Marketing & Advertising

Ecommerce Know-How: Start a Buzz with Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Consumers talk. There is nothing you or anyone can do about it. The shoppers who visit your store and purchase your wares will tell their friends and acquaintances about it if they are given a chance. This phenomenon is nothing new. But marketers are starting to understand how to use this very natural behavior to tell authentic stories about products and brands.

From the marketer’s perspective, the human habit of telling and retelling our experiences (especially our purchase or product experiences) to others is now called word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing includes several specific tactics like blogging, influencers, viral marketing, and buzz or hype marketing to name a few examples. It is important to remember that marketers didn’t create word-of-mouth, rather they simply use an existing human behavior to spread a marketing message.

In this edition of “eCommerce Know-How,” a weekly Practical eCommerce feature, I will give a specific example from the brick-and-mortar world where a small pizzeria has created a loyal cadre of customers that regularly spread the word about its specials and its quality, and I’ll offer a few ideas regarding how online shopkeepers can use word-of-mouth to attract new customers and increase sales.

Boise’s Flying Pie Pizza Gets Customers Talking

There is a certain analogy between the business conditions that Practical eCommerce’s readers face and the business situation that many small and privately owned pizzerias endure. Both businesses face competition from much larger corporations whether Pizza Hut, Domino’s, or—in the case of ecommerce—JC Penny, eToys, or Amazon. And both can use similar tactics to be contenders. Given this parallel, I think the example of Boise, Idaho’s Flying Pie Pizza is a good one.

The Flying Pie has two rather humble locations, but the company is a word-of-mouth powerhouse. I give you the example of an email I received from a friend. The subject line was simply “Flying Pie,” and the body read, “Today is ‘Armando’ day at Flying Pie Pizza.” My friend included a link to the Flying Pie website, too.

Each day of the week, the Flying Pie opens its kitchen to five adventurous people whose birth name matches the Pie’s name of the day. The lucky folks get to make their own 10-inch specialty pizza for free. I was uninformed, so I called my friend. She explained the promotion to me in detail, added how much she like the Pie’s pizza, and confessed that she checked the name of the day every day, emailing friends and family. Intrigued, I started to survey my friends, every person I asked that had lived in Boise for more than five years knew about the promotion. Many had been introduced to the promotion just as I was. It was their day and someone, who doesn’t work for the Flying Pie, called to let them know. To a person, they told me about a positive Flying Pie experience. And, interestingly, no one knew anyone that had actually taken advantage of the free pizza offer.

The Lesson for Ecommerce

The Flying Pie gave people something to talk about. Without creating a major advertising campaign or spending lots of money, the Pie has developed an army of folks who tell its story to friends and family and get nothing tangible in return. Internet retailers can use this example to develop their own conversation starting promotions.

  • Create a unique offer. The Pie’s offer to let some customers make their own pizza for free is a unique offer. When developing a word-of-mouth campaign for an ecommerce site, be equally inventive. Offering free shipping is not enough.
  • Make the offer seem exclusive. The Pie’s offer is not for everyone. Rather it is only for the first five people with a specific name. This exclusivity makes the offer seem special. If the Pie just took the first five customers every day and gave them a free pizza, the promotion would not have the same impact.
  • Make the offer timely. The Pie’s offer of a free pizza is only good for one day. If your name is Jack, and today is “Jack” day at the Pie, you’re good. But the offer will end at 10pm. After that, you’re too late. This timeliness gives the Pie’s promotion a sense of urgency. The first email my friend sent when she got to work was not about some important report, it was about pizza.

Specific Ideas for Online Retailers

  • Copy the Flying Pie. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, why not flatter the Pie. Consider offering a free product or a 75-percent discount for “Jacks,” “Janes,” and “Cindys.” Put a promotional banner on your home page and category pages, create a Name of the Day landing page and offer subscriptions to the Name of the Day Discount via email or RSS.
  • Offer a Complimentary Item or Service. If you sell school supplies, consider offering a free coloring page of the day that parents can print out for their elementary school-aged children. If you sell automobile parts, consider an exclusive contest where every customer that makes a purchase of $100 is entered to win a trip to a NASCAR race.
  • Provide an Exceptional Customer Service Experience. Select a customer randomly or via some criteria. Call that customer and tell them that your company has just upgraded their order to the fastest possible shipping for free. And what’s more you’ll give them their entire order for free if they’ll help you improve your stores customer service experience. Then ask them several questions about their experience on your site. I guarantee they will tell their friends about the experience.

Summing Up

Word-of-mouth marketing is simply making use of a normal human behavior to promote your Internet business. The secret is to encourage customers to talk about your store and your products.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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