If a word of mouth message looks good at the top of a press release, it’s probably not going to work, social media expert Andy Sernovitz said during his session at CUNA Mutual Group’s Online Discovery Conference on Tuesday.
That’s because real people don’t repeat marketing slogans, he said. Instead, word of mouth topics should be portable, repeatable and emotional. And, he added, products, services and features alone aren’t good enough, either.
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Sernovitz used Apple as an example. Back in 1996, Apple was in danger of going out of business and the company brought back Steve Jobs to attempt to rebuild the brand. Rather than focus on Apple’s technology advantages, Jobs instead came up with iMacs with brightly colored blue, pink and orange exteriors, something no other computer manufacturer was doing at the time.
Customers who were excited to see the “cute computer” flocked to Apple’s website, Sernovitz said, where they learned about products and features on their own.
Happy customers repeat word of mouth messages for three reasons, he said. First, the topic must be a great product or company that’s worth repeating. Secondly, repeating the information makes the speaker feel good, because the information makes him or her appear to be an expert and helpful to friends and family.
Third, word of mouth shows how the speaker fits into a community. Sernovitz used the Maker’s Mark bourbon Ambassador Program as an example. Half a million consumers have signed up as ambassadors, which involve taking an oath to help prevent friends and family members from drinking cheap whiskey.
To generate the conversation, Maker’s Mark doesn’t advertise to ambassadors, Sernovitz said. Instead, the bourbon maker emails recipe ideas, updates on the latest batch of bourbon, and even sends high-visibility gifts a few times a year. “They give them reasons to keep talking about Maker’s Mark all year long,” Sernovitz said.
One litmus test credit unions can use to see if their word of mouth advertising topic would work is to post it on the wall, he said, and ask if anybody in the room would be excited enough to tell a friend about it.
“If they can’t answer a strong yes, you’ll have to spend money advertising it,” he said.
One question from the audience following the prepared materials asked how credit unions can create word of mouth excitement from products and services that have been commoditized.
Sernovitz admitted that was a tall order, but said credit unions have two fundamental advantages over banks: a different relationship with members, and superior customer service. He used Commerce Bank as an example of how to generate buzz in a commoditized industry. When the bank moved into the Manhattan market, it differentiated itself by providing coin counting machines right inside the front door in an era when competitors were refusing to accept coins.
“That created a conversation,” he said.
Sernovitz is the author of the book, “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.” He is also CEO of SocialMedia.org in Austin, Texas, and runs the website WordofMouth.org, which provides free ideas for word of mouth marketing.