Reach vs Frequency – Systemic Marketing™ Part II

curb number

Curb Number

A young man shows up at your door.  For only ten dollars he’ll paint your house number in florescent paint on the curb in front of your house. Feeling no need for glow in the dark numbers on your curb, you pass on the offer.

The next day a different young man makes a similar offer. Again, you refuse.

He’s followed that afternoon by a young woman with virtually the same offer. Will you buy from her?

Believe it or not, you’ve just determined whether frequency or reach is of greater importance as a driver of sales.

Reach Trumps Frequency

In Systemic Marketing™ – Customer Acquisition on Cruise Control, we discussed the advantages of creating a a Marketing Cruise Control, a system to increase your marketing efforts in slack times and keep your company operating at capacity.

But the first decision is how to increase those efforts.

For decades media planners, buyers, and salespeople have argued whether it was more important to reach more people with your message (offer), or to deliver that message with greater repetition to the same people.

There are good arguments for both, but common sense will guide us to the following conclusions:

1. The more relevant the message, the more likely people are to notice it.
2. The simpler the message, the less repetition necessary for a prospective customer to “get it.”
3. Once a prospect has decided to purchase (or not), additional exposure to the message (during this purchase cycle) is pointless.

What should our original young man do to sell more fluorescent numbers? Go door to door on your block again? Obviously he should choose another neighborhood and make his offer to new potential customers.

And likewise, if you’re going to set up a Cruise Control system for customer acquisition, you won’t prompt additional sales by again offering the same people what you sell.* You’ll need to boost the number of people who receive your offer.

How to do the Boost

Don’t increase the number of ads in the same section of the newpaper you’re currently using. Put your new ads in a different section.

Don’t run additional ads in the local TV six o’clock news. Run new ads in the 10 o’clock news. Run new ads on another TV station’s six o’clock news.

1. Add a schedule on another radio station, or another TV station.
2. Add another section of the newspaper. Or another paper.
3. Post a billboard in a new neighborhood.
4. Send postcards to a fresh list.
5. Telemarket to a fresh list.
6. Expand the radius around your business and distribute more door hangers or flyers or yard signs in neighborhoods you haven’t been “working.”
7. Increase your pay per click budget.

You may be tempted to pull ad dollars from the media outlets you’ve been using, but if you unhook the engine, how long can we expect that train to keep rolling? And substituting an unknown return from a new media outlet in the place of the known ROI of a tested outlet only increases risk.

Systemic Marketing™ maximizes cash flow by eliminating speculation.

Everyone Has Opinions

Media people, printers, and your brother-in-law may feel qualified to opine about your marketing. Especially when you’re adding media to expose your message to additional prospects.

Your new media representative will want to make a strong positive impression in hopes of keeping more of your business. The printer will assess your need for additional flyers, or direct response packages as an opportunity. They will offer to produce new and/or different ads. Don’t let them do that.

By the time you’ve implemented a Marketing Cruise Control, your message will have been tested, refined, and polished. Everything from the offer to the choice of words to the colors, fonts, and images will be selected because they work better than those you tested them against.

And testing always works better than opinions when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

* OK. This is not completely true. But increasing the frequency of the message costs much more than it generates in additional sales for reason number three above. Most of the people exposed to your message will be those who’ve already decided whether or not to buy.


Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions boosting the number of people exposed to your message? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.


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Is a Radio Remote Broadcast a Good Investment?

Originally published October 4, 2009

One of the advantages electronic news has over print is the capability to deliver information in real time “live from the scene.” As you might imagine it didn’t take long for this proficiency to migrate from the news department to the sales department, giving birth to the radio “remote broadcast.”

Remotes are traditionally expensive. But as advertising sales remain weak in this economy, advertisers are being offered discounted rates on almost all advertising, including remote broadcasts. And that prompts a critical question: is a radio remote a good investment of advertising dollars? Like everything else in business, the correct answer is “possibly.” I would suggest going to two way radio suppliers in Cape Town to get the best price. The problem is there are at least four different people involved in the decisions effecting such a broadcast, you could any of the skills required for them and learn how it could help you from the Skill Success blog. Most of the time each has a different objective. Those four people are:

  1. the Manager/Owner of the business,
  2. the Radio Sales Person,
  3. the Radio Program Director, and
  4. the Disc Jockey.

What do each of these people want?

The Manager/Owner wants buyers.

