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Word of Mouth Marketing - WOMM!

The power of the human voice and human contact are the most powerful communications tools we have. In this day of intense media bombardment, the average person receives over 1000 messages a day. No wonder things get lost along the way and we feel like our heads are exploding with slogans and jingles. But there is something that can cut through the clutter. We will listen to other people -- especially those we know and trust. We respond to the human voice. Word-of-mouth.

We also believe information we hear from other people, faster than we'll believe what is written in a brochure or seen on a TV ad. The stories we hear from each other. The hints and tips. We are trusted human yellow pages for each other. Word-of-mouth.

In a multitude of focus groups conducted for a variety of clients by Full Circle Associates, we have been struck by the level of fatigue and distrust the public has for slogans and campaigns. They want and value information, but are asking for it straight up, not packaged and polished. If we want them to do something in particular, they want us to just ask them to do it and then leave it to them to decide. This points to the the importance of word-of-mouth as a critical component of any communications effort.

If you want to get your message out, about and heard you must spend the time to that it takes to recruit many messengers. Effective communications efforts MUST include a component that strengthens the opportunity and execution of word-of-mouth (WOMM) activities. Other traditional communications channels such as media and direct mail complement WOMM, but they cannot take its' place. WOMM increases the response to other channels.

So What is WOMM and How Do We Do It?

WOMM is the tool that every single member of your organization can use to advance the mission of the organization. It is not reserved for the "marketing and communications" folks. It is not the sole domain of the customer service team. It is the one thing that crosses all organizational lines because we all talk to other people -- co-workers, neighbors, friends and family, customers and the general public. The key to using WOM as part of your communications strategy is to help each person present a clear, integrity-filled message each time they communicate with others.

Each time we greet a client or customer, serve them, listen to them, we have the chance to share information and demonstrate the values of the organization. Do we treat them with respect and dignity? Do we provide enough information so that they can get to know us and our organizations better? Do we ask the questions and then listen to what they need? Do we ask them for feedback on what is going well and what needs improvement? Do we share the latest news of what our organization is doing with and for them? Do we ask for their help when appropriate? These exchanges can produce three things:

  • A relationship
  • A chance to provide information to the customer
  • A chance to learn from the customer
This serves as a starting point for permission marketing which is a key strategy especially when using the Internet.

What We Say and How We Act Matters

WOMM is highly dependent on being believable and honest. If we promise something, we deliver it. If we don't know the answer, we go find it instead of guessing. What is a "clear, accurate message?" WOMM must be consistent across an organization so that, for example, when a patient calls a clinic for an appointment, their experience from the first call through billing will be much more positive and productive if they encounter clear, consistent treatment and messages throughout the process. The telephone operator provides honest information about length of waits. The receptionist smiles and welcomes the patient, updating contact information at the desk, and advises the patient on a new service available at the clinic. The health care provider gives the patient information, advises them on what to expect, and treats them with respect. The billing matters are prompt and clear. Even when things don't go as planned, the interactions are up-front and respectful. Even in conflict, the organization values input from the customer and seeks to resolve differences.

How WOMM Can Give Us Information

Too often we don't know what we don't know. Has a client who missed an appointment ever annoyed you? Would you act differently if you knew why? What if the key was evening hours two days a week? Do we ask our clients to help us understand the barriers? Do we assume we know? Simple questions can help us learn much about our customers, especially when deployed throughout the organizations. Imagine what could be learned in a week if every member of a staff who came in contact with a customer had the goal of finding out some particular kernel of information.

How WOMM Can Build an Organization's Brand

We hear talk of building one's "brand." Well in the end, a brand is only as good as the number of people who will come back a second time. "Brand loyalty" may be closer to what an organization needs. But aren't people loyal to other people rather than to a name? For non profits and community organizations this is an important distinction. Your "brand" extends to every person in your organization and how they treat others. How they listen. How they talk and share information.

One true test of a brand is if one person recommends it to another. Referrals. Do you ask your clients and customers for referrals? Personally? How do you follow up on referrals? Do you ask your clients for their success stories and compliments along with permission to share them? These are far more believable than any slogan. What are you doing to capture this information? These opportunities available each time you talk with a client.

How WOMM Can Provide Information to Customers

WOMM provides an organization the opportunity to share information in a setting of direct attention. Did you tell your customer about your planned product changes? The special event on their favorite topic? What do you think will make a stronger, longer-lasting health education impression? A poster on the wall, or the impact of a personal message along with a brochure to take home that has all the details. Imagine the increased impact of of the information coming from someone you trust. It is powerful.

Sharing What We Learn Matters

Beyond the acts of human-to-human interaction, WOMM also provides organizations with a rich source of information that can be used for quality improvement, new product development and other activities. But if we don't capture and explore what we learn from our customers, it is a wasted opportunity.

Finding ways for staff to share what they learn from customers and clients is essential. Keeping notes, collecting success stories to use for marketing with the customers' permission, regular debriefs on what the "talk" is telling the organization are just some of the ways the information can be collected. Reviewing what is heard and drawing lessons learned to apply to other situations leverages the information into organizational knowledge.

Human voice. Clear, honest and accurate communication. Word-of-mouth. Use it.

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Full Circle Associates
4616 25th Avenue NE PMB 126PMB #126
Seattle, WA 98105-5021
(206) 517-4754

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