The “Word of Mouth” Trap

Let’s get this out of the way: Positive word of mouth is terrific. I can think of nothing more powerful than an instance where one reliable source tells another person how great a product or service is. It’s instant credibility for your brand.

Unfortunately, there are people who don’t know how to make word of mouth all that it could be. Word of mouth can build business but it can also build complacency in people that benefit from it because those same people believe they don’t need to do anything else or that everything they’re doing currently is just fine. But in time, that kind of philosophy can result in decreased market share or worse.

Still, maybe you don’t see the big deal. All is right with your world. Good things are being said about you, customers seem to be consistent…so who needs anything else when word of mouth is pulling in people for you and the numbers are up?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’d rather have more money than less of it. Which is why I offer forth this little scenario about two companies for you.

Company A has 200 customers. Company A provides great service and a great product but does nothing to encourage its customers to put in a good word about Company A to someone else, like a friend or family member. Still, let’s say that every single customer tells 1 other person about how great Company A is. Those people become customers too.

Company A’s year-end total: 400 customers.

Company B has 200 customers as well. They provide great service and a great product. But they implement a referral program that rewards its customers for referring three friends to become qualified customers – Company B offers a pretty good-sized prize for doing so, but then, the return on investment in getting three new customers for every one is well worth it. PLUS for every successful referral, the customer gets a smaller, intermediate prize. PLUS Company B’s program allows each successful referral to count as one entry into a grand prize drawing, which means the more referrals you make, the better your chances to win.

Company B’s year-end total: 600 customers (at least).

I’d say the difference between doubling your customer base and tripling it can be mighty big, wouldn’t you? Everybody’s company is different, but my point is that while both companies shown here use word of mouth, one chose to cultivate its customer relationships off of that word of mouth with far better results than the one that stuck to the status quo and did nothing.

And by the way, the referral program idea is only one potential way of building on what you have.

Remember, word of mouth is a foundation, not the end result. It’s a springboard for even better results to occur because what you have is a happy customer base – however, just because that’s something that many other businesses would be jealous of doesn’t mean you should sit still.

Specifically, think about two things:

1) Where does your audience interact with your brand?

2) What will your reward for making a successful referral be when you get in front of them?

A better reward does not have to equal more money either. It can be a discount off of one of your products or services (perhaps a discount off of a new product or service you’d like to introduce?).

Word of mouth gives you the opportunity to be proactive and make that goodwill work for you even further. Otherwise, there’s only going to be so many words about you passing through so many mouths.

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Where Have You Gone, Ashton Kutcher?

I heard you left Twitter the other day because you sent out a Tweet you shouldn’t have about Joe Paterno and the whole Penn State fiasco. And you’re right – it was dumb of you to jump to conclusions with that Tweet imploring the University to keep him before you knew the full facts.

But you know what, Ashton? It’s OK. Really. You made a stupid Tweet but it’s no reason for you to leave Twitter altogether (or hand it off to someone else to manage your account).

See, Ashton, while I respect you for trying to be more responsible, it’s exactly why I’d like you to come back. Because while you were apologizing, Magic Johnson was on Twitter calling Joe Paterno a “hero.” Within 5 minutes, he got a backlash so bad that he was trying to Tweet what he really meant by that. Last I checked, Magic is still on Twitter.

I suppose everything that comes out of Kim Kardashian’s Twitter stream is a stroke of educated genius? Or Paris Hilton? Or Perez Hilton? Or Lindsey Lohan? They’re still hanging around the Twitterverse.

You’re a Midwesterner, Ashton, so I know you must watch quite a few Bears games when you’re not shooting your sitcom. So you must remember when a few dumb NFL players last year shot off Tweets questioning Jay Cutler’s manhood when he bowed out of a playoff game due to injury? I’m pretty sure none of them were physicians with knowledge of the injury entailed, none of them were in the game and none of them were Jay Cutler, so they couldn’t know what the pain actually felt like.

Nope. They Tweeted anyway from a cowardly place that was nowhere near Soldier Field. And some of them, unlike you, Ashton, didn’t even say they were sorry for it. Gee, maybe they should leave Twitter too.

Point being, Ashton, is this: Celebrities, athletes and us common folk have all said things in our life, whether online or offline that we all wish we could take back. It’s what makes us human. We apologize for our shortcomings when it happens and we try to move on. Like you did. Why? Because we know this:

Tweets are not press releases.