His objective is to sell merchandise in such quantity that he can pay for the advertising and still show additional profit for his efforts.

He believes his store offers value. He believes when large numbers of people hear about his offers, they’ll flock to the store to buy. This is usually expressed as “you get people in the door, and we’ll sell ’em.

The Radio Sales Person translates this instruction.

Get them in the door” becomes, in her mind, “your job is to attract a crowd.”

She will arrange all of the crowd drawing techniques at her disposal. These will include a clearly identified station vehicle in front of the store as an attention-getting device. It will be augmented with banners and sound system.

She’ll provide tee shirts emblazoned with the station logo and other station paraphernalia to give away to listeners who come to the event.

She’ll try to arrange to have clowns, balloons, and face-painting to attract kids, free food to attract their parents, and the ever-popular “register to win” entry box. (The prize will, of course, be provided by the customer).

The Radio Program Director will coordinate.

After determining there are no conflicts on the proposed broadcast date, the Program Director will assign a Disc Jockey as “talent.”

The Program Director’s job is to keep listenership high. She hates remotes, considering them to be interruptions to the programming (music), and potentially harmful to ratings. The Program Director will thus limit the number of reports from the scene, limit the length of each report, and do her best to disguise the reports by running instrumental music under the Disc Jockey’s voice.

The Disc Jockey will be expected to attract a crowd.

Feeling pressure from the Manager/Owner and Radio Salesperson, the Disc Jockey will attempt to bribe listeners. He’ll repeatedly emphasize “C’mon down. We’re having a great time,” and will list all of the free items they could win just for showing up.

A few listeners will be impressed by being close to a celebrity. He’ll be tempted to talk to those people who come to him, rather than introducing himself to other potential customers. Part of this, believe it or not, is shyness.

The results are entirely too predictable.

In order they will be:

  1. Reacting to the offers made during the broadcast, people will come to the event for the free food, the clowns, the balloons. They will register for the prizes. They will then leave without buying anything.
  2. Frustrated by the lack of sales, the Manager/Owner will accuse the Radio Sales Person of bringing the wrong people to his event.
  3. The Sales Person will explain to the Manager/Owner the benefits of branding and name recognition. She’ll explain the positive effects of today’s high-profile advertising might not be immediate, but will definitely impact future sales.Back in the privacy of the radio station she will find fault with the Disc Jockey who spent too much time socializing with fans and not enough persuading them to buy.
  4. Of the four people involved, the Disc Jockey will take the majority of the heat when the outcome is disappointing. He’s not a seller. He’s an entertainer. And even though he feared it might end this way when he agreed to accept the talent fee, he will bitterly resent being held accountable for lack of sales, which he believes are beyond his control.
  5. Oddly, the Program Director has the best grasp of the situation. After listening to the Sales Person’s criticism, will resolve to discourage future remotes as too much hassle. “Next time sell ’em a schedule of ads” will be her recommendation.By doing her best to hide the event from her own listeners, she’s created a self-fulfilling prediction of failure.

Unfortunately, the Disc Jockey did attract the wrong people. When listeners hear words like “fun” and “free” instead of compelling reasons to purchase right now, they react accordingly.

Equally unfortunate is the Sales Person’s claim that future sales will benefit from today’s advertising of an event. Although branding and image building ads do take a while to affect customers, and do frequently work better over time, event advertising is quickly forgotten.

No immediate sales. No future sales. Conclusion? Most remote broadcasts are a waste of money.

Which is why, in general, I don’t recommend them.

However. . .

When done correctly they are powerful marketing tools that provide opportunity for greater sales. And at some of the prices we’re now seeing, this may be an excellent time to consider adding one, or more, to your marketing plan.

In our example the four people involved had mutually contradictory objectives. To have a successful event all four must embrace the same purpose: greater sales during the event. That goal must guide every decision effecting the broadcast.

Here’s how to assure higher remote broadcast ROI.

Mr. Manager/Owner,

… take a step back. Recognize that you are more excited about the things you sell than the public will ever be. Expect them to be less excited about your remote broadcast, too.

Think of it this way: a remote broadcast is not an event. Much like a newscast, it is only coverage of an something newsworthy which is already happening. People want to know the news.

A strong concept works well if promoted in the newspaper, on television, or through direct mail. It doesn’t require creativity of the medium to make up for lack of customer interest. If your event that exciting, continue planning the remote. If not, abandon the idea. There’s no sin in passing up an inexpensive opportunity which won’t benefit your company.

