Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a lover & purveyor of top shelf direct marketing, heck it’s the been the backbone to almost every business or project I’ve been involved with.

None the less, the fact remains that 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends & family more than all other forms of marketing.

In the same study, Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Survey, of more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries shows that while nearly half of consumers around the world say they trust television (47%), magazine (47%) and newspaper ads (46%), confidence declined by 24 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2011.

This is a big issue for traditional advertisers, and just one reason why it’s critical to have some sort of ‘word of mouth marketing’ strategy in place.

That’s why I reached out to Paul Rand, author of Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business to share his word of mouth experience with “Disneyland of Diary”



Stew Leonard’s and the 30-Min Recommendation

In October 2012, after weeks of careful planning, a couple colleagues and I made our way from Chicago to Stamford, Connecticut, for a series of meetings with the brand leaders at Philips Consumer Products Group.

We’d been working with Philips Norelco, and the director of brand communications, Shannon Jenest, wanted to introduce us to the other brands so they could consider word of mouth and social media marketing in their programs for the new year.

We had a busy two days’ worth of sessions scheduled with all of the consumer lifestyle brands under the Philips umbrella—Avent (baby products), Sonicare and Zoom (oral healthcare), Philips Norelco (men’s grooming), and Saeco (espresso machines).

Our first day of back-to-back sessions had gone very well. To celebrate our collective success, a group of us headed out to dinner. My team had booked a table at a local steak house, our default celebratory setting of choice, but our clients strongly recommended their favorite Italian restaurant. (You can guess where we ended up . . .)

After enjoying drinks and appetizers and, naturally, rehashing the day’s conversations, we got around to talking about everyone’s upcoming weekend plans.

One of our clients mentioned that she was taking her son to someplace called “Stew Leonard’s” to buy his pumpkin and pick up a few Halloween decorations.

“Never heard of Stew Leonard’s,” I said, not suspecting I was about to be schooled, big time, in the art of recommendations. “What is it—an apple orchard or something?”

Both clients looked at me incredulously.

“Stew Leonard’s is the most amazing, fun, delicious, and incredible grocery store in the whole world,” one of them said to me, with the other nodding and smiling, eager to weigh in.

So, for the next 30 minutes (not an exaggeration), my two clients shared every detail of this dairy wonderland—each trying to outdo the other about who loved Stew Leonard’s more.

The Disneyland of Dairy

Now, for the uninformed, like me, Stew Leonard’s is a chain of four supermarkets—though that hardly begins to describe the full extent of their awesomeness—in Connecticut and New York. I have to admit that once I began researching the company, I felt a little neglectful for never having heard of it before.

Not only has Ripley’s Believe It or Not! deemed the chain the “World’s Largest Dairy” but none other than Fortune magazine lists Stew Leonard’s as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

The more I learned, the clearer it became that Stew Leonard’s had purposefully integrated ways to be recommended into every aspect of its business: design, product selection, marketing, PR, customer service, advertising, product innovation, promotions, and human resources. In short, it had become what we all must become in this new Digital Age: a social business, integrating customer and employee feedback at the speed of sound and using it to craft our future. As a result, and as I’d just witnessed firsthand, the company came highly recommended.

This place has no right to be called a “supermarket chain.” (In fact, the New York Times called it “the Disneyland of Dairy Stores.”) There is an ice cream parlor, naturally; a viewing area where you can watch your milk being processed, bottled, stickered, stamped, and rolled right down the line; a bakery; a catering operation; and an outdoor cafeteria or, as Stew’s calls it, the Hoedown Area. Forget the small florist section you find at most grocery stores; Stew’s has a full-on nursery complete with seasonal cuttings, floral arrangements, and more. There are handmade, supersized, from-scratch potato chips made right in the store; grind-your-own-beans coffee stations; fresh sushi made right on the spot—the list goes on and on.

