So People Will Talk About Your Business

Word of Mouth

PEOPLE LOVE TO TALK, AND WHEN they say great things about your business, it translates into increased sales and a strong growth curve. Buzz is all about what's hot, new and interesting. It's more persuasive than traditional advertising, because buzz is based on trust--we're more likely to believe what's told to us by friends or co-workers.

Influencers and opinion leaders are the engines of buzz. These people can be experts, members of the press, politicians, celebrities or well-connected customers others rely on for information. For example, when Oprah recommends a book, it soars to No. 1; or when Sarah Jessica Parker wears a new dress, it's pictured in fashion magazines. The fuel these influencers require is compelling information, whether it's about the latest books, fashion or software. Your public relations and referral programs are the keys to generating this information.

Avoid Bad Buzz

The trick is to give people something positive to talk about. Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word-of-Mouth Marketing (Doubleday), believes the more interconnected your customers are, the more crucial word-of-mouth becomes. Thanks to the Internet, bad buzz can spread fast. According to Rosen, "Very often, buzz is truthful. If people have a bad experience, they'll say so."

How do your customers learn about your products or services? If it's through chat rooms and discussion groups, you can monitor customer comments and fuel positive buzz by fixing any problems that arise or dealing directly with any customer complaints before they become big problems. Companies that ignore this strategy risk suffering the same setbacks that Intel did back in 1994, when a complaint posted on the Net concerning its Pentium chip was belittled by the company. The result, says Rosen, was more than 25,000 customer phone calls a day about the problematic chip.

Get People Talking

Companies that are masters of good buzz never stop innovating and sharing information, and they use samples, demos and events to get the word out. Trivial Pursuit was an unknown game until its producer's PR department began sending copies to the celebrities mentioned in the game. Celebrities received a letter from the company president clipped to the game card that held the question about them. "This kicked off Trivial Pursuit parties in Hollywood," says Rosen, and the buzz soon spread nationwide.

Back in 1983, when coach Brian Maxwell and a student, Jennifer Biddulph, invented an energy bar for athletes called the PowerBar, they sent local athletes boxes of five bars and follow-up surveys, and handed out samples at sporting events. Over the years, they continued to enlist coaches and leading athletes, and by 2000, the company had surpassed $140 million in sales and was sold to Nestle.

Want to build maximum buzz? Try combining the one-two punch of media relations with special events for your best customers, like BMW did for the highly successful launch of its Z3. First, they created an innovative product and placed it in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. Prior to the movie's release, BMW dealers held private screenings and receptions for as many as 40,000 customers. They also held a sneak preview of the car in New York's Central Park attended by about 200 members of the media who were treated to a surprise appearance by GoldenEye's star, Pierce Brosnan.

While something of that magnitude is likely beyond your means, establishing exclusivity-like being among the first to see the new BMW--and scarcity can help fuel buzz. For proof, consider the craze over collecting Beanie Babies toys, the popularity of TV shows that reveal the value of rare collectibles, and the enormous buzz that fuels eBay.

The biggest myth about buzz is that buzz is all you need. Word-of-mouth often spreads slowly, so traditional marketing, including advertising and promotion, is still necessary to facilitate sales. Buzz is the added spark you ignite when you give the media and your best customers something to talk about.