OK. You have a strong concept. Good. Don’t use the station as your only source of publicity. We’re not trying to prove this station can draw a crowd. We’re focused on attracting as many buyers as possible. Buy a newspaper ad or two. Keep those ads customer focused.

The headline should address the primary benefit you’re offering. The body copy should say the things your best salespeople say to customers on your sales floor. Put your logo, as well as that of the station, at the bottom of the ad. If your headline catches people’s attention, and your body copy offers strong reasons to buy, only then will they care who’s making the offer.

Miss Radio Sales Person,

… give your client’s business the benefit of your experience. “Great savings throughout the store” is much too generic and won’t persuade anyone. Make sure all of the parties agree on a message which is both specific and highly beneficial.

Is the proposed remote broadcast the best use of your client’s money? As you know, grocery stores make dozens of offers in a “double truck” two-page newspaper layout. They focus so many reasons to buy into a single space every week because it works. If you believe you could create more sales impact with an intense, highly-focused schedule of recorded ads packed into a single time period, do that instead of the remote. The cost to the advertiser is the same either way. Give him the choice with less risk.

Miss Program Director,

… stop compromising. Either refuse to interrupt your music with talk, or commit to making the talk segments so compelling that your music listeners don’t want to be left out.

Would you refuse to interview the top artists in your format? Of course not. Listeners don’t resent talk. They resent people blathering on about topics that don’t interest them. You, Miss Program Director are uniquely qualified to find the exciting appeals that your listeners will want to learn more about.

Your presentation skills can turn this potentially dull and boring jabber into the most exciting information available on the day of the broadcast. Hype won’t work. You’ve got to dig for genuine value, and then make sure it’s presented in a way that helps your listeners imagine themselves owning what the advertiser sells.

Schedule three reports per hour during the broadcast. Have the Disc Jockey announce his location during the FCC required legal ID. Require your studio talent to plug the event during each music segment. That works out to acknowledging the remote seven times per hour. Just as you wouldn’t allow your station to go a quarter hour without reminding listeners to whom they’re listening, this proposed broadcast will also need that frequency of repetition.

Give your Disc Jockey the latitude to react with his own personality from the scene, but make sure each key point is included in each remote break by scripting a standard beginning and ending.

Here’s the part you’re going to hate: kill the music bed during reports from the scene. We want people to take note that something unusual is going on. Play a quick attention-getting intro (think fanfare) as he’s introduced, and then, other than the Disc Jockey’s voice, let the natural ambiance of the event be the only sound.

Can you commit to promoting this event for maximum advertiser impact? If not, do both the client and your listeners a favor and offer to help create a persuasive advertising campaign for him instead.

Mr. Disc Jockey,

… your role needs to change. You’re no longer being asked to host this broadcast because you’re popular and have fans who are likely to come see you. You’re being asked to use all of the presentation skills you’ve acquired in your career to introduce your listeners to the advertiser’s business.

Why would you do that? Because they will benefit from the resulting relationship. Believe it, or recommend another talent. Use that conviction every time you open the microphone.

Get rid of every cliché in your vocabulary – especially those things which you’ve grown used to saying on similar occasions. Repeating the same old verbiage will only produce the same old results.

Watch for customers leaving the store. People who’ve purchased something are sold on the value of their purchase. If they’re reasonably articulate, invite them to briefly answer a couple of questions during your next break. Tell them what you’ll be asking, and help them to quickly express their reasons for buying. These people have exceptional credibility with other folks listening to your broadcast.

And don’t worry about what the station provides for you to give away. We’re now looking for different responses from different people than you’ve invited to past events. Truthfully, you’ll make more money persuading people to visit the store who don’t care so much about meeting you as they are interested in the client’s offer.

By the way, shaking hands with everyone in the crowd and personally welcoming them builds listener loyalty in a way nothing else can.

Finally, Mr. Manager/Owner . . .

The question was, are remote broadcasts good investments? Normally, no. But with the prices now being offered, maybe.

If you decide to try it, don’t choose a station as your promotional partner because of ratings, or even because of price. Instead, choose a partner committed to getting qualified buyers to your event. You’ll know whether you have the right radio station early in the planning process.

