The word of mouth myth

When a business owner insists that he or she has no need to advertise or perform some other kind of marketing, because the business will grow solely by “word of mouth,” I know that business isn’t long for the world. It’s sad how many business owners succumb to the word of mouth myth, because depending on that approach for business growth is deadly.


Oh, there are businesses that manage to achieve amazing growth by doing little more than existing, but those stories represent a miniscule percentage. The vast majority of companies that swallow the word of mouth myth vanish fairly quickly.


What is the word of mouth myth? It’s the concept that a company’s customers will promote the business so enthusiastically that the owner only needs to sit back and wait for the money to come rolling in. The best part of this miraculous word of mouth is that it’s free. You don’t have to spend a single penny on promoting the business. Advertising and the like are for the suckers who just don’t know better.


Word of mouth actually does exist, and it can be a particularly powerful generator of business growth. When a new customer walks into your door or places an online order because friends or colleagues have sung your praises, that customer is pre-sold and already convinced that he or she will be satisfied.


But word of mouth is not some kind of magic spell that happens automatically. If that were the case, we’d all have fabulously successful businesses. Instead of sitting before our computers and reading business advice, we’d be zipping off to exotic locales in our Gulfstream Vs.


The reason word of mouth doesn’t work magically is that we all have to compete in busy marketplaces. Most businesses have more competitors than they’d like (even if they pretend that those competitors are really inferior imitations), and most of those competitors are aggressively pursuing the same prospects. They even have the gall to pursue our existing customers.


Adding to the challenge is the fact that the marketplace is noisier than ever. Every day, those prospects and existing customers face a cacophony of thousands of marketing messages, from TV commercials to wraps on vans to store displays to Facebook. Each new technology seems to spawn five new marketing channels. As the volume increases, it drowns out the folks who are sitting there quietly, whispering, “Please notice me.” Even those enthusiastic referrals from current customers have to swim upstream against the torrent of competing messages.


That said, word of mouth can be incredibly effective — but only if you’re not naïve enough to regard it as magical and miraculous. You can actually create and encourage word of mouth support. How? Through some concepts called marketing, advertising, promotion, public relations, and customer service. They’re not archaic ideas. Instead, they’re the seeds and fertilizer that spawn healthy word of mouth in the marketplace.


Now, they’re not one-shot efforts. Running one ad isn’t like lighting a fuse that will create a huge explosion of business. But a well-thought-out, well-coordinated program will raise your profile and reputation in the marketplace, leading prospects to take a closer look at you and choose to try what you offer. If they like what they find, they’ll start to tell others (both personally and through online rating services like Angie’s List and Yelp), and you’ll start to see that word of mouth represents a growing share of your business.


But that isn’t enough to maintain word of mouth. To do that also takes a sustained effort to keep your profile and reputation in front of your current customers. That will keep them coming back to your door despite the competitors who try to lure them in other directions.


It isn’t magic. Nor is it easy or cheap. But what separates this approach from the word of mouth myth is that it’s actually effective.


So you don’t have to give up your dream that customers will come flocking to your doors. You just have to give up the fantasy that it will happen magically.


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