They should not be treated as such.

The very thing that makes us enjoy this relatively new universe of social media is that we can feel closer to people we would never/rarely otherwise get to interact with in the real world. Some are respected authorities in our industry, some are celebrities. And in exchange for entering that domain, we should be willing to cut each other a certain amount of slack just as we would in the offline world. Particularly when it’s accompanied by a quick acknowledgement of the mistake.

Of course, I can’t suggest everything in the world is fine to say and allows you to be off the hook. That’s silly. There are extreme and dangerous exceptions, especially among intentionally hateful people who would use social media as an amplifier for their views.

But Ashton, you slapped your own hand in a way that suggests everything under your Twitter handle from now on will be screened and filtered carefully before it goes out – I don’t think that’s the answer. I’m just not in favor of a social media strategy that involves high screening by committee. I think I’ll see the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot hug before I see a fast-moving social media committee.

There has to be a certain amount of trust involved once you’ve given designated people clear guidelines. And yes, maybe they’ll still veer slightly off course from time to time, but come on. If every last Tweet and post has to be reviewed by multiple parties before it goes out, you’re defeating the purpose of being involved in social media at all because it’s probably not going to be as real-time as it should be. And THAT’S when you should get out or avoid social media because you’re missing the whole point of commenting on what’s current and relevant to an audience that expects that.

It’s a Tweet. It’s not an Official Company Position. That’s why people say things like “These views do not reflect my company” in their bio if they really have to.

So come back, Ashton. You screwed up and said something bad. It’s OK. I forgive you. I’ll even watch an episode of Two And A Half Men if it’ll make you feel better.

The Chicagoland Conversation with Free Green Can

In just three years, Free Green Can has taught thousands of Chicagoans to help the environment by doing what they already do – pitch their trash and recyclables into a dual purpose recycle/trash container. With the Park District and major sports teams in town on board, the company has some exciting plans in the works for 2012 – including building on the revenue sharing opportunities for potential advertisers and host companies.
I sat down with Dave Whorton from Free Green Can to discuss how his company is putting corporate profitability and environmental responsibility on the same page.

Dave Whorton of Free Green Can

How did the inspiration from Free Green Can come about? I hear it was from an unlikely source.

DW: That’s right. About 3 years ago, our founder, Steve Holland, was at a park where his son was playing baseball. After the game, his son wanted to recycle his plastic bottle, but couldn’t find anywhere to do it. So Steve wanted to champion that cause by helping the park out with some recycling bins. Before long, the concept grew to the point of where the can is now patented.

It’s great that the idea from a 13-year-old kid really spawned Free Green Can. When you say one person can make a difference, one person really did make an environmental difference – throughout Chicago.

To be clear, the Free Green Can isn’t just for recycling, right?

DW: Absolutely. We are a dual-purpose trash and recycling bin, with half the bin divided down the middle. What we believe is that if we offer a recycling solution everywhere there’s a trash problem, people will generally do the right thing. By having a trash and recycling option in one bin, it makes life a lot easier and people will always do the right thing when presented in that fashion.

What could one Free Green Can mean for the environment over the course of a year?

DW: One Free Green Can, in a year, will save 15 trees.* When you think about our impact in the Chicago Park District, we have 2500 Free Green Cans placed. That’s going to be a very exciting environmental impact for us. It’s one of the big motivations for us as to why we do what we do every day.

How many Free Green Cans are there in the Chicagoland area?

DW: There’s our crown jewel, the Chicago Park District, where we have 2500 cans placed on the Museum campus, in Grant Park and along 16.5 miles of lakefront trail – from 63rd Street Beach to Osterman Beach. Also, at U.S. Cellular Field, we have 375 Free Green Cans. We’ve got 35 cans surrounding Wrigley Field. We were just at Fiesta Del Sol, which is the largest Latin festival in the Midwest. Several Aldermen are working with us now to place Free Green Cans in their wards.

Besides the recycling advantages, speak to the revenue sharing opportunities for businesses that choose to use Free Green Can.

DW: We provide the cans for free. We can do this by the advertisers that have come on board to support us. Those advertisers have four panels to share their messages with a very captive audience that engages with the product.

