Traditionally, word of mouth has spread from one person to another, but in today’s hyperconnected world, word of mouth can spread from one to hundreds (sometimes thousands) with a single tweet or post.

A Chatter Matters study found that 83% of Americans say that a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or family member would make them more likely to purchase that product or service. Over half of the respondents would choose word of mouth if they had to pick one source of information. 83% have made a recommendation, and 55% make recommendations monthly (if not more often). Even in the light of these statistics, fewer than 1% of companies have an actual strategy for creating, maintaining, and sustaining the right environment to generate these crucial conversations.

Fewer than 1% of companies have an actual strategy for creating, maintaining, and sustaining the right environment to generate these crucial conversations.

I had the honor of reviewing Jay Baer’s latest book Talk Triggers. Co-written with Daniel Lemin, the book details cases of extraordinary marketing achieved through strategic, operational decisions that compel word of mouth. While the notion of word of mouth naturally fits in the marketing department, the authors posit that creating reasons for customers to talk about extraordinary experiences belongs in the entire operation. Creating these conversations should be the goal of every company – turning your most significant asset into your most powerful advertising.

If you attended G2E in 2018, you might have heard Baer in one of the keynote presentations. “Simply doing things different can create enough of an experience that it compels word-of-mouth. But over the years we’ve somehow come to believe that word-of-mouth either just happens magically or that it needs to be prodded along with stunts and gimmicks,” states Baer.

Baer and Lemin stress talk triggers must be essential elements of your brand experience – something that customers cannot help but share. They also warn this must be an on-going project, not something to be pulled out and used for a limited time or with a limited audience. Talk triggers are not gimmicks. They are strategic business choices. They are also not a new product or offer.

The 4-5-6 process outlined by Baer and Lemin is pretty straightforward.

Four Talk Trigger Criteria

“Like Elvis, there are many talk trigger impersonators out there,” opens the chapter. There is no plug and play talk trigger. For customers to embrace your talk trigger, it must hit four basic principles. It must be

  • remarkable,
  • relevant,
  • realistic, and
  • repeatable.

Most of the readers of this blog are casino marketers. You know this industry can slip into sameness very quickly given the familiar elements from property to property. So, a jackpot – admittedly a thrill for anyone – may not be remarkable, even if you are awarding the most prizes. You must find a way to stand out if your business relies on a level of sameness. Years ago, I came across a little known bank, Umpqua. All banks have tellers, checking, and ATMs, but Umpqua has turned the typical concept of the bank on its head by focusing on the neighborhoods in which they are located. Each branch has a greeter to guide visitors and even include retail centers focused on neighborhood products. Surprising, yes. Remarkable? Maybe. However, what if I told you that located at each branch was a silver telephone. With the press of any button, customers are connected directly to the bank president, not the branch president but the head of the entire operation.

One casino I know of us a soft-serve ice cream machine just outside of the buffet. Customers stop by and serve themselves a cone for a refreshing break any time of the day or night. There are no signs limiting servings, just an ample supply of cones. It wasn’t limited to a daypart or one tier in particular. When was the last time you saw something like this in a casino buffet? The leadership understood that little perk wasn’t going to break the bank, but it would put a smile on a customer or two, perhaps giving them something to talk about. I think you’ll agree this little effort hits all four requirements.

Five Types of Talk Triggers

Why do some talk trigger efforts succeed where others fail? How do you decide which type of talk trigger best suits your brand and your operation? Through their research, the book authors were able to categorize successful triggers into five categories.

  • Talkable Empathy
  • Talkable Usefulness
  • Talkable Generosity
  • Talkable Speed
  • Talkable Attitude

The ability to identify triggers when you encounter them will make it easier for you as you develop one that is right for you.

Creating Talk Triggers in Six Steps

Gather Insights – Review competitive positioning, messaging, revenue, customer service issues, and complements as well as the information you gathered through employee stories. Employees tend to possess a detailed history of what worked (or didn’t) for both the customer and the business. Assemble the following for both your company and your competition.

  • brand positioning
  • current word of mouth and social media trends
  • competitive positioning
  • market research
  • customer surveys (such as product usage, retention, net promoter)
  • market share
  • database trends
  • call center logs, comment cards, and anecdotes

Get Close to Your Customer – Find ways to get an understanding of how customers are experiencing your offerings. Through surveys and sampling, social media conversation data, product or service usage data, try to answer the following and be relentless in your pursuit.

  • How do our customers experience our property(s)?
  • Why do customers recommend us (or not) today?
  • What do customers say about our brand and our competitors (both unaided)?
  • Where in the customer journey is the right time to introduce a talk trigger?

Create Candidate Talk Triggers  Search through surveys or engage in social media to find the customer point of view/answers to the following or initiate a voice of the customer process that will give insights to the following customer mindsets.

  • When I buy or use this product/service, I am…
  • What I don’t expect from this product is…
  • What I’m talking about in my life right now is…
  • What I think I want is…
  • What I actually want is…

Additionally, you can add your operations or brand-specific questions to paint a comprehensive picture.

Test Your Ideas – As with all programs, you must test and measure “candidate” talk triggers to ensure they will have the desired outcome. Does it have what it takes to survive long-term? Can your trigger sustain a presence in at least 10% of the conversations during a limited period and 25% of the discussions over the long term? Keep in mind that (according to Engagement Labs) 48% of word of mouth conversations happen online, and 52% happen offline. It would be best if you looked at both to understand the impact you are making. You will also want to know what KPIs will be indicative of a success. Is it a change in NPS, offer redemption, reactivations? Finally, testing can often lead to the death of some of your favorite ideas. You must be prepared to kill off the ones that do not meet your criteria for success.

Turn It On – You have developed a winning idea that has tested positively for momentum. Now what? In any situation, you could face both internal and external hurdles. Customers can love your talk trigger, but without internal activation, your efforts could fall silent. This internal activation should follow a SEE framework – Stakeholders, Employees, and Enterprise. Consider partners, investors, suppliers, board members in this framework. Find an executive champion to keep everyone on task and elevate the importance of the effort. As you work to gain internal momentum, will also excite your employees. As your internal fan base grows, be sure to celebrate thresholds or when something exciting happens. These internal celebrations can reinforce your talk triggers over and over again.

Amplify – Once you’ve established activation, you’re ready to amplify your talk trigger. Look for opportunities to share your trigger in your media outlets (but not as advertising campaigns.) Amplification is about others telling your story. Encourage employees to share their stories with friends and family. Like chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree, strive to make your talk trigger an icon for your company. The tasty talk trigger has stood the test of time, and customers continue to share their stories.

By definition, word of mouth takes time because it relies on one customer telling another person, and another and another. However, it’s essential to understand today what you want customers to be saying about you years from now.

A version of this previously appeared in other publications.

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