Get the station’s Sales Person, Program Director, and Disc Jockey into a planning meeting. Bluntly ask if the station will commit to the three breaks per hour, plus the legal ID, plus three more mentions by the on-air host. Ask if the station will eliminate any music during reports from the scene. Ask if they are willing to make your broadcast the single most important event on the air.

If they are not willing, call a meeting with a different radio station. If they are, commit your resources and schedule the event.

And remember that media partners who put your needs first have earned a significant part of your non-event advertising budget, too. A willing partner can multiply your impact when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about remote broadcasts or other event marketing? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.

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Budgeting For Word Of Mouth

Airplane atop gas station.

WWII Vintage Airplane Sits on Gas Station

You’ve just spent the day, a long day, at a Disney theme park. You’re beyond tired when you finally make it back to your car to find you’ve locked the keys inside. Can you imagine a more frustrating feeling? Now imagine the arrival of Disney’s locksmith.

He reads your VIN, punches the numbers into a computer in the van, which bounces the lock information off satellite, and cuts a replacement key. You unlock the door, and with a fair amount of relief, you ask him what you owe for his service. He tells you that you owe nothing. He hopes you enjoyed your day at the park. Especially in New Westminster, a good locksmith is always necessary.

What will you be doing when you get home? And for years afterward?

Yeah. You’ll be providing excellent word of mouth for Disney Corporation.

Positive Word-of-Mouth

Positive word of mouth is triggered when your customer experiences something way beyond his expectations.

It isn’t enough to be good.

It isn’t enough to be very good.

To be noticed, and to be so unusual that people want to talk about it, you have to be so far above the norm for your industry that your competitors would never even think about doing what you’re doing.

Roy Williams has said that physical, non-verbal statements are the surest way of triggering positive word of mouth. These statements can be generated from one of three possible sources: architectural, kinetic, or generous.

  • I vividly remember a gas station that had a WWII fighter on the roof. When Dad was pumping gas we could climb up a ladder and sit in the cockpit. Architectural word of mouth at work.
  • The restaurateur in Mississippi who made the 6 o’clock news by throwing dinner rolls at his patrons from across the restaurant understands kinetic word of mouth.
  • The Orlando car dealer who’s “Good Samaritan Van” provides a can of gas, water, help changing a tire, or jump starting your car, and then tells you there’s no charge has generous word of mouth down pat.

Can you plan one of these strategies for your business?


Should you advertise it?

Absolutely not.

Worth Repeating?

Remember, you must exceed expectations to make your customer’s experience memorable, and worth repeating.

If you advertise your new architectural, or kinetic, or generous word of mouth trigger, you’ve just raised your customer’s expectations.


Budget for your next word of mouth trigger, then hush up about it, and allow your customers to deliver the good news.  Sometimes it’s best to sit quietly and wait for them to be drawn to you when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about helping people to talk about your business?  Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-523-0163.


Mike Dandridge’s book The One Year Business Turn Around is all about generating positive word of mouth. Mike details fifty-two tested techniques that helped him build an electrical supply company to more than a million dollars a month in sales, in a town of 50,000 people, even though he was challenged by Home Depot on the left and Lowe’s on the right.

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Your Professional Reputation – Three Distinct Levels of Word-of-Mouth

Originally posted April 30, 2009

Car Trouble

Car Trouble

According to an old saying there are only two things people want to know about you: what you stand for, and what you won’t stand for. This is the basis of reputation.

We intuitively understand that people’s actions are nearly always in accordance with their values. Someone who embraces fairness and treats other people honorably is likely to treat us honorably. Someone known to be dishonest has a higher likelihood of cheating us, as well.

And like our personal reputations, our companies have professional reputations, built on the experience customers have in dealing with our companies, along with their willingness to talk about those experiences.

Call it Word-of-Mouth

Another name for professional reputation is word-of-mouth, which comes in three variants. From least to most influential, they are:

1. Market Awareness – Do I recognize any of these names in this directory?

2. Recognition – Have I heard of anyone who has the ability to help me with my problem?

3. Customer Experience – Do I have knowledge of, or experience with someone who can help me to solve this problem?

Each successive level takes priority over the previous.

Market Awareness

At the awareness level, customers recognizing your company’s name trumps them never having heard of you. This is the weakest level of word-of-mouth. If you stay in business long enough, you’ll achieve some level of awareness. You’ll then have a slight advantage over some newer company that has yet to achieve any awareness at all. Why? With no other information to go on, shoppers will usually buy from the company they’ve heard of.

