How are you generating word of mouth?

This is a guest post from Drew McLellan, CEO and Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group.

Research tells us that there is no more compelling way to drive sales than word of mouth marketing. This isn’t new news. We’ve always valued what our neighbors, friends and family had to say. It reduces the risk of buying if someone you know has already had a good experience.

We’ve all bought a book, checked out a restaurant, or seen a movie that we originally had no intention of trying simply because someone we trust endorsed it. On the business side, we’ve done the same thing.

One of the bigger marketing mistakes I see many businesses make is that they assume that word of mouth just happens. If they satisfy a customer — then surely that customer will invest some time and credibility in telling their network all about it, right?


Experience and survey results tell us that someone is five times as likely to tell others about a negative experience than a good one. We have to score at the “exceptional” level to get someone to even think about telling someone else about it.

So how do you get your satisfied customers to talk about you? Try these on for size:

Surprise them: Interestingly, when something happens that is unexpected or out of the ordinary – this triggers something in us that makes it much more likely that we will talk about it to others.  I think it’s because we are all storytellers at heart.  It’s not that interesting to say to someone “We work with a banker who is very good at his job.”

But, it’s a whole different ballgame when you can say something like “you won’t believe this but our banker, yes a banker, stopped by the office today with ice cream for everyone.  He brought everything we needed to make sundaes.  Even cherries!”

Make it easy:  Want a review on Yelp?  Put a link on your Facebook fan page, your website etc.  Have a brick and mortar store?  Print up some oversized postcards that have an incredible offer on them.  When your customers are checking out – ask them to address the postcards to their friends and you’ll mail them for free.

You’ve got to make it so easy that they can’t say no.  Don’t make them log into a specific website to take your survey.  Instead, get their email address and email them the survey with the link included.   Identify any and every barrier to them taking action and remove all that you can.

Capture testimonials:  Every business should do this.  There’s no excuse for not having some testimonials from your happy clients.  In writing is fine but video would be even better.  It’s so easy to share and post on your all your digital assets.  These don’t need to be long but they should be specific.  No one wants to read/watch 10 people say the same thing.

Be careful that in your effort to make the testimonials matter you don’t stuff them so full of facts, figures and results that you take all the personality out of them.

Word of mouth doesn’t just happen.

You need to make generating word of mouth and referrals part of your marketing plan so that you don’t leave it to happenstance.  When 90% of consumers say that word of mouth is the most reliable and trustworthy marketing – they are telling you something.  They’re telling you that you shouldn’t ignore this.


About Drew McLellan

Wall Street Journal calls Drew McLellan’s blog,, "one of the ten blogs every entrepreneur should read." His passion is helping clients discover their story so they can create authentic love affairs with their customers. He's also an author, national speaker, and has owned his own marketing agency in the Midwest since 1995.

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  1. Jeff Frank

    This post is 100% on target but there is one important factor that is missing — the easiest and most effective time to surprise and delight your customers and create an outstanding testimonial is after your customer has encountered a problem.

    This goes back to the first paragraph of this article, “Surprise Them!” No matter how unrealistic it may be, customers expect perfection. If you are “only” perfect there is no “surprise.” On the other hand when a customer encounters a problem they expect to be mistreated. They expect the company they are dealing with to try to ignore them. This makes it easy to surpass their expectations and to create an unusual “surprise” they will enjoy telling others about.

    For example, the customer is waiting for a delivery from your company. The truck was scheduled to show up between 1 – 4 PM and doesn’t make it until 6 PM. Of course the customer had other plans which have been disrupted. They are aggravated and feel inconvenienced. What are they expecting from you at that point? Nothing. They expect you to generally ignore their complaints and maybe give an excuse as to why the truck was late.

    What an opportunity to exceed expectations! The first step is to apologize. That already exceeds expectations. From there you could refund the delivery charge. Or send a gift certificate for future purchases. Follow up a verbal apology with a written apology and a free gift. It can be practically anything, but whatever you do will create an atmosphere in which you are transforming a disgruntled customer (who might have written a negative review about your company) into one who is not only going to come back and shop with you again, but who will be motivated to tell others about this unexpected and surprising experience. It is so easy to accomplish if you try.

    One word of caution. The faster you act the better the results. None of this will work if you have let a week go by first.

  2. Drew McLellan


    I could not agree more. In fact I wrote a post about exactly what you’re saying. I believe companies need to have a plan in place for when (note: not if) they make a mistake. I’ll go one step further. I think one of the best things in the world that can happen to a company is that they make a mistake. If they can rise to the occasion and save the day — they actually gain even more brand loyalty from that customer.

    Here’s that post in case you’re interested. It looks at how Disney says I’m sorry.




  1. GETTING THE WORD (OF MOUTH) OUT « - October 21, 2012

    […] just happens, and that there is not a lot that can be done to promote word of mouth marketing. In a guest blog on, Drew McLellan writes that every business needs to 1) create highly satisfied […]

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