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Interviewing Andy Sernovitz: "Would Anyone Tell A Friend About This?"

Andy Sernovitz
Every little moment where you interact with a customer, that's a chance to be remarkable. -- Andy Sernovitz
Andy Sernowitz gave a great keynote at the last Shop.org conference on word of mouth marketing. He graciously shared more of his thoughts during a phone interview last week. Listen to podcast: rkgblog_Interview_Andy_Sernovitz.mp3

Alan Rimm-Kaufman: I'm honored to speaking today with Andy Sernovitz. Andy is President Emeritus of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, teaches at Northwestern, blogs at Damn!IWishI'dThoughtOfThat, and is now with GasPedal. Hey, Andy, thanks for joining us today! Andy Sernovitz:Glad to be here! Alan:You’ve written a fantastic book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. So, what is "Word of Mouth"? Andy:Word of Mouth is this thing that we’ve known about forever, this idea of people telling folks about stuff they like. What’s new and interesting is this idea of word of mouth marketing; how do you understand the conversations, how do you help it along, how do you encourage people to say good things about your company. The basics of thinking about great word of mouth are two things; it’s number one, giving people a reason to talk about your stuff, and number two, making it easier for the conversation to take place. So giving people a reason to talk is all these things we hear about being remarkable and the purple cow . How do you create a business where people just love to tell their friends? This is Starbucks. This is Google. This is the original Krispy Kreme, where everybody was just dying to show their friends the hot donut. krispy kreme hot donuts! The second part are all the tactics. You’ve got fans, you’ve got customers, you’ve got people who love you, can you use email and YouTube and MySpace and blogs and free samples and postcards so that those folks who really like what you’re doing have the tools to further extend the conversation and talk to more people. Alan:You mentioned some great brands, Krispy Kreme and Google and so forth. Can you give examples of retailer doing word of mouth successfully? Andy:There’s a ton of them. The two retailers that are top of mind right now to me are Target and Starbucks. We love to talk about Target because they keep doing these little remarkable things. In a lot of ways they sell the same stuff as everybody else. There’s a little more stylish, it’s a little more fun, there’s always some creativity to it, and you tell people, “Hey, I went and saw something at Target.” Starbucks now has plenty of competitors that sell the same stuff, but it has just become part of our everyday conversation. I don’t think it has to be, you don’t have to be one of these mega-wonderful brands to use word of mouth on a day-to-day basis. It’s a lot of simpler stuff. old-navy.jpg Old Navy has their annual 4th of July commemorative T-shirt, and every year 100,000 people go buy a special T-shirt and tell their friends about the special Old Navy experience they just had. There’s just story after story of these kinds of things happening. Alan:So you talked about being remarkable and then letting that remarkableness spread. What if folks have the misfortune to be at a brand that might be kind of average or mediocre, that isn’t a remarkable place to begin with? Andy:Every little moment where you interact with a customer, there’s a chance to be remarkable. When you have that customer service phone call there is this special opportunity, we think, “What is this person going to say when they get on the phone?” And a call center operator can change the entire word of mouth experience of a company by just saying please and thank you and going the extra mile. A lot of word of mouth is service. A lot of word of mouth is done by individuals. We are earning that tiny little extra bit of respect. Alan:Good stuff. Andy:Yeah, I think about some great examples, in my web hosting company, which is Media Temple, every time I get off the phone with a customer service request they send me a written copy of what they did and how they fixed my problem, which I inevitably forward to a couple of friends who are hosting somewhere and say, “Here’s the solution to your problem.” They put an email in my hands that I can share with somebody. potbelly-1.jpgThe Potbelly Sandwich chain, which is big here in Chicago. Potbelly is opening up restaurants in Austin, Texas, and it’s a good sandwich chain and people like it. They rented a mailing list of folks who had moved from Chicago to Austin, and send them a letter saying, “Hey, do you miss us? We’d like to buy a sandwich for you and all your friends. Here’s a stack of coupons for your friends. Take then to the new Potbelly in Austin.” Alan:Coupons for the friends, not just for the movers. Andy:That’s right. Not for you, for the friends. So that subtlety of a coupon for you versus a coupon for your friends is such an easy to do and fundamentally gets people talking and starts conversations. And it’s more than just, “Here’s a coupon for your friend,” it’s this idea that you, the recommender, look really good, that you suddenly are hooked up. You know, the restaurant back in your old hometown actually thought enough of you to send you a gift, and now you’re buying lunch for everybody in the office. There’s a really strong word of mouth experience around that little tiny bit of coupons. Alan:It’s a great story, to be able to treat people to what the mover experienced when they were eating back in Chicago, before moving to Texas. Andy:Yes. What are the cost to them -- a handful of sandwiches? Alan:Great stuff. You had mentioned on the tactical side some of these ideas to let messages spread. Your book talks about the power of email because it’s so easy to move that to someone else. For example, you just brought up the emails you get from your web hosting company. What are some of those other tactics that sort of the new web environment facilitate? Andy:I think we over-think some of this social media. It’s very easy to talk about YouTube, MySpace and Twitter and you’ve got to do all