Professional Awareness is largely a function of repetition. A customer notes your name on the outfield sign at the ball park. Hears your jingle each morning on the radio. Sees your banner ad on the Internet. Catches your sponsorship of the six o’clock news. Recognizes your logo on the a coffee cup. If you’re part of the community, eventually people will bump into your name in the course of living their lives. The longer they’re aware of you without hearing specific negatives about you, the more generally positive this awareness becomes.

Small businesses like to advertise how long they’ve been in business, as if years of “experience” automatically translates to a benefit in the minds of shoppers. Unfortunately, shoppers have proven not to care. (Kind of ironic, isn’t it? All those years of doing business in the community have lead to awareness of your company – but the benefit is to you, not to them).


The next step up, recognition, beats out basic awareness because people now have attributes to attach to your name. “Here’s what people say” is the next best thing to first-hand knowledge – provided of course people aren’t saying uncomplimentary things.

The size of the community is a factor, too. The fewer people who make up the population, the more likely a shopper to run into someone with a story to tell about the business.  Recognition is a bigger factor in small communities than in large ones.

According to Wikipedia, one study found that a good reputation added 7.6% to the price businesses received for their goods. Some companies are finding that improving their reputations can actually boost stock prices.

Side note: the Internet has changed the nature of “community.” It simultaneously offers the potential of world wide reach while providing individual gossip to anyone who seeks it. And just as bricks and mortar stores have public relations companies to put a positive spin on community perception, their web-based brethren are now hiring reputation managers to keep track of on-line credibility.

Personal Experience

And finally, those people who have had actual dealings with the companies in question will have the most convincing word-of-mouth of all.

Shoppers who get what they expect will not give interaction with that business much thought. Word-of-mouth commentary happens when the customer’s actual experience differs from the expected. Delighted, wowed, or amazed customers spread positive word-of-mouth. Disappointed, disgruntled, or dissatisfied customers will spread negative.

A real life example

The new guy on the staff has just relocated here to take the job. This morning he heard a strange grinding sound as he drove to work. New guy is worried. The disparity between his lack of knowledge about possible causes, and his pressing need for such knowledge makes him feel vulnerable.

He asks his co-workers for credible information to help him choose a solution, or at least his next step.

Does anyone know anything about cars?” Note that he starts looking for information at the highest level of credibility – personal knowledge.

Not finding an expert among his co-workers, new guy begins to rely on word-of-mouth. Why? He’s trying to lower his risk level. A bad choice in a mechanic could have him paying for services he doesn’t need. Worse yet, he could choose someone who won’t be able to fix his problem (but will charge him for time invested anyway).

His next question: “Does anyone know a good mechanic?” addresses the most credible level of word-of-mouth – personal experience.

In the absence of such knowledge, he will quickly go down the probability scale, asking next what his co-workers have heard about mechanics in town.

Finally, he’ll go to his newspaper, or to the Yellow Pages and start studying the ads to see who appears to exhibit expertise in his specific grinding noise, or at least a company affiliated with a national chain.

Back to the beginning

There are three levels of word-of-mouth. Only two can be effected by your advertising. The third is strictly a function of the way you operate your business.

So what are your company’s values? What do you stand for? What won’t you stand for? Do you consistently project those values in each interaction with customers?

Is your business not growing because potential customers don’t know about you, or is it because they think they do?

Are you scaring the fish, as you fish for customers?

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Have questions about helping word-of-mouth to help build your professional reputation? Send them to [email protected]. Better yet, pick up the phone and call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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There Is No Word-of-Mouth "Marketing."

Pay close attention to Stephanie’s story:

“Roger’s feet get cold easily, so I bought him a pair of sheepskin slippers. He loved them, but it wasn’t long before the wool lining started wearing off. So I called Lands’ End to see if I could get them replaced under warranty. The lady I talked to was very nice, but she couldn’t find any record of my purchase, and she couldn’t figure out which slippers I was describing. But, she cheerfully told me that she’d be happy to exchange them, and gave me a return authorization. I was pretty excited when I told Roger that Lands’ End had agreed to replace his slippers even though I couldn’t find the sales receipt. He told me that was because I bought those slippers from LL Bean.” 

Stephanie tells her story well. People laugh at it. It’s the kind of story that people tell each other daily. It’s the kind of story likely to be repeated by people who don’t know either Stephanie or Roger.

