Many aspects of marketing a small business get a lot of attention: advertising, public relations, direct mail and websites, just to name the big ones. The truth is most of these may not actually bring in the lion's share of your business. So what does?
As it turns out you've probably always been using it and may not have even given it a thought, much less have realized it's integral to the marketing of your business. Perhaps you haven't considered this element because you thought you had little or no control over it. So what's the 3,000-pound elephant in the room no one mentioned? It's word-of-mouth marketing, and people are mentioning it now.
Some may not even think of word of mouth as true marketing because "marketing" implies conscious, creative control of all aspects of consumers' perceptions. There was a time when it was thought these perceptions of brands and products were controlled solely by the messages in advertising and the celebrities who endorsed them. But in our new information age it's the consumer who has wrested control of the message from the traditional marketers, and things will never be the same. The Internet, blogs, YouTube™, Amazon's® review system and eBay's®buyer ratings have shifted the power to the hands of the everyday usersof products. And consumers are filling the Internet and using their cell minutes to share their personal user experiences.
The messages consumers share with each other carry more weight with their fellow consumers because everyone knows they get no compensation for loving a product- the groupies who love their Macs and Apple Computers- and no penalty for hating products-cable TV companies and phone service providers. Consumers' personal truths are being put out there and are emerging as the most powerful persuaders in the marketplace today. In fact, a whole new association has been created around it called The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (www.womma.org), dedicated to this important element of marketing. Its focus is on giving businesses some control over word of mouth and a lot of ideas on how companies might harness this new method.
One new voice in this unexplored wilderness is Andy Sernovitz. Sernovitz was instrumental in founding this new association and has just come out with a new book to further evangelize this medium, Word-of- Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. In this book, Sernovitz's defines word of mouth clearly and simply: "Giving people a reason to talk about your stuff and making it easier for that conversation to take place." His process for word-of-mouth marketing involves four simple rules:
1. Be Interesting
Being interesting is as easy as capturing someone's attention, making someone smile or just surprising people in a pleasant and unique way. How could these relate to a massage therapy practice? It could start with a great name for your business. For example, "Runner's Edge," a massage therapy practice dedicated to individual runners and tri-athletes. Or it could be the red PT Cruiser you drive to home appointments with the magnetic message sign attached to it declaring "Massage Therapy-Free Home Delivery," with your business phone and/or your website address prominently plastered all over it.
Or it could be how you might combine your massage therapy business with your other interests and passions. Some concepts explored by my brilliant students included massage therapy and Thai cooking classes. This student was from Thailand and developed an incredible hybrid of American and Thai massage techniques. He loved to cook and shared some tasty treats with special clients. The next thing he knew, he had a fascinating new business model and a whole lot of clients talking about it.
Another massage therapist was a delivery coach for pregnant women. She also had a strong creative talent, which led her to combine belly painting and belly masks-plaster of Paris impressions of pregnant bellies painted and mounted for a client's wall-into her massage specialty. It created quite a stir and quite a story.
2. Make People Happy
This is an easy one for most of you because you do something that practically guarantees clients will leave your place of business happier than when they came in. You relieve stress and nurture bodies. But what could you do to take it a step further?
This is the fun part of the business, constantly looking for small and affordable ways to make your client's experience even better. (For more information on how to controlthe customer's total experience, see my Spring 2007 column, "Packaging Your Service.")
If you give a great massage, have great customer service and create a warm, comfortable, peaceful environment, then you are going a long way to ensuring you create happy clients.
3. Earn Trust and Respect
Always be honorable, always be ethical and always be good to your customers. You may already realize the importance of these attributes given the nature of your business, but you must extend it to the finer points of service. A seemingly obvious example is honoring your customer's time by being on time yourself. Keep your ethics at the highest level. I remember an incident when a highly respected massage businessperson mentioned during a lecture the name of a well-known celebrity she once had as a client. One of my students was appalled at her lack of ethics in not keeping the celebrity's name confidential. Sometimes it's the little things that slip us up.
4. Make it Easy
Look for ways to make the experience easy for your customers. One massage therapist offers her clients quarters for the parking meter if they need them-free of charge! She knows a parking ticket on the windshield could ruin clients' experience and leave them feeling more stressed than when they came in. Plus, the goodwill this pocket change creates is worth a hundred times its monetary worth in potential return business.
Look at your business hours. Ask your clients when they would like to come in and always look for the reasons why someone might not be using your service as often as you would like. Be creative. A perfect example of this kind of thinking is a movie theater operator who was considering closing the theater during the day hours for lack of business. Instead he invited parents to bring their children to special showings, and even made moms and dads with crying babies and sleeping toddlers welcome. Word of mouth among the community spread like butter on hot popcorn and soon new mothers' groups were making afternoon movies a part of their regular schedule. What could you do with this business model?
A final example of the "Make It Easy" rule is to ensure that the message you wish to communicate is easy to understand and easy to remember. The New School for Massage in Chicago, where I teach, has a simple line they use to get people into their student clinic: "The Best Gift a Body can Get." It's a great line and it's easy to remember. It also works well on the gift certificates they offer.
Where to Begin?
I recommend picking up Andy Sernovitz's book for all the ideas and creative ways it gives you to jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing. But I can't end without again mentioning two things I've written about and which Sernovitz points out in his book. Always thank your clients in person, in writing or on the telephone-gratitude is great marketing. And finally, always, always, always ask your clients to tell other people about your service.
People like to feel important, and when you ask them to share their opinions with others you give those opinions credence and those clients a very real sense of importance, even empowerment.
Put it into action. Always look for new ways to be interesting, to make people happy and to earn your clients' trust and respect. Make the whole thing so easy they come back often and tell their friends about the incredible resource they've discovered in your special service. It's a jungle out there and the competition is fierce-so give your customers something to roar about.
some additional "doables" you may want to consider:
- Let customers sign up for a private newsletter. You can start a q&a section where you can answer some of their health questions related to massage therapy.
- Put a sign on your front door that reminds people to tell others about you and your services.
- Keep surprising your customers with something new, be it an add-on service, a Himalayan salt light for the treatment room, or a sample of a great new product. Be creative!
- Start a blog.
- Put a "send to a friend" link on your website.
- Realize new customers are the most likely to spread the word about you since you are new to them, and new is exciting.
- Give your special clients coupons to pass out to their friends.
- Offer to give your clients extra copies for friends of any informational material you may hand out, like articles about massage therapy and medical issues and the latest massage therapy research.
- Last but not least: Have fun and roar!