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Word-of-Mouth Marketing Isn’t “Free,” You Earn It!

February 10, 2010

Even in an age of high-tech communication, the most powerful and effective way to generate new business is also the oldest: word-of mouth.  People naturally turn to trusted friends or colleagues for recommendations regarding product or service providers.  You’ve probably used it yourself when searching for a mechanic, making major purchases, or weighing an outlet to promote your small business. We trust friends and family to tell us the truth about the suppliers, products or services that keep their promises … that do what they say they will do. 

A good way to get word-of-mouth started is to create a simple marketing message that is easy for people to pass along. If it’s not simple, it probably won’t work. But make it specific to a real benefit or need, not something vague or general. Try to include success stories or testimonials from real customers. These can have a tremendous pass-along impact. 

To stimulate word of mouth, you might also consider asking customers for referrals and recommendations. And put your networking efforts into high gear. If you network and get to know people in your community or industry, they will think of you when they need your product or service. Join networking groups and local business organizations, and attend conferences. Donating your products or services to local charities can generate goodwill and get your name around. 

Consider introductory discounts or free samples. People are more willing to try a new product or service if they can do so economically. Many small companies have jump-started sales through carefully controlled giveaways. 

Above all, recognize that people will happily spread the word about your business if you treat them well. Tales of negative experiences or poor performance can be difficult to correct once they are passed on.  It’s not ‘brain surgery!’ Continually provide superior service, address problems quickly, anticipate your customers’ needs … and keep your promises!  That’s what they’ll remember—and talk about. 

Contrary to what you may hear, word-of-mouth marketing isn’t ‘free.’  It may not involve out-of-pocket expense, but you have to earn it with great, consistent service.  The cost comes from an investment in customer focus – from understanding and managing the buying process – from doing what you promise. Those things don’t just happen by accident or good luck!

To learn more about marketing your small business, contact Lancaster SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business.” SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 50 volunteer business mentors who provide free, confidential business counseling and training workshops to small business owners. Call us at 717-397-3092 or find us online at

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