Word of Mouth and Small Business

Having successfully made it to Seattle, I’ve been caught up in the haze of work, two year old, and unpacking. What better time to point out a guest post I wrote a while back over at the GasPedal blog. Since it’s summer, it’s time to talk smoothies.

The medical community might tell you that blended fruit and ice don’t actually contain any addictive qualities, but I’m not convinced. I’m physically unable to pass a new smoothie shop without stopping to sample the wares. I can’t see “smoothie” on a menu without feeling a longing.

Last week I downloaded the Yelp.com iPhone application and tested it by… you guessed it… looking for local smoothie shops. To my extreme pleasure, I discovered Icey (http://www.yelp.com/biz/icey-garland), a new shop that had just opened down the street. Within hours, I was inside ordering my first smoothie. (It was far and away the best I’d ever had)

As I walked out of the store, tasty smoothie in hand, I found myself wanting to do whatever I could to ensure their ongoing existence. Horror stories abound about the failure rate of small businesses, and this simply can’t happen to Icey. Where would I get my fix if they close the doors??

If they ask (I’ve already volunteered), here are 6 points I’d share with them about how they can build Word of Mouth for their incredible business.

Tell a story

Icey isn’t just a “smoothie shop”. They’ve created a menu that includes Bubble Teas, Sweet Ices, and a range of non-traditional items. Why this menu? What makes it unique? Give me something I can learn, then in turn share with others to show how smart I am. For instance: “Sure Icey doesn’t have the boost powders like Jamba Juice, but that’s because they offer such fresh ingredients, they don’t need to”. (I’m making that up, but you get the point.

Help me decide

When I see a new menu item that I don’t understand, I’m more inclined to revert to my old standby than I am to try something new. With pictures, descriptions, samples, and encouragement, help me branch out. When I have a teacher, the shop is my classroom. And a classroom inherently encourages frequency.

Drive repeat visits through awards

A friend of mine has been on a quest to achieve the coveted “Gold Plate” status at a local pub, the Flying Saucer (http://www.beerknurd.com/). You see, the pub has hundreds of beers available, and when you’ve tried all of them, you are immortalized by having your name put on a gold plate, hung on the wall. Not only has this program given my buddy a reason to come back regularly, it’s also given him an incredible knowledge of beer. The more Icey introduces their customers to the full menu, the more likely they are to come back. And the more knowledge these customers have, the more likely they are to bring a friend with them that they can show off their in-depth knowledge to.

Do something to stand out

When the Icey staff hands over your hand crafted drink, it comes in a plastic cup with a sealed sheet of plastic on top. So sealed, in fact, you can turn the cup upside down without the slightest risk of spilling. The way you actually consume this drink is to punch a hole in the top with an oversized straw. If the drink really is “unspillable”, why not hand over the drink upside down?

Brand everything

While I was walking around the shopping center, tasty drink in hand, I noticed that the cups didn’t have any sort of logo on them. How were people to know that this delicious looking concoction was created by Icey and not Starbucks?

Have a web site

This may be a bit obvious, but build a basic Web presence with your location info, a bit of your story, and an overview of what you serve. This doesn’t need to a complex, data heavy site, but it should look great. The primary goal is creating a destination that can be emailed, blogged, and generally shared. (You’ll notice I had to use the Yelp.com link to get you to them in the beginning of this post) The incredible cupcake bakery, Sprinkles (http://www.sprinklescupcakes.com/) launched with an incredibly lightweight site, which even helped them create an ambience of exclusivity.

UPDATE: One more point I’ll make that wasn’t part of the of the original post…

Listen to experienced professionals

Seriously, this seems basic but when you’re getting freebie consulting from high paid, highly experienced professionals you might want to considering following their advice. I’ve been talking to a number of small business owners locally since the original post went up about their marketing efforts. The one piece of advice I’ve consistently give each and every one of these small business owners is simple: Buy Word of Mouth Marketing , read it, and then we’ll sit down and talk about how to implement the principles of the book.

You know how many have both bought and read the book? None.

As a small business owner, I know how difficult it can be. I understand how many hours go into running the business. But if you’re not always, and I mean ALWAYS thinking about how to drive your business to the next level, you’re failing. There’s are plenty of reasons a vast majority of small businesses fail, and lack of forward planning is big one.


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