Word of mouth creates lasting relationships

Maker’s Mark treats its best customers much like a doting lover. The bourbon brand spends 30% of its marketing budget on members of its Ambassador program: tattooing their names on aging bourbon barrels, printing business cards to help Ambassadors brag on the brand, and faithfully sending annual Christmas gifts – like last year’s “ugly Christmas sweater” for the bottle.

When I arrived at  Word of Mouth Crash Course, I expected some breakfast, coffee, and lots of buzzwords. I didn’t expect an opening keynote from Andy Sernovitz about love and relationships. At first glance, you might ask whether WOMCC was a marketing conference… or couples therapy. Either way, you’d be right.

As marketers, Andy said, we often get hooked on the latest trend, technology or tactic – and in turn, lose sight of the most important thing in marketing: creating relationships with our customers.  People buy things from people and companies they like. If you create products and experiences that people like and ultimately fall in love with, they’ll spread the word.

If you’re trying to get people to love you, you’ve got to give them a reason. John Moore of Brand Autopsy outlined four basic principles for doing just that. Here are his tips, with examples from the conference.

1. Be unique

Krispy Kreme donuts found massive success when they gave customers something unique to talk about: hot, fresh donuts worth waiting hours in line for. That success evaporated when Krispy Kreme donuts could be found, cold and stale, in every gas station. The only way to be unique to your audience, says John, is by understanding what they’re already getting, and why it doesn’t work. Red Box offered a unique, convenient way to rent DVDs, grabbing buzz. And Southwest Airlines has offered a fun, lighthearted way to travel for less since founding.

2. Be interesting

Mass merchant Costco intentionally stocks a few interestingly bizarre items, just to generate word of mouth. Caskets, wedding gowns, a $3000 toilet, and a $3 million diamond – things that get people to say to their friends, “You’ll never guess what I saw at Costco!” It works so well, Costco doesn’t run TV ads. John described his personal experiences working for Whole Foods and Starbucks. Without big advertising budgets, the brands connected with customers around their interests – conserving the planet and living healthier at Whole Foods, and music and atmosphere at Starbucks.

3. Be polarizing

Consumers like brands that stand for what they do, and in truth, aren’t those the customers you want? “You have to be willing to lose those who aren’t committed, in order to gain,” John declared. Tim McClure – the M of GSD&M – discussed the birth of the “Don’t Mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign. The biggest litter offenders – 18 to 24 year-old men – weren’t persuaded by sappy environmentalist campaigns. Prior to announcing what the slogan even meant, the Don’t Mess with Texas team began distributing bumper stickers to 18 to 24 year-old men, who quickly affixed them to their cars and trucks.  When the campaign was announced by Stevie Ray Vaughn during the 1986 Cotton Bowl, the word of mouth infrastructure was already there.

The polarizing message got attention. If you litter, you’re anti-Texan, the campaign claimed – and became one of the most successful slogans in history.

4: Be telling stories

AXE commercials don’t talk about stinky armpits. They tell a sexy story for young males. By following the first three steps, you begin telling your brand story – creating the fabric that forms real, loving relationship between brands and consumers, which inspires advocacy. Drury Inn lets guests make free phone calls, presenting a chance to tell others about their experience. When the recipient asks, “Where are you calling from?” the guest becomes a promoter for the brand.

Maker’s Mark’s founder passionately advocated against “pushing” marketing on uninterested consumers, and the result is a loving fan-brand relationship. Court your customers to build a lasting relationship, give them reasons to love you, and their advocacy will come naturally.

3 Responses to “More than a fling: word of mouth creates lasting relationships”

  1. Jeremey

    Beautifully written, well presented, and quite enjoyable.

  2. Emily Reagan
    Emily Reagan

    Hi John – glad you liked the post.  As you can tell, your presentation really stuck with me!  Thanks, also, for reinforcing the theme with your points above.  “Stories” like these are, when woven together, the fabric of  brand – what they stand for – and many of us remember a brand, ad or person better if there’s a “story” associated with it. This is one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal as marketers.   

  3. Erin… the framework from my prezo works well to sum-up takeaways from the entire conference. Nice post.

    When I used “Be Telling Stories” … I included three talkable brand stories. #1 – Improve a Life. Example: Sleep Number tells the story of how their bed improves the life of couples. #2 – Right a Wrong in the Marketplace. Example: Southwest Airlines on-going story of righting the highly wrong policies most airlines use. #3 – Make Good Better. Example: The Big Green Egg made the common grill better by producing a ceramic cooker that grills and smokes food.

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