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Word-of-Mouth & Word of “Mouse”

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John Higgins, a referee for the recent University of Kentucky versus University of North Carolina NCAA basketball game, is a case study on the ability of the average Joe to hurt or help a local business. After Kentucky lost the game, thousands of Kentucky fans took to Facebook and Yelp to leave one-star reviews for the referee’s full-time roofing business. Since being a referee for college basketball is not a full-time gig, John, like others, has another full-time line of work. In his case, he owns and operates a roofing company in Omaha, Neb. Once Kentucky fans got a hold of his Facebook page, his five-star ranking dropped to one star as thousands of reviews from fans loyal to Kentucky—but who had never used his business—destroyed his reputation on social media. Word-of-mouth used to be passed from person to person, one at a time. No longer. Now anyone with a computer or smartphone and access to the Internet can air their grievances or lavish praise on a local business and thousands of people will be able to read it.  

“Who are the people who get to your potential customers before you do?”

—Kevin Rains, Owner, Carstar Center City and Carstar Westchester

Word-of-mouth referrals are still the cornerstone of all marketing efforts whether online or off. 

I’ll never forget the first large referral partner I landed. It was truly the first big break that started me on the road to growth that has not let up for the past 13 years as we’ve grown our revenue 16 times. Someone ran across the hoods of eight brand new Volkswagens at the dealership right across the street from my recently acquired shop. At the time, we were only repairing roughly 10 cars per month so we literally could not handle the influx of eight jobs all at once. So we were given four and another area shop was giving the other four. I sensed this was a great opportunity to make an impression and possibly land more work with this dealership in the future. We repaired, painted and detailed our four cars and returned them quickly. The paint matched well and the dealer was pleased with the outcome. The other shop did not perform quite so well. So we actually got to redo some of the work they had done, not to mention they took much longer, as well. From that day forward, we have been the preferred shop for that dealership and they have sent us hundreds of referrals over the past 13 years. 

Now, after 13 years of business, we have two locations and I am finding that in some ways, it’s like being at the starting line again in terms of gaining referral partners. It is a whole new community with a different demographic and a completely different ecosystem for gaining referrals. But the work is the same: getting people to know us, like us, trust us, use us and then refer us to others. I heard this process first from John Jantsch over a decade ago who remains a trusted mentor to me through his writing and speaking to this day. And I don’t think it will ever change, though the tools and channels certainly change. The Internet has amplified word-of-mouth through review sites, most notably Google and Yelp. But it is still one person telling another person (or in the case of reviews sites, thousands!) that you can be trusted.  

Who are the people who get to your potential customers before you do? To name an obvious one, think of mechanics who routinely do maintenance on cars and are typically needed much more regularly than we are. How many of your potential customers do they get to see monthly for oil changes and brakes? When was the last time you got a referral from them? When was the last time you asked? To name a few others, insurance agents, tow truck drivers and the police are also great resources.

Referral-based word-of-mouth marketing is still the best and least expensive form of marketing you will ever find. It never goes out of style. It never will.

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