these things. And if you don’t do all these things then your company is not hip. Alan:Yes. Andy:They’re all really important tools, but no company should feel pressure to do all of them. If you’ve got a bunch of fans and customers who would like to talk about you, they are already talking about you somewhere. So the trick is figure out where the conversation is happening and then you jump in and you participate. So if you are Levenger and you sell pens then there tons of fountain pen discussion boards and blogs, that is where you should be, and FaceBook doesn’t really matter to you. And if you are dealing with a bunch of teenagers, MySpace is the place to be. And if you’ve got a product that looks cool in video, YouTube should be the place to be. What’s interesting is you get a lot of old school ad agencies who have strength in TV advertising telling clients, "be on YouTube" because we’re good at making 30-second videos, so we’re going to take a TV commercial, jam it onto the social media platform and tell you you’re now a social media marketer." Which is basically the premise of Meatball Sundae, Seth Godin’s new book, which is you can put fancy new media frosting or social media frosting on a mismatched product. You find what works and you do those kinds of things. Alan:You keynote at the last shop.org conference, you talked about just having someone in the organization troll through the blogosphere and say, “Thanks,” for good things or say, “Hey, can we help?” for bad things. You said that had highest return of any marketing activity that folks could be doing. Andy:Yes, I think there’s incredible economic benefit to getting out there and joining these conversations, that we spend so much of our lives in a company solving problems. Every time someone comes to your call center or calls in and says, “I have xyz problem,” you’ve gotta go fix it. You fix it and it’s fine and it cost you some money, and no one ever knows that phone call happened, just that one customer got taken care of. If you find the exact same person who has written in their blog, boy, such and such went wrong with this company and you run out there and you say, “I’m sorry, let’s fix it,” and you have that conversation in writing on the blog, that exact same customer service cost now permanently changes how people see your company. Because you still felt the problem but now you did it in a way that it’s on that web page forever, and then has value in terms of brand reputation and other goodwill-type values, but more important, they’re real links back to your web site, and there’s somebody writing and saying, “Oh, this company helped me out.” And you’ll have a few customer service reps spending a couple of days on the phone solving problems on blogs, you’re putting out, let’s say you put out 20 problems you solve every day in writing of people on blogs and message boards instead of on the phone, that is 7,000 new web pages permanently linking back to your site. And from a search engine marketing perspective that is a hell of a good benefit. Alan:You also point out that the blogs run with that most frequent posts on top, so the good news of the resolution trumps out all the crappy complaining at the beginning. Andy:That’s the real fun do blogging relations. A lot of companies fear negative blog posts, but if negative blog posts are out there, they’re out there. It’s a pre-existing condition. Obviously you should do things so people don’t write bad things, but if people are writing bad things about you the only way to make them go away is go to that blogger, post a comment, say, “Let me fix it,” and then you’ll have a little discussion back and forth. You’ll go there and say, “I’m sorry about the problem,” and the blogger will say, “I hate your guts. You’re an evil corporation,” and you say, “Well, let me try.” And you go back and forth. And as these comments happen, the conversation ends in one of two ways, it either ends with, “Oh my God, this is the most wonderful company in the world. I can’t believe they read my post, they solved my problem, they’re great.” Or it says this, “I blogged about this horrible company, they couldn’t fix it, but I’ve gotta tell you, I can’t believe they came to my blog and they heard my complaint and they tried to fix it and I give them points for trying.” Either way, the last post is what’s on top and the last post is what shows up first in Google. And what you end up with is the end of a conversation saying, “This is a smart corporation,” that this is people who get it, and all the Google searches are the happy resolution instead of the awkward beginning. Alan:Great stuff. As we close up, what would be your top marketing tips for online retailers going into 2008? Andy:Put a sign in every department, on the conference room wall, that says, “Would anybody tell a friend about this?” It’s a magic question that raises the bar across the organization and development. When you see the sign that says, “would anybody tell a friend about this?” you look at the product, you think, “It’s fine. It’s good,” but no one is picking up the phone and saying, “You’ve gotta try this,” and if people aren’t going to talk about it, you’re going to have to advertise it, and that’s expensive and complicated. cover-andys-book_.jpg And so, find some way to get people to talk. If you put that sign in the marketing department and you’re about to design an ad and you’re going to run ads across the web or in traditional media, you look at that ad and say, “Is anyone going to tell a friend ‘Hey, did you see that ad?’” And if they’re not going to say that, if it isn’t worth it then make a better ad, raise the bar. And you see that sign in customer service, you keep asking the question, “How do we earn a recommendation? How do we earn a conversation?” and this keeps pushing news forward and it turns out into real solid marketing benefit. Alan:Andy, great stuff. And your book, Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, is fantastic, with fun yellow cover and great content. Thanks for the conversation! Andy: Thanks for the opportunity!
Listen to podcast: rkgblog_Interview_Andy_Sernovitz.mp3
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