And even as impressive as all that is, Stew’s has also found a way to add rich, interactive, added-value details to nearly every nook and cranny. The Hoedown Area doesn’t just offer the usual burgers and fries but also lobster prepared freshly all day long. The ice cream parlor doesn’t just add free sprinkles to your cones. It also offers a free cone for each $100 spent in the store. Stew’s doesn’t just juice its own oranges and bottle its own orange juice. The employees do it all behind plate glass windows where everyone can watch them all day long.

stew_leonardThe website offers recipes for everything from appetizers to fullcourse meals. Stew’s will send care packages to your kid in college. There’s even a “cow cam” where you can watch the cattle where your milk comes from. An online suggestion box at the bottom of the home page reveals just how critical customer feedback, response, involvement, engagement, and interaction are to the company, as does its customer service policy, which is literally written in stone.

I’m not joking. There’s a giant rock in the store on which the following policy is etched: “Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1.”

The Vocal Majority: Welcome to the Recommendation Age

Have you ever been shocked to discover that a friend, family member, or colleague hasn’t seen your favorite movie, read your favorite book, visited your favorite restaurant, or tasted your favorite Starbucks beverage of choice?

Now do you recall the zealousness of your explanation about said movie, book, restaurant, or beverage? The passion of your vocal advocacy? The sudden opportunity to share your love of a particular person, place, or thing with someone you care about or even someone you’ve just met? “You just have to read it! I know you. You’ll love it, and the best part is, when you’re done, there are six more books in the series!”

If so, then you can picture what it was like listening to these two women extol every virtue of the great and mighty Stew Leonard’s over dinner that evening. Here is a representative sampling of the snatches of conversation from dinner:

“I love it when they start sampling the seasonal specials all over the store!”

“Have you ever had the lobster roll?!”

“It’s the first place I take out-of-town visitors.”

“I could spend a whole day in the bakery aisle!”

The only real debate about how great Stew Leonard’s was came when one of the clients said she “thought their prices were a little bit high, but it was worth it.” The other client said, “No. They aren’t high at all; and they have great deals.”

Amazing. When every grocery chain I know of sends out regular “can’t beat our prices” inserts and runs full-page “we’re the low price leaders” advertising, the issue of price was the last, and seemingly the least relevant, issue when it came to Stew Leonard’s advocates. I was already impressed with their advocacy when not one but both clients offered to pick me up early before the next day’s meetings to see the nearest Stew Leonard’s location for myself.

When at last the pep rally ended and both clients took a breath, I sat back and marveled aloud at the job they’d just done on not just Stew Leonard’s behalf but my own. When they looked back at me quizzically, I explained that they’d just spent half an hour exemplifying the power of word of mouth and recommendations.

And they had. It was a microcourse, right there at that dinner table, about how the recommendation culture worked, the power of recommendations, the passion of advocacy, and the motivation behind helping others through suggestion.

. . .

You may be thinking that dairy stores and your brand or industry have little in common, but the fact is recommendations are recommendations, whether they’re for running shoes, bestselling young adult vampire novels, blockbuster or indie movies, designer handbags, protein bars, sports drinks, widgets, or throw pillows.

Even in the B2B or nonprofit worlds, even within your own company, recommendations are vital to your success, growth, and survival in a world increasingly dependent on one-to-one, word of mouth marketing.

How do we make deodorant sexy? Old Spice and Axe have managed to do it.

How do we get folks talking about something as surface “boring” as car insurance? State Farm, Progressive, and Geico make it happen.

How do we turn a movie about kids killing other kids into the next blockbuster teen sensation? Ask the folks at Hunger Games marketing HQ, and they’ll tell you it’s largely due to recommendations, cheerleading, and advocacy.

I think the takeaway for me and my clients that night, and a most surprising one at that, was how to put ourselves in Stew Leonard’s shoes and make it so that others want to recommend us, cheerlead and advocate for us, and spread the word in such a way that they’re passionate, proactive, and prolific about it.

That, in a nutshell, is what the book Highly Recommended is all about.

Pete again – Seriosuly gang, I highly recommend you head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Highly Recommended. It’s a great book, full of word of mouth success stories from not just Stew Leonard’s, but Red Robin, Frito-Lay, Kimberly-Clark, Amazon and more.

  • http://www.mikedancy.com/ Mike Dancy

    great post. I’m in the service area and I can attest that your reputation is your best branding tool. The more people talk about you (as long as it’s positive), the better for your business and your brand.

Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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