.


It’s perfectly fine to advocate for the competition

You cannot work 100 hours a week, 7 days a week and expect it not to fall over simply due to fear of letting a client down and therefore losing them. It just doesn’t happen that way, believe me, I know.

I’ve realised in the last year there are many, many quality freelancers out there doing their thing, sometimes under less than ideal circumstances. This lead me to launch a survey and start discussions with angel investors about how the budget strapped start-up community could be married with quality freelancers.

Soon I hope to end the sense of isolation and the overwork for many freelancers by helping build a community of us working together to help each other succeed.

Some people are still sneering and scoffing at this idea and whilst 2011 may of been the year the idea started bubbling around in my head, 2012 will indeed be the year to show the naysayers just how advocating the competition can work to freelancers benefit.

Fire the Sh*t Customers (internal and external)

Firing your customers for being obnoxious or rude or simply a plain minefield seems to work counter intuitively to business. I know one of the skills I had to learn (and learn quickly) in agency land was being able to take a tremendously bad client idea and either work on getting them around to a better proposition or failing that, try not to throw up at the thought of doing yet another “just because” client serving, non influential marketing campaign.

But guess what? Some quite successful businesses attract quality customer after quality customer through “firing” the painful ones.

You can save money marketing for business campaigns by not attracting the ones that take up all your time for example. You can also save your staff from being abused by entitled pricks.

I loved reading about an Aussie dentist by the name of Paddi Lund who redesigned his dental practice in such a way as to create a happy experience about one of the least liked medical professions. Not only does he fire annoying customers, he doesn’t keep unhappy staff and only takes on new patients through word of mouth referral from existing patients.

Apart from the awesome ideas of doing procedures efficiently as opposed to spacing them over several sessions over weeks, Paddi also deals with our natural rejection of dentistry through covering up the heady scent of teeth doctoring with baking. Yep, as in yummy smelling cake stuff from the oven scents! He has replaced the reception with couches for patients to chill in and spends his time making himself, his team and his customers super happy. All whilst remaining profitable and viable.


so simple it has to work harnessing word of mouth marketingBe you and be creative about it

My motto is “bringing truth and creativity back into marketing”. It came to me as I spent another night at a networking event feeling like a two headed alien because I was unwilling to take part in the cheddar sales pitch or swallow the whole “milk the client for the margin” hook.

To me, it makes sense not to do the same old, same old because if you just do what everyone else is doing, how on earth do you think your customers will find you in the sea of white noise that is marketing? Marketing for business ideas and endeavours is a creative art form if you let it be!

And how do you expect to actually retain customers or enjoy positive word of mouth when someone is suckered by your marketing, tries your product and is bitterly disappointed?

Your product exists for a reason- stop insulting your audience by hiding what it is!

I have just started reading my hero Richard Branson’s autobiography in tandem with “Everything is Obvious* Once you know the Answer” and what comes across in all of the books is if you try to focus on doing the same experience as everyone else, don’t expect to be a Google, Apple or Virgin any time soon.

Think about what you are doing first and foremost, and work out your game plan from there.

If your staff aren’t into your product, who are you kidding?

I’ve worked with national sales managers who were so into their own product they couldn’t understand why the staff at retail level didn’t cartwheel with happiness at the prospect of finding out more about their new product lines on their day off, especially when those products were just one of many hundreds they had to sell.

Conversely, I have worked with people whose employees have no interest in using their product whatsoever and are there for their CV alone yet don’t question this attitude.

Let’s get this straight-

Don’t be the jerk who takes someone away from their spare time without making them feel good about the choice to give up that free time. They are hardly going to speak about you in glowing terms are they?


The first bunch of people who should be talking positively about your products are your staff. If you are giving staff reason to be annoyed with your product or if they show absolutely no interest in it beyond a paycheck, you’ve just lost a very powerful asset in the word of mouth arena.

If you cannot convince the people who spend the most time interacting with your product to appreciate it, in my opinion, you have a problem on your hands. Marketing for business endeavours should be as smooth as a baby’s bum. You don’t need the friction of having to win the staff over first!

It’s OK to admit you have a problem

Marketing for business isn’t about always having the right answers. I love brainmates for this reason (well, many reasons but this is the one that floated my boat originally)- they don’t remove the words problem, nightmare or issue from their vocabulary when so many others turn pale at the first utterance.

It’s OK to say you are searching for a solution, that you have a problem you are trying to fix. In fact, most of their ethos is about solving things. They are like the Ghostbusters team of product management- quirky, funny, operating in an area people are slowly coming to terms with – but getting the job done all the same because they believe in what they are doing.

Lavalife was also a place that valued problems. For example, overcoming a problem for a customer by really listening to them (hello LAER model of ListenAcknowledgeExplore, and Respond), even if you didn’t have a solution or some way to make sure all things were OK in future got you a lot more kudos (and a better response from the customers) than if you pretended there was a solution at hand when there wasn’t.

We spent time solving issues for customers on the product design level and created features continuously around what customers needed as the technology evolved.

Bottom line on marketing for business

Things happen. It’s how you respond to them that makes the difference. If you spend your time ignoring issues, not understanding your audience or not being truthful about your product, how on earth can you expect your customers like or trust you and to spread the word about you in a way that matters?

Need help with marketing for business ideas, campaigns and more? Get in touch! 

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