Why “Word of Mouth” Advertising Sucks

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January 27  |  Advertising, Customer Relations  |   VCoker
Van Coker, Vice President of Marketing Firepower

Over the past 30-plus years of working closely with small businesses of all sizes, from “Mom-and-Pops” (some were so small they were just “Pops”) to businesses with several locations, one of the proclamations I fielded with great frequency was, “Word-of-mouth is the best form of advertising.”

“Word-of-mouth doesn’t cost a dime” they would boast.

“Word-of-mouth brings in customers.”

Word of Mouth Advertising Sucks

“Word-of-mouth is the only advertising that we get feedback on.”

Or, “Word of mouth gives me better results than all the advertising we’ve purchased.”

What could I say? I couldn’t argue with any of their claims.

Because the advertising they had purchased in the past was, for the most part, a worthless waste. For them, word-of-mouth was the only form of advertising that did work. That was the problem.

Here’s why word-of-mouth advertising sucks.

First—IT’S SLOW. Incredibly slow. As a business owner, you have virtually no control over the speed So while the meter keeps running at the bank…the payroll picks your pockets…and the competition continues their assault on your customer base—you have no control over the “speed” of word-of-mouth. If and when Sally Jones ever bumps into another person in the market for what you offer, she might tell them to visit your store or call to engage your services. Maybe. If she remembers. If she feels like it.

There is, however, one instance where word-of-mouth advertising travels faster than the speed of light: when it’s negative word-of-mouth. If your customer didn’t like the experience with you, rest assured they will tell at least 20 of their best friends about you before the sun sets in the west. Take that!

Second—IT’S INACCURATE. You have no control over what people are told. What they are led to believe about you is in the hands of hearsay. Oh, you’re open evenings? Gee—somebody told me you were closed.

You can only conclude—IT’S VERY EXPENSIVE. If you aren’t making an effort to communicate to consumers about who you are…what you can do for them…and why they should do business with you rather than your competition, you’re leaving your success to chance. And chances are—you will not succeed.

Word-of-mouth lacks the two most essential ingredients in the recipe for an effective advertising program: You must REACH enough of your most likely, most profitable consumers. And you must reach them with FREQUENCY. You must communicate with them often enough to be remembered when it’s time to buy or call for an appointment.

And, finally, communicate with a message that creates value for what you offer. By and large, you would be amazed how infrequently “lowest price” makes the difference. Remember, if the only thing you have to offer is low price…it won’t take long for a competitor to offer one that’s even lower.

If word-of-mouth is your best advertising, you either need to 1) start advertising, or 2) cancel the advertising you are paying for and start over. Create an advertising program that works hard for you. One that truly is an investment in profits.

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