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Do you make people happy enough to say nice things about you?
By Rick’s StraightTalk / January 25, 2016

The incomparable communications powers of WOM

My buddy Larry and I ate at one of those plaza Chinese restaurants two weeks ago. This one, a town away from mine, is squeezed between a hobby shop and a liquor store. The restaurant itself is split into a loud sports bar and a modest set of tables for eat-in diners.

Larry ordered chicken chow mein; I ordered fried noodles with vegetables. He hated his dish and said he would never go near the restaurant again. I loved mine and went back for take out last week. (Yelp! gave it 3-1/2 stars.)

Now, if somebody asks me a good place to get Chinese food in the area, I’ll tell them my experience. No doubt, Larry will do the same. My friends will go to the restaurant; his friends will avoid it like the plague.

And that’s WOM: word of mouth. Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!

You and I trust people – not traditional marketing -- for our decisions

How did you choose your family dentist, lawyer, accountant, insurance agent, or auto mechanic? The latest book you read or movie you saw? The neighborhood you live in? The stocks you invested in? Where to get services for your elderly parents? I’ll bet you at least sought advice or confirmation from a friend, relative, or colleague.

And since Amazon was founded in 1994, we (well, okay, I) increasingly rely on independent consumer reviews. I use Amazon, Yelp!, Expedia, Travelocity every time I can. I don’t buy anything new, from my microwave oven to the hotel I’ll pick when I next teach in Norfolk without checking out people’s opinions.

A no-doubt now outdated study by the Keller Fay Group found that 32 million WOM “leaders” (I think we used to call them “influencers”, or at least “yentas”) among consumers are each involved in 184 word-of-mouth conversations every week! Their tongues must hurt!

I suspect you, like I, have made a lot of important decisions without benefit of a single advertisement. In fact, we barely trust traditional marketing. The book Marketing Without Advertising (see my book review) by Michael Phillips & Salli Rasberry cites a Harvard University study that reported “43% of Americans think that most advertising insults the intelligence of the average customer (emphasis added). And 53% of Americans disagree that most advertisements present a true picture of the product advertised.” Wow!

The result? Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point, “There are plenty of advertising executives who think that …word-of-mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to anymore." (emphasis added)

So much so that businesses are trying to capitalize on the way we mortals share our opinions. There’s even a Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

One of the more intriguing players is BzzAgent, which puts free products in the hands of volunteers to share their honest reviews – bad or good -- among their friends. Though the company hasn’t yet embraced the world of nonprofits, its book Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing (see review) is one of my favorites, and is fully applicable.

Bzz founders and authors Dave Balter and John Butman say that people love to share their opinions about almost anything.

Why? For six reasons:

  1. to be helpful
  2. to show off our knowledge
  3. to find common ground
  4. to test and validate our own opinions
  5. for pride and elitism
  6. because sharing is a human tendency.
  7. You can encourage good WOM about your nonprofit

    Here’s the bad news: people are more likely to talk about your organization when they’re unhappy (Larry) than when they’re happy (me).

    The good news comes from Ivan Misner, author of The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret: Building Your Business with Word-of-Mouth Marketing (review).

    “The best word-of-mouth programs I’ve seen happen by design, not by accident or wishful thinking... Word of mouth can be planned and nurtured.”

    I’ve accumulated several ways you can stimulate good WOM about your nonprofit or foundation.

    1. Be a joiner and do-er. Maximize the number of people who see you in the communities where you work. Join the Chamber of Commerce and local service group (and actually go to the meetings and serve on committees). That’s why I’ve added “membership in service clubs” to the criteria I list in my communications audits. Are you out there hobnobbing with influential people who might say nice things about you and your nonprofit as a result?
    2. Greet your clients and guests well. Who doesn’t enjoy an answering machine that asks 20 questions then disconnects us? Or being seated by a receptionist who would clearly prefer that we not be there so he or she could get back to his or her personal phone conversations? Well, me for one, and possibly you, too. Even more important, since, as wiser people have said, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s on my Communications Audit list, too.
    3. Host informal, thoughtful groups on topics connected to your mission. If you do it right (don’t forget the food!), each attendee will leave saying, “That was excellent; they really know what they’re doing. I’ve got to tell Larry about them!”
    4. Keep your supporters happy. It’s less expensive to keep a donor (happy) than to find a new one. You just need to do the basic ‘thank you’ activities your mom told you about: annual meetings; once-a-year, one-on-one lunches; a quarterly phone call; a birthday card. Not only is it the right thing to do, they’ll be bragging to their friends about how you treat them so special.
    5. Create an “ambassadors circle” for supporters. Bring them into the “inner circle” of your organization so they feel special and are well informed. Help them identify speaking opportunities at places they are involved, e.g. their alma mater or their workplace.
    6. Offer get-togethers for prospective givers. Have members of the Board or very happy donors invite friends over to their homes for a casual cocktail party with the agency’s president. Emphasize in the invitation that there will be no solicitation. As Seth Godin says in Permission Marketing (see review), it's like dating, with the eventual hope of marriage.
    7. Publish donor stories in your newsletter or annual report. Show prospective givers that others have chosen you. Testimonials are one form of WOM.
    8. Use the media, with press releases, OpEds, and editorial meetings. The traditional media, too (minus the advertising), are considered an independent source of opinions.
    9. Do great work. This should be numbers 10-1,000. Like the Chinese restaurant, people will judge you first and last based on whether they are happy with what they received.

    Word of mouth is almost inseparable from real-life “branding”. Not the visual branding of logo and colors and typeface, but the emotion you feel when I say “Disneyland” or “Putin” or the name of your high school.

    I’ll be posting an updated branding blog in the near future.

    Thanks for reading!

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