The Most Powerful Form of Marketing

It doesn’t even come with a dollar sign attached.

Have you ever visited a new city and couldn’t figure out where you wanted to have dinner, so you asked one of the locals for their favorite place?

Looking online only does so much, because you could find a great restaurant that has some great reviews but also a few negative ones. Asking the people who actually live there is always a better alternative.

I love asking the clerks at the front desk of my hotel where their favorite spots are around town. Usually it’s the places you wouldn’t necessarily find in a tourist map or on the first page of a Google search, and more times than not, they’re terrific.

There’s something special that happens with a direct recommendation. Not only is that person letting you know where to get some good food, they are actually staking their reputation on their recommendation. They are going out of their way to put their name behind someone’s business.

Word-of-Mouth Referrals

There are a lot of businesses trying to growth-hack and get their products to go viral, hoping that a tricky new method or some undiscovered pattern will rocket them into success and profitability. They run ad campaigns, send out marketing newsletters, and some of them even send physical mail (I know, I can’t believe it either).

These strategies are not all bad, but there is one form of marketing that beats them all: word-of-mouth.

The science is simple: a delightfully positive experience is more likely to be recommended than a negative or expected experience.

Word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals, are the most effective way to get new customers, audience members, followers, or subscribers.

Think about it: if I were to tell you that the book I was writing was exactly what you needed and that your life would be forever changed by buying it, you might be interested, but you also might not be. I could spend hours writing up blog posts and making videos and selling you on your need for the book.

Now imagine your best friend, spouse, or mentor came to you and said, “I really think you’d benefit from Cory’s book, it really helped me in the same areas you’re struggling. You won’t be disappointed.” Immediately something is different. They are not only recommending a book, but they actually believe you are going to benefit from the purchase.

This is the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s not just about someone having a great experience. Referrals are the key to organic growth, and no hack or trick can replace the natural way of the world.

There’s a bit more to the formula, however, that you have to keep in mind. Ever had someone randomly let you know they went to grab coffee at some cafe and it was so terrible they wanted to make sure you never got coffee there? I have, and those moments stand out to me.

Negative experiences create negative reactions, which in turn makes people go out of their way to make sure you don’t have the same negative experience.

Achieving Word-of-Mouth Recommendations

Expected experiences rarely result in word-of-mouth recommendations.

But wait, even if those experiences are positive? Yes.

A standard, expected experience with your brand is going to be just that: expected. Of course you were going to deliver in 5–7 business days, that’s what you said on your website.

It’s not enough to produce a normal experience or to sell a standard product or create a standard result. If you want word-of-mouth recommendations, you must provide an exceptional experience.

People are more likely to let others know what brands to avoid than they are to recommend ones they like, so you have to go above and beyond their expectations.

I recently traveled up to Santa Cruz with my wife for a weekend getaway and when I told my friend Jeff where I was headed, he immediately gave me the name of a popular coffee shop in the downtown area and told me it had some of the greatest coffee he had ever had.

Notice something about this interaction? I didn’t actually ask for a coffee shop recommendation, but because the experience my friend had with that place was so exceptional, he went out of his way to recommend it to me.

The best coffee shop in town doesn’t get that reputation from pouring standard cup of coffee. They get that title because they go above and beyond what is expected of them. They use the best beans from the best roaster and hire the best baristas. They ask for your name and make sure you get the best service possible.

To sum it all up:

A delightfully positive experience is more likely to be recommended than a negative or expected experience.

My name is Cory Miller. I am the host of a podcast called Behind the Brand, and I wrote a 40-page guide on establishing a successful brand foundation, just for you.

You can also find me on Twitter.

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