There’s a critical lesson, though, in Stephanie’s story. Did you catch it? No problem. We’ll come back to it in a minute.

Stephanie’s story is an example of Word-of-Mouth.

It’s not, however, an example of Word-of-Mouth “marketing.”

And apologies to WOMMA aside, I’m not convinced that Word-of-Mouth marketing exists.

Why? Because adding the word “marketing” assumes that it’s something the business causes to happen. Word-of-Mouth may be influenced by business, but by it’s very nature it can never be controlled.

Go back to Stephanie’s story for the critical distinction. Is she telling a story about customer service at Lands’ End? No. She’s telling a story about her own experience as a customer. People love to tell stories about themselves.

Exactly how important is your product or your service in the telling of any customer’s story? If the stuff you’re selling fits into her narration, it might be included. But whether it is or not, Word-of-Mouth in any of its forms is always about the experience of the buyer. Only indirectly is the seller even involved.

Which makes Word-of-Mouth “marketing” a misnomer.

Word-of-Mouth is not marketing for several reasons.

Marketing becomes cost effective when there are efficiencies of scale. Word-of-Mouth takes place on a one-to-one basis.

In marketing, a company sends its message directly to prospects. Word-of-Mouth is farther removed from the company with each iteration of the story. People who know the story teller will be influenced. People who know those people may be slightly influenced. At three degrees removed there will be minimal effect, if any. (And yes, I’m fully expecting a few e-mails pointing out “Viral Marketing” as an example to the contrary. Can anyone even predict what goes viral? I thought not).

Finally, people may get your message wrong, and you can’t stop it from happening. In a few more tellings Stephanie’s story could easily mutate into a tale about a lady who had a funny interaction with Sears.

Word-of-Mouth is not marketing. It’s not advertising.

Word-of-Mouth existed long before advertising. When most people lived in smaller communities, walked to the market, talked to their neighbors, and gathered in churches or meeting halls, Word-of-Mouth was simply conversation.

Advertising became important communication when our communities got too big for the people selling stuff to personally know their customers. Mass media carried the message from the manufacturers of goods to the new post-war middle class.

But for the last century, probably due to over exposure, we’ve all become less susceptible to advertising’s claims. Customers now are more likely to believe the opinions of total strangers than the advertising messages of local companies.


Word-of-Mouth is now more critical to business success than at any time since the dawn of mass media. And yet, you can’t make a customer talk about you. You can’t make her not talk about you. You’re going to be mentioned when you’re part of her story. No more. No less.

Change your role in her story.

Although you may view Miss Customer as a purchaser of the things you sell, she sees herself as the protagonist in her own story. When you try to make the story about your company, Miss Customer will dismiss your whole effort as irrelevant.

But if your business is willing to become the secondary character in Miss Customer’s personal narrative, is willing to engage Miss Customer, and indeed to make her story possible, that’s when she’ll take you along for the ride. Your business “character” will be portrayed in much the same way as her interaction with you happened in real life.

Treating her well may be the only influence you have in the creation of positive Word-of-Mouth. Treating her badly ads drama to her story. This not only makes your appearance in her story more likely to be negative, dramatic stories tend to be told more often, and over a longer period of time.

Which leads to what may be the most important question: when she does business with your company, do you treat Miss Customer as the star she is?


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover, and choose your business. Questions about Word-of-Mouth may be directed to [email protected]

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Gamblers, E-Mail, Religious Miracles, Word-of-Mouth, and Customer Delight

Word-of-mouth occurs when, through surprise, your customer has become emotional about you.

It can happen when astonishment leaves her delighted. Alternately, it can happen when disillusion causes dismay. The first produces positive word-of-mouth. The second, negative.

But either way, for word-of-mouth to sustain and grow, the high level of emotion your customer feels must be unexpected.

You see, routine events never get discussed. In order for an event to be worthy of being talked about, it must be out of the ordinary. And that becomes the danger in each additional step you take to delight your customers. The experience eventually becomes routine.

Offer a free desert in your restaurant to everyone who’s ordered an entree, and people will talk.

At least at first.

But as people react to your new generosity, two outcomes become predictable:

1) Your customers will grow accustomed to your new offer, and consider it just part of the meal they’re choosing when they enter your establishment. Delight fades quickly when the surprise goes away.

