Grow Your Business By Word of Mouth

social-media-iconsInspiring your customers to share information on your chain comes from keeping your brand top of mind and tip of tongue with shoppers.

By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor

Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious, Why Things Catch On,” has some important advice for retailers and advertisers alike on how to make your brand resonate with customers.

Berger addressed the National Confectioners Association (NCA) 2014 State of the Industry Conference last month in Miami. He noted that while businesses are flocking to social media to promote their businesses and products, it’s important to remember that word of mouth is what ultimately drives customers to visit your stores or try your new fountain program—more than social media postings or even advertising. That’s because people are more likely to trust their friends’ opinions versus advertising claims.

“Only 7% of word of mouth happens online. Most word of mouth happens face to face,” he explained. In other words, just posting about your new breakfast program on Facebook isn’t likely to spread the news as well as in-person interaction and sampling within your stores. But the bigger conundrum is what exactly makes people share via word of mouth? What does it take to get your customers to share your Facebook message or mention an experience sampling snacks at your store to their friends?

Key STEPPS To Word of Mouth
Berger noted there are six key steps (or STEPPS, as in the acronym below) that inspire people to share:
• Social currency
• Triggered
• Emotion
• Public
• Practical Value
• Stories

First, social currency involves making people feel like insiders, Berger said. From secret menus for loyal customers to special deals for shoppers in the know, nothing spreads word of mouth faster than a poorly protected secret. 

Berger pointed to a hot dog joint in New York called “Please Don’t Tell” that has a phone booth—and if you dial a number on the phone, a door opens revealing a back room with a bar, which is completely packed with people. This worst kept secret in town is a booming business. Not only is the idea supposedly “hush hush,” it’s also a unique idea that draws people who want to see for themselves, and then tell their friends all about it.

“Top of mind, means tip of tongue,” Berger said. And finding your brand’s “inner remarkability”—the thing that makes your chain or product surprising or interesting, like the secret bar with the phonebooth entrance above—is key to increasing word of mouth exposure.

If you’re thinking that nothing at your c-store is particularly exciting, consider linking your brand or new proprietary program to something customers think of often. The song “Friday,” by American recording artist Rebecca Black has been mocked nationwide as a horrible, yet inconceivably popular song. Berger pointed out that by linking the song to something customers thought of once a week—Friday—people recounted the song whenever Friday rolled around, mentioning it to their friends also. Not surprisingly, views of the YouTube video spiked every Friday. 

If you want to increase word of mouth about one of your programs, simply telling your customers about your new roller grill offering isn’t likely to generate the results you’re looking for. However, sharing a story that conveys your message can have monumental results just by word of mouth. 

Berger pointed to Cheerios, which has superior word of mouth power because customers can think of the brand every time they eat breakfast. Just like when people think of peanut butter, they are ‘triggered’ to think of jelly. So “what’s your peanut butter that reminds people you exist?” Berger asked. Moreover, how can you trigger your customers to think of you?

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