We take 10% of the revenue earned and give it back to the venue that uses our cans.

Think how that affects municipalities, for example. Everyone’s struggling in these tough budget times. So when advertisers support us, we’re so excited to give back to these host locations in partnership with these companies.

How does a potential advertiser go about working with Free Green Can?

DW: You come to us and let us create a solution for your type of company. If we get the chance to know your brand, we have price points for everyone from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

We have companies coming to us with Quick Response (QR) Codes that link back to a website. Well, we can help create that QR Code for a small business or use it for large companies featuring it as part of their marketing plan.

What are your goals for the rest of 2011 and heading into 2012?

DW: What we’re so proud of is how we’ve been embraced by the city and the Chicagoland Chamber. We’re really re-inventing public recycling in the city of Chicago. At the end of this year, we’re going to be able to say we’ve helped the Park District, several wards, Cubs, White Sox and more.

We’re going to use that as springboard to help showcase Chicago to the rest of the country as we go into other cities and say, “Look what we’ve done for Chicago and we’re ready to do the same thing for you.”

That said, we want to make sure our backyard is taken care of, with small businesses here who never thought they could advertise in the out-of-home industry.

Your product is a help to the environment, but how can people make the business environment better for you to succeed as an entrepreneurial company?

DW: I’ve traveled a lot and believe this is one of the cleanest cities in the world. But it can always improve. Now it’s ingrained in people’s minds that recycling is what you should do and that throwing it in a garbage can is not enough.

We’re trying to preserve the awe that residents and visitors have for our city. So for us as a small business when considering where to base Free Green Can, the question was “why not Chicago?”

The Chicagoland Chamber has done a great job of helping us get the word out and offering support, advice, guidance and counsel. That’s one of those things as a small business that you rely upon – people who have a feel for the pulse of Chicago. The connections that the Chamber has made for us have been phenomenal. We want to start giving back to the Chamber with as much enthusiasm as they’ve given to us.

(This post originally ran as a piece for The Chicagoland Chamber.)

*Number is based on if Free Green Can is filled with 25% paper, 25% plastic, 25% aluminum and 25% glass.

Take A Really Tiny Page From Urban Outfitters

As I was in Urban Outfitters yesterday buying some fridge magnets I didn’t really need (c’mon, they were those iPhone button magnets, how could I resist?), I was waiting for my receipt and found that instead of providing a paper receipt, they took down my e-mail address. I’d get the receipt e-mailed to me.

A little move but actually quite brilliant when you think about it. They now captured my e-mail address and had a new way to connect with someone who had clearly shopped at the store. As long as they don’t bombard me with daily messages, it’s a smart maneuver on their part.

Not to mention it’s environmentally friendly. If we did away with all paper receipts and did them all electronically, we’d save a few more trees for sure.

Whether yours is a retail environment or not, consider how you can convert from paper receipts to electronic receipts to connect with them. It might be a more natural way to market to people vs. hitting them up to open a card/account that demands more of the money they just spent with you already.

What’s not to like here? Have some simple ways like this that you set the table for a relationship online with customers during their buying transactions in an offline setting that you’d like to share?

Dan is speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber Nov. 3rd!

What are you doing on the morning of Thursday, November 3rd before 9:00am? If you’re free and near downtown Chicago, I think you’ll walk into work energized and with a fresh perspective on how what you build internally can do a world of good externally in terms of your customer relationships.

I’ll be speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce along with my colleague, management consultant Rob Jager, on:

Building The Brand Within:
How To Deliver Unexpected Surprises For Your Customers 

It’s a look at how content marketing can help you position your company as a thought leader in its industry, how to logistically put your people in a position to be better aligned with the company’s true mission, how to identify the best content providers within and what turning employees into brand ambassadors means for team loyalty and a healthier culture. If you’re a small business owner or department leader, I think you’ll get a lot out of our hour spent together.

7:45a.m.: Registration & Networking 
8:00a.m.: Presentation 
9:00a.m.: Q&A 

Location: Chicagoland Chamber, 200 E. Randolph, Suite 2200

Pre-registration for this FREE event is required on the Chicagoland Chamber’s website here:
http://www.chicagolandchamber.org/wdk_cc/events/eventDetails.jsp?cc_event_id=8afbc90d-a2de-473a-9ebc-8a026cd3e6b5