2) Your competitors will copy your idea. You’ll lose the competitive edge. When everyone does it, the only possible outcome is thinner margins for the industry. Think “frequent flyer” miles as a classic example.

What we need is a way to keep the surprise element high.

For that, we turn to one of the fathers of behavioral psychology, Burrhus Frederic Skinner.

B. F. Skinner created a branch of psychology known as operant conditioning. He demonstrated that when properly rewarded under specific conditions, living beings will change their voluntary behavior.

At Harvard in the 1950s, Skinner created the “Skinner Box” to condition laboratory rats. The rats were taught to push a lever, and get a food pellet in return.

Once they learned to feed themselves, Skinner split the rats into two groups. The first never got another pellet by pressing the lever. The second group got the reward sometimes, always following a pressing of the lever, but never at any predictable interval.

The first group quickly stopped pushing the lever. The second group never did.

We intuitively grasp the the actions of the first group. It’s not so easy to understand the second, but its important that we do. Whether discussing lab rats or your customer base, the second group is where the money is.

Do humans push levers?

Absolutely. And the more random the reinforcement, the more unpredictable the payoff, the more frequently they will push.

Watch someone feed quarters into a slot machine. Or go somewhere with casinos that accept Paypal and watch the feeding frenzy. Isn’t the attraction of any form of gambling the incredible delight experienced by the gambler playing Texas Hold ‘Em when surprised by a win?

This tendency to keep pushing the lever also describes why the faithful keep praying for miracles. Every now and then, at random intervals, their prayers appears to be answered.

And those folks who check e-mail multiple times a day, hoping that this time there will be something new? Yup. They’re also still pushing the lever.

Can you keep your customers pushing the lever?

Yes, you can, provided that you keep the element of unpredictability intact.

  • If you’re the restaurant manager who occasionally comps desert to the birthday party, those customers will tell their friends about you.
  • If you’re the carpet cleaner who is hired to clean only one room, but who treats a spot in the hallway at no extra charge, customers will tell their co-workers about you.
  • If you’re the plumber who unplugs the sink, and then fixes the drip in the faucet for only the cost of the parts, customers will tell their neighbors about you.
  • If you’re the television ad exec who tells the prospective client his budget won’t create any impact, then recommend he not buy advertising, he’ll tell other business people about you.
  • If you’re the dry cleaner who casually mentions that your customer’s shirt was missing a button, and that you’ve replaced it, customers will talk about you.

Each of these word-of-mouth examples has two components: surprise, and delight.

Delight wears off quickly when the surprise is gone. You must keep both of them active to make word-of-mouth work in your favor.

One last thought: the next time a delighted customer (or the friends, co-workers, neighbors, business people, and customers she’s told) needs these services, which restaurant, or carpet cleaner, or plumber, or advertising sales rep, or dry cleaner do you suppose will get the call?

Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about surprising and delighting your customers may be directed to [email protected]

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Expectations Drive Word-of-Mouth

Customer Expectations

Customer Expectations

Your friend is raving about a movie his wife has dragged him to. He says he’s glad she insisted, because it turned out to be the best crime drama he’s seen in years.

He’s so enthusiastic that you decide to see it, too. But you find the film is only so-so. The plot is predictable. The acting flat. The dialog stilted in places.

Why did you and your friend have such differing reactions to this film? Probably because of your expectations.

Your friend, having been coerced into attending, began with negative expectations, and was surprised to find the film entertaining. You, on the other hand, were expecting “the best crime drama in years.” This film couldn’t live up to those expectations.

Customer service comes down to expectations

It’s the reason better than average service turns new customers into evangelists for your company. As this new, higher standard of service becomes their norm, they come to expect it. It’s the reason evangelists frequently become less vocal over time.

It’s also the reason you should never advertise the little extras. Use these to surprise and delight your customer. Otherwise, they aren’t special. They’re merely what she expected.

And on those off days when everything goes wrong, and a new shopper’s expectations of average service are shattered by your lacklustre performance, it’s the reason she becomes a vigilante. (Unfortunately, people who feel they’ve been wronged seem to hold grudges for a long time).

So here’s your reality:

Every day you do business with people for the first time. If they get what they expect, they won’t be commenting to anyone. It’s violation of expectations, for good or bad, that drive word of mouth.

Make your violations positive, extremely positive, when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Ready to bat around some ideas about exceeding your customers’ expectations? Call Chuck at 304-208-7654, or drop him a note at [email protected].

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