“I get all my clients from word-of-mouth.”
Yep, that’s how it’s supposed to work. People should be talking about you. And yet Nike, Apple, and Google still do marketing.
When I was in college, I accidentally got a job as the webmaster of my school. Someone in the IT department found out I had been building HTML websites – and back then, I was rare. As a full-time college kid, I wasn’t looking for a job but they hired me anyway. The Communications Department paid me $8.50 an hour as a part-time staff member to build their website in Fireworks and Dreamweaver 4 (yes, you read that correctly – I still have the CD with my access code in case you want to use it.) It was a 2,000 page website built one page of code at a time.
This private liberal arts college I attended needed more students – and in 2000, the World Wide Web was becoming a place for potential students to find out more about where they wanted to go to school. This was before everyone had phones. I had a Palm Pilot and a desktop computer with dial-up. I would print pages of the website for them to review because it was quicker. Laptops were only a dream. Few even had computers at home. (I got a briefcase, not a laptop bag, from my sister for college graduation.That’s how old I am.) It was the land of chatrooms & “You’ve got mail.” We were on the cusp of a new age with the generation of humans who wanted to get more connected.
When we were putting together the website plan, we were also putting together the marketing plan. The Communications department would meet to discuss our differentiators and why students would even care to look into getting their education with us. We weren’t going to compete with the bigger schools, we didn’t have a brand big enough to talk about, and our sports claim-to-fame was our ranking in synchronized swimming because we had been an all-girls school until the early 80’s. Although we had a beautiful campus located on a lake, we had a lot going against us – except the one reason I decided to originally attend. Experiential education.
Most students graduate from college never getting to “try before they buy.” Experiential education is a fancy way of saying that all of the students got January and the summer to go do the actual work of their degree. It was required to get your degree – and it was better than an internship. It made you stand out from other students applying for jobs after college. The Education majors could go work in a real school. The Occupational Therapy majors could work in a real doctor’s office. The Nursing majors could work at a real hospital. Plenty of students would do their term and realize the work they thought they wanted to do wasn’t really as sexy as they expected. THIS was why I wanted to attend. I wanted real world experience before getting out into the real world.
When we put together the website, we made Experiential Education front and center to everything else. We had great copy, photos, and testimonials. But putting it on the website was only one step.
Before we could be successful, we knew we had to pitch the rest of the departments on why this would work to get our numbers up. We put together all the Data behind why our students were more successful at their post-college jobs. We knew the Impact Experiential Education had on their careers after college. We found the Stories of the students who found success AND why they changed majors thanks to this program. We also knew the Humans we were targeting would want more out of school than just classes and campus life.
Armed with all of this helpful information, we had to make sure the marketing team was focused on sharing it with the outside world. We made sure the recruiters were talking it up. Then we had to be sure the tour guides for the campus were telling stories about students who had been a part. The admissions team had to make sure it was part of the excitement of the onboarding process. Finally, we had to make sure our students AND alumni knew the focus. Everyone had to know that this was what we were pitching in order for it to be successful.
The word-of-mouth didn’t come from people just talking about us – we TOLD them what to say and how to say it. I see now – years later – that the experiential education of working with the Keuka College Communications department was worth every penny I spent on tuition (and the pennies I made working there.) It gave me a foundation for everything I know about branding and marketing. (Shout-out to my professor, Amanda Harris & the Communications Director, Doug Lippincott.)
“Your brand is what everyone else is saying about you. Not what you’re saying about yourself.” – Melanie Spring
Word-of-mouth is a crap marketing strategy because it’s not a marketing strategy. Word-of-mouth is the result of having a worthwhile marketing pitch. In order to put together a worthwhile pitch, you have to be clear on your DISH – your Data, your Impact, your Stories and your Humans.
An inexpensive version of this is the marketing strategy of TED. Their focus is Ideas Worth Sharing. It’s their tagline AND their mantra. TED doesn’t spend thousands of dollars on marketing. They show you clearly that they want you share their talks. They choose talks with share-worthy content. They are consistent with their branding. They don’t have to tell you to watch, you know it’ll be worth your time.
TED knows that their Data is in their views. The more views they get on their talks, the more Impact they can make. They also know that if the Stories aren’t worth sharing, the Data won’t show up. And at the end of the day, the Humans are the ones who will drive the traffic to their videos. They don’t put their money into their marketing – but they spend ALL of their time finding ideas worth sharing.
An expensive version of this is the marketing strategy of Nike. Everyone knows who Nike is and yet they still spend millions on making sure they’re in front of you. When they launched their 30th anniversary campaign featured Colin Kaepernick, they were VERY clear on their Humans. They knew they had to differentiate themselves from their competitors by honing in on getting EVERYONE talking about them – for better or worse. They set themselves apart by doing this because you were talking about them – even if you didn’t like it.
Their Data showed them where to focus their energies and helped them target their Humans – the lovers AND the haters. Their Stories captivated you and made you want to buy more of their products – or they repelled you so much that you burned their sneakers while making shareable videos about it. Their Impact was clear – they were aligned with those who aligned with their core values and they were interested in working with anyone who didn’t. Their pitch was sensational – and got everyone talking about them.
Your target customers (your Humans) want to talk about you. It’s up to you to give them what they need to say about you.
You don’t have to be a huge company with lots of money to put together a great marketing strategy. You DO have to have a great pitch. You have to pitch them on why you’re worth talking about. Why YOUR ideas are worth spreading. Why YOU are their favorite brand OR their greatest enemy. One way or another, they need to be talking about you.
Look at your next pitch. Does it have data, impact, and stories – and does it target the humans who need to be sharing it? That’s how word-of-mouth really works. Create your next marketing pitch and get them talking.
Grab our free mini-course – The DISH Method: dishmethod.com
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To ideas worth sharing.