One of the most important, most effective ways of raising awareness of your business is through word of mouth. This is because people will trust a friend when he or she tells them that they have had a good experience with a product or a service, much more than if an TV advertisement blares it out at them.
Third party endorsement is one of the many factors that a good public relations programme will focus on.
There are two simple steps to encouraging this kind of communication.
1) Make sure you start with a product that is good quality, is different to other products in the marketplace and that you have the capacity to keep up with any demand you engender. You can talk about your business all you want, but if you don't fulfil the promises that you make to your customers, they will not be making a return visit. Also remember that word of mouth works both ways. Negative word of mouth can spread just as quickly as the positive kind. Ensure that your customer service is at the highest level and that if there are any complaints they are dealt with calmly and deferentially (if you screw up once, say sorry and do your utmost to remedy the situtation, most customers will forgive you. Do it more than once and you probably won't be so lucky!)
2) Tell people about it- communicate with journalists that you know are interested in your field of expertise, talk to your customers and past customers, make sure that all your friends and family (and their friends and family!) know what you are doing and are aware of any successes you have.
If you have happy clients already, ask if you can use them as testimonials to put on your website or send out to media (always with an appropriate, newsworthy story- testimonials won't stand up on their own)
Finally, don't be afraid to ask for referrals. This can range from including a note in your email signature to simply asking a current client whether they know of anyone else that might be interested in your services (those last two pieces of advice were given to me by well known keynote speaker and trainer of referral systems, Bill James)
I popped into my local florist this morning to buy some flowers for the lovely National Bank lady that has been guiding my boyfriend and I through our first house purchase (we move in on Thursday- hurray!) While we were speaking to the very polite girl behind the counter, a woman from a large real estate agency down the road came in, plopped down a floral display, proclaimed that everyone in her office had told her to bring them back as they were hideously ugly and then left.
Firstly, there was nothing wrong with the flowers- they were gorgeous. Secondly, it turns out that the florist provides the real estate agency with the flowers. For free. Somehow I don't think they will be providing them with free blooms for too much longer. My boyfriend and I were stunned by the rudeness of the people at the estate agents. This will no doubt influence our view of that particular branch of XXXX from now on and also the perceptions of other people that we tell (through this blog for example!)
This also brings to mind a building company that a prospective client was telling us about earlier this week. The builder made a few mistakes which prolonged the building work and resulted in the client having to shell out more money on labour costs. The builder eventually reimbursed the client but not before getting into a right tizzy and blaming the mistake on every man and his dog (all the client wanted was for the builder to say sorry and give him his money back....) The builder doesn't realise that the way he acted could have dire consequences on his business. Every person that client chooses to tell about the builder and his behaviour could be another lost customer, put off by how unreasonably he acted.
Business owners need to remember that their best PR team is themselves and their employees. Everything they do- the way they answer the phone, how they deal with complaints, how they phrase their emails, every manner in which they communicate with their suppliers/customers/employees- reflects back on their company.
Also worth bearing in mind is that human beings are genetically wired to remember the bad things for a lot longer than they remember the good things (this is actually true- interesting story about it here in Time!) A bad reputation can be very hard to shake so it really is worth making sure that you don't develop one in the first place. The only way this can be done is by communicating properly with your audiences and ensuring that you fulfill the promises you are making to them...