Get in on the Buzz: Word-Of-Mouth is a Key Marketing Tool

Word of mouth is the act of a customer sharing his or her experience with another person. A recommendation or tip passed from one customer to another by word of mouth provides credibility, reduces doubt in the customer's mind, and plays a critical factor in the customer's final selection or purchasing decision.

A recent survey analyzed the effect of word of mouth communication and found 85 percent of Americans polled said that comments from co-workers, friends, family members and others carry a considerable amount of weight with them. (Harris Interactive study, December 2005).

It is also a fact that many successful companies have a formal referral system for finding new customers.

A reason to talk about your service

Word of mouth marketing is giving customers a reason to talk about your vending or office coffee service company and making it easier for that dialogue to take place. As the owner of a vending or OCS company, you may not always be able to create the conversation, but you can encourage and facilitate it. Word of mouth marketing is about the actions you can take to empower your current customers, build upon their natural desire to share their positive experience with others, and pique the interest of your target market.

Empower the customer

Word of mouth marketing is harnessing the voice of your customer for the benefit of your brand and making it easier for satisfied customers to tell their business colleagues and contacts about your company's goods and services.

Word of Mouth Techniques

Word of mouth marketing tactics are built on the concept of customer satisfaction and on building a genuine, two-way dialogue with your customers. Start with identifying the "influencers" in your customer base and in your region; the enthusiasts most likely to share their opinions and convince your target market to try your services.

Educate these influencers about your products and services, provide them with information and news, and encourage them to spread the word.

Start with Your Foundation

Do the consumers at your customer locations know the name of your company? They certainly should. If they just finished a refreshing, great tasting cup of coffee or wrapped up a pleasant conversation with one of your courteous route drivers, how can you empower them to spread the word about this great experience and share it? Here are some suggestions:

  • Empower your customers to share a positive experience with their friends and families who work for other companies by making sure their experience is rewarding. A satisfied customer is the greatest third-party endorsement.
  • Create unique incentives for these customers to take action. Conduct free new product giveaways, new coffee tastings or contests that truly motivate your customers to act, such as "Win a Free iPod with Every New Customer Referral!"
  • Create a loyalty program that is tied into your website so that you recruit "brand evangelists" who enthusiastically promote your company online and offline. You will also drive traffic to your website; so ensure it's a robust source of information for your brand, services and products.
  • Listen to your customers. Open a two-way dialogue, address their feedback and respond promptly, whether it's a positive, negative or neutral comment. Provide customers with feedback tools, such as online forms, "contact us" e-mails, and crisis contacts. Ensure your response is personalized and honest.
  • Stay in constant contact with your customers. Provide them with information that's relevant and useful to them. Every month, send out an eye-catching and professional HTML e-mail newsletter to all of your customers, new prospects, suppliers and old prospects you did not win.
  • Be visible and accessible, specifically in places where your target market is looking for information — that's when they'll be most receptive and when your information will be the most useful, appreciated and well received. Start with identifying the places that your potential customers may hear about your company.
  • Identify the influencers who provide your prospect and customer base with business, management or financial advice. They include local accountants, attorneys, management consultants, marketing/PR advisors, technology consultants, human resource specialists, risk management experts, insurance brokers, executive recruiters and commercial real estate brokers.

These influencers serve clients every day and suggest innovative ways to improve their clients' organizations. Communicate to these people how your vending and OCS company is critical to their clients.

Hammer home the fact that motivating employees with energizing and healthy snacks, beverages, coffee and fresh food is paramount to a company's overall success. Is your company's name on the tip of their tongues?

Network with the local leaders

It is important to develop relationships with these "business experts" in your community. Call them and introduce yourself and your company to them. Send them informational packets, or invite them to lunch to show them your capabilities and help them understand your services.

By networking with these professionals and developing relationships with them, you will be in a position to refer them business and they will refer you business as well. You can create a symbiotic relationship that helps both of you.

In addition to business advisors, identify other business network organizations, including the local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), and other specialized business organizations.

Donate upscale coffee and snacks at their next function or meeting and make sure the organization communicates to everyone that your company "sponsored" the coffee service.

Key resource: moving firms

Get to know the sales representatives and executives within every commercial moving company in your local area. These people know what companies are moving and where they are moving.

More importantly, these influencers have strong relationships with the decision makers within the companies that are moving. Take these people to lunch and try to formalize an ongoing lead generation and referral program between both of your companies.

Always keep in mind: a company that is moving is very open and willing to switch vending and office coffee providers.

Reach the Human resource managers

Know the large employers within a 30-mile radius of your company. Human resource managers are responsible for keeping their employees happy, motivated and healthy. Call the HR executives and provide information on your company's new healthy vending initiatives and the better-for-you products that your company now offers.

Know where your target market obtains their news. What business journals, magazines and newsletters are the most widely read by your target market?

Are you providing office coffee to law firms in the Washington, D.C. area? Then, you need to subscribe to Legal Times. Or maybe you want to provide vending service to government contractors (a booming industry, by the way).

Then you need to subscribe to Federal Computer Week or Washington Technology. Develop relationships with the editors and reporters who easily reach hundreds, sometimes thousands of your prospective clients. Send the journalists a news release on your company's new healthy vending program specifically designed for law firms or government contractors. These journalists should be first on your call list when you've got news or information to share.

Provide Tools to Make it Easy

Are you sharing all of your company's offerings with your customers?

My company recently designed a website for Peakland Coffee in Beltsville, Md. (www.peaklandcoffee.com) that clearly organizes all of the company's diverse OCS products into a comprehensive Web-based catalog displaying vivid product photos.

Customers can now browse and learn about Peakland's 400 products in the online catalog and submit their weekly orders with a simple mouse click any time of the day, any day of the week.

By effectively empowering and encouraging customers to browse and shop the entire Peakland Coffee online catalog, individual customer orders have increased by more than 10 percent. Peakland Coffee customers now can peruse the entire stock of products and services at their own leisure.

Using the Web as an effective communications tool can improve the customers' buying experience as well as educate the customers on all the products you offer.

Making it easier for customers to do business with your company always leads to positive word of mouth, increased sales and new customers.

Word of mouth marketing techniques are a cost-effective way to gain new customers without a large investment, and a good complement to your ongoing, traditional marketing activities.

Get in on the conversations

Know how, when and where opinions are being shared about vending and office coffee services. At any one time, hundreds of conversations are occurring and decisions about vending and coffee service are being made in your business community.

Ensure your marketing strategy takes full advantage of the word of mouth and encourages the buzz to spread.

Know the influencers in your community and give them something to talk about — such as enjoying your superior vending and office coffee service.

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