The following article was authored by Adam Shiflett, marketing manager for ADP Lightspeed, examining how dealers can generate effective word-of-mouth advertising.
When I was a kid I would often play a game called telephone. A group of us would line up in a row, the first person whispered a message to the next person until it reached the end. The last person would than repeat what they heard.
The first message would only be a few words, something like “I like to eat fruit under a tree.” By the end of the line the message would change to “I lick flowers and green peas.” Even with short messages and only a few people in the line the results were the same, an incoherent message that never matched the initial communication.
Now, imagine a line of people, you are on one end and a potential customer is at the other. Between you stands friends and family of that customer. You send down the message through your website and advertising “We have the best prices and professional staff”. Somehow at the end of the line your customer hears “We over charge and don’t know what we’re doing”.
Word of mouth is the most difficult to control and the most powerful influence in purchases. In fact when asked what “influence(s) your decision to use or not use a particular company…” 71% responded family and friends had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence (Harris Interactive, June 2010).
So the question is: how can you control word of mouth? The answer: you can’t, but you can help influence the conversation.
Give Them Something to Talk About
People like to talk, but they only talk about what’s interesting to them. Most likely you don’t have conversations on the history of the harpsichord. Why? Because you’re not interested, unless you are part of the Western Early Keyboard Association (yes this really exists, they even have a convention). Well guess what, if you aren’t doing anything interesting at your dealership you’ll be talked about just as much as a harpsichord.
If you want people to talk about you, give them a reason. Find out what is important to your customers and tie it into your dealership. When you do something that interests your customers it keeps your dealership fresh in their minds.
My favorite example of this was a dealership that held an event in coordination with the humane society. If your customers love pets that would give them something to talk about: “My dealership is helping adopt pets”.
There is a rule of thumb in marketing that people have to see something three times to see it. Don’t assume that since you posted something on your website that your customers saw it. You need to take a proactive approach to communicating, especially if you want to influence word of mouth.
The key to effective communication is permission marketing. Permission marketing is where a customer gives consent for you to contact them. Think of collecting emails or when someone likes your Facebook page. This is a valuable form of marketing because you have found someone that is interested in you continuing contact with them.
Once you have permission, keep the conversation going. Send out a newsletter; upload pictures to your Facebook page. Keep them involved with your store and you can build lifelong customers.
Make it Personal
There is some real power in your DMS database. It can tell you what kind of unit a customer owns, what accessories they buy and how often they service their unit. With that kind of information, you can personalize your communications.
If you know your customer buys ATV’s you can assume they’re not interested in motorcycle touring luggage, so don’t send them an email about it. This is the problem with mass marketing; it makes your customer feel like you don’t know their needs. The better approach is to create groups of customers based on interest, and then communicate what is important to them.
The more you can target your communications to what is important to the specific customer the better that relationship will become, and the more likely they are to say positive things about you. Find ways to leverage your customer information to personalize the way you communicate.
Honesty Really is the Best Policy
Customers want to deal with companies they can trust. In fact, that is one of the reasons word of mouth is so influential in buying decisions. People have been taught to not trust business, so they ask around to found out who they can trust. If that source has a good opinion of you, chances are a new customer will come your way.
Dishonest treatment gives your customer something to talk about, just the wrong thing. Don’t arm your customers with reasons to tell others to go to the competition. There are some situations you just can’t change, but when you deal reasonable people honestly, they’ll talk about it, then send you new business.
There are no silver bullets in making sure you message goes in one side and ends up the same on the other, but you can help it. Arm your customers with interesting things to say about you. Their friends will hear about it.