Graham McGregor 's Opinion

A weekly marketing column by Graham McGregor

Graham McGregor: How 'word of mouth' marketing works

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

One of the marketing e-zines I find particularly helpful is called 'The Likeable Expert'.

It is written by Michael Katz the owner of Blue Penguin Development and comes out twice monthly.

Michael specialises in helping solo professionals become likeable experts.

In the latest edition of 'The Likeable Expert' Michael shared some interesting ideas on how word of mouth marketing works.

I found the ideas useful and worth sharing.

So let me hand you over to Michael for his comments...

Back in college (my friend Rick and I were somewhat obsessed with Sixties music.
Our favourite Sixties-related pastime was playing "name that tune."

A song would come on the radio and the object was to name the song and the artist as quickly as possible - and, of course, before the other guy could.

There was one thing though, that I always found odd about this game:

My brain only worked in one direction.

So, for example, if you said, "Kind of a Drag," I could tell you without hesitation that it was sung by The Buckingham's. "Carrie Anne?" Obviously, The Hollies.

But, if you instead asked me to name a few hits by Tommy James and the Shondells, I wouldn't get much past "Crimson and Clover" before I'd be tapped out.

I knew plenty of their songs, I just had trouble accessing them in that direction.

I mention all this because when it comes to word of mouth marketing and the resulting stream of prospective clients that can result, "memory direction" matters as well.

Here's what I mean...

Most solo professionals understand the practical necessity of being able to clearly explain whatever it is they do.

You meet someone, they ask what you do for a living, you provide a (hopefully) coherent answer.

The thing is, that's not usually how word of mouth works - it goes in the other direction.
Think about it.

Word of mouth happens when two people are talking - at Starbucks, in the office break room, while waiting in line at Sam the Record Man - and one of them blurts out a problem:

"I need a math tutor for my son."
"I need a recruiter to fill an open sales slot in my software company."
"I need a doctor who specializes in erectile dysfunction (it's for a friend)."

At that point, the question is simply this: Can the other person help by matching the stated problem to a particular person or product or company?

If you've come to be associated, therefore, with a particular problem (chronic illness in the workplace) or target audience (high school students with a learning difference) or methodology (dancing traffic cop), there's a good chance your name comes to mind, and you get a referral.

If, on the other hand, the way you describe your work is bland and generic - attorney, financial planner, coach, management consultant, etc. - well, you'll get your fair share of once in a blue moon referrals, I guess.

And so I have two recommendations for you:

1: Try to become associated with a particular problem or situation.

In other words, what's the thing someone is going to say to that friend in Starbucks that will make the other person think of you, snap their fingers, jump out of their chair, slap themselves in the forehead and say, "I've got just the person!"

The closer you can come to being the only answer, the more word of mouth referrals that will come your way.

2: When you describe yourself to other people, focus on being remembered, not being impressive.

There's nothing wrong with being impressive, however, at the point that word of mouth occurs (i.e., way early in the sales process), it's not yet about how good you are, your process or what kind of credentials you possess.

Rather, these conversations are simply the solo professional version of name that tune. Someone sings a few notes of their problem and the other person tries to come up with an answer. It's about matching, not vetting (that comes later).
If you want to win at the word of mouth game, you need to make it as easy and obvious as possible for other people to bring you to mind when a problem you can fix arises.

"Being memorable equals getting picked." - Jeffrey Pfeffer

Action Exercise:
What problems do you help people to solve? How can you make it easier for other people to remember that you solve these problems?

Graham McGregor is a consultant specialising in memorable marketing. You can download his 396 page 'Unfair Business Advantage' Ebook at no charge from www.theunfairbusinessadvantage.com

Graham McGregor

A weekly marketing column by Graham McGregor

Graham has had 36 years 'hands on' experience in sales and marketing. He has sold a range of services including advertising, sales training, personal development, life insurance, IT services, investment property and business consulting services.

Read more by Graham McGregor

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