Over the weekend I read my review copy of Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing. I loved it. If you are an entrepreneur, business student, business leader, or involved with marketing on any level, this is a must read. This book is a good complement to other books I have read on the topic such as The Tipping Point and many of the books by Guy Kawasaki or Seth Godin, etc. Overall I think Andy Sernovitz does a very good job of nailing down this often-misunderstood idea of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM). There is nothing really new about the idea of WOMM, Sernovitz says, but what is different today is that because of easy-to-use internet tools WOMM is more plannable, actionable, and trackable. The internet has made things easier and made word of mouth more powerful, but as the author points out, most word of mouth still happens off-line.
Here's Sernovitz's definition of WOMM:
"Giving people a reason to talk about your stuff *and* making it easier for that conversation to take place."
In other words, Says Sernovitz, WOMM is "...everything you do to get people talking."
WOMM is about joining the conversation and participating *with* the market (your customers, community, groupies, etc.) not just talking *at* them. If Word of Mouth Marketing is about participation and conversations, then, obviously there is a potential for presentations of all types to play a large part in that mix. Of course, you have your sales presentations, your executive speeches, trade show demos, etc. Those are important. But there are many other ways presentations can be used to promote your brand, even if you're a one-man/-woman firm and that brand is YOU (in fact, WOMM is especially important if you're on your own).
Presentation opportunities outside the usual channel
So besides the usual sales presentation route, look for opportunities to make presentations and speeches in your local community, at schools, universities, conferences, etc. about something you have expert knowledge in. Look for opportunities to "give it away" freely without expectations for anything in return except the good feeling that you get from teaching or sharing something you believe in or care about. If you make a presentation worth talking about, even if it was not specifically about your product or company, this reflects well on your organization and your brand. In fact, because you volunteer your time to "give it away" and share your time without a sales pitch, your audience may find your time with them even more memorable and worthy of discussion.
Get them talking or get them signing on the dotted line?
When you volunteer to present and teach, share, inspire, etc. with no motive except to be in that moment and do your honest, transparent best for the benefit of that particular audience, the result is often actually more "sales" for your "stuff" in the long run. The traditional way of thinking of marketing and your customers is to "get them to sign on the line which is dotted!" But in many cases — especially when we're talking about WOMM — it is not always about getting people to sign on the dotted line.
Doing it wrong
Here's an example of doing it wrong. A few years ago I attended a computer user group meeting in Osaka. The group agreed to give representatives from a large wholesaler a chance to talk up their grand opening at the end of the meeting. They were given 15 minutes. When they took the stage they said they brought membership registration forms and were hoping to get a lot of user group members to signup on the spot. They made this request about one minute into their presentation. When the audience showed no interest in signing up on the spot (one can always signup at the store in future) the presentation stalled. Their approach was awkward and ill-prepared. They clearly thought they could just show up and let the famous wholesaler name speak for itself. It was clear that they were there to get bodies to sign on the dotted line. But there was no passion in their voice and they could not explain what made the store so cool. What's worse is that they were visibly disappointed that no one signed up. Because their only measure of success was "to get people to sign on the spot" rather than to tell their story and get the conversation going, to make connections, and participate in that conversation, they wasted a great opportunity. Their presentation should have been the start of the conversation and the start of a relationship, but they looked at the talk as a chance to pitch, sign, and bring the conversation to a close...and move on to the next target.
Doing it right
Here's an example of doing it right. Last year a buddy of mine, a successful entrepreneur in Japan, gave a free presentation for my design group about what it was like to design and open a new high-end café in the city. It was quite an interesting ordeal with valuable business and design lessons for the audience. He prepared a highly visual, well-planned presentation that was entertaining and educational. At the end of his talk he also gave out nicely wrapped samples of his teas and sweets to every member of the audience. Although he surely made some new customers that night, he never tried to sell or talk up his cafes. He told his story and made a connection, but he was not making a pitch. There is a time for pitching, of course, but when you're presenting in the spirit of sharing and "giving it away" anything resembling an infomercial undermines credibility. In this case the presenter's credibility went up...and so did the buzz surrounding his product.
Make it easy for people to talk about you
A point Sernovitz makes in the book is that we must make it easy for people to talk about us (i.e., our firm, our brand,, etc.). For example, Apple gives registered Apple User Group leaders access to many free tools such as downloadable Keynote presentations that they can use to give live talks in their communities (though Apple does not do nearly as well as they could with the user groups these days, but that's another story for another day). What makes groups like Apple user groups so special is that their word is more credible than the company's largely because they do not profit personably from endorsing the products they so enthusiastically use. "Happy customers are your best advertising. Make people happy," says Sernovitz.
The idea of "giving it away" or "pooping" (a term borrowed from Guy Kawasaki) is a key philosophy to embrace in an era when customers do not believe advertising and do not want to be sold to. Customers, as Sernovitz says, prefer to listen to and get their advice from "people like me." There are many ways for companies, organizations, and entrepreneurs to get closer to their markets and engage with them in a real, honest, genuine human voice. Taking advantage of speaking opportunities and volunteering to "get out there" (where it's risky) and make presentations and have conversations is just one very small part of Word of Mouth Marketing.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Manifesto
At the beginning of chapter three Sernovitz lists twelve points in his WOMM Manifesto. These four below are good to keep in mind when you're mulling over the idea of going "out there" to present naked in your community.
• Negative word of mouth is an opportunity. Listen and learn.
• People are already talking. Your only option is to join the conversation.
• Be interesting or be invisible.
• If it's not worth talking about, it's not worth doing.