Create a buzz

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

One of our sons, Tom, gave my husband a portable steam cleaner for his birthday. My husband had asked to borrow Tom’s steam cleaner to clean our deck.
So, Tom realized, it would be a perfect gift. He demonstrated how the new machine works by cleaning the oven with it and the kitchen floor. He even began the deck cleaning project with it.
Tom said he could do infomercials for this product, he liked it so much. He uses it for nearly everything you can clean with a sterilizing steam, including carpets, car interiors, bathrooms and more.
Well, now I fire it up at least once a week and love the thing. It is my nature to tell everyone about it, that and my new Web site find, where you can buy wonderful products like cashmere shampoo and a special wash for dark clothes.
And a few months ago my husband fell in love with a battery-powered safety razor, and we sent one to every guy in the family.
So, I’ve been thinking lately about what it takes to get people talking about a product or service. After a long tenure as an executive coach, most of my clients arrive by "word of mouth," and I consider it a blessing, indeed, that former clients are talking about my work.
Then in the New York Times Magazine, I read a long and interesting article about two firms that recruit unpaid "agents" to talk about new products, to create a "buzz" about a new book, new food item, just about anything.
The firms have contracts with some small and some well-known Fortune 500 companies. They reward their agents with discounts on products, coupons, things like that. They have absolutely no problem attracting people of all ages to tout these products, and many of the agents don’t even care about the discounts, or use them. The agents receive a sample of the new product, try it and -if they like it – immediately begin buzzing around their friends, acquaintances, even strangers in line at the grocery store about the amazing new product. They include vital information about where to find this newest great thing on the market. They go so far to sometimes call stores and ask if they stock the product and if not, they ask why not.
These are essentially volunteers, mind you. Some agents report that they are helping people, and that is rewarding enough.
Well this marketing strategy is working wonders. The firms are making money, indeed, and provide plenty of data to their clients to show the impact on sales of this grass-roots team of agents.
It seems they are also doing some valuable research as a by-product. What kind of person has the most influence on the buying habits of others? The research is a dynamic process as new findings keep contradicting earlier ones. Cool people seem to be very influential. Of course "cool" is a slippery word. One man reportedly was introverted and conciliatory before becoming an agent and now is very comfortable and assertive in social or business conversations. Interesting stuff.
One thing I know for sure is that it is a boon to your business if people out there on the street are giving it a favorable buzz. Aside from locating and hiring one of these firms, I’ve been thinking of how to make that happen.
Naturally, if we want people making positive remarks, we better make sure our products and services are remarkable. That is clearly the first and essential ingredient.
Then, people probably need to know we care what they think, really care. In every conversation, via phone, e-mail or in person, we have that opportunity to express appreciation. We have the opportunity to ask how the product or service works for them.
Many health care professionals now routinely check up via telephone, to see how a new prescription is working for a patient, or how they’re feeling post-operative. It seems like a simple gesture, and do you know what people say after the call? They say, "that was so nice."
I just installed a new printer for my office computer. Wouldn’t I be delighted if Samsung called to see if the installation went OK and the printer is working just fine?
Some of the organizations I work with routinely send a third-party interviewer out to customers to measure their satisfaction. Some companies reward their customers for making referrals-which must be done within ethical boundaries, of course.
These and similar practices draw the customers and clients closer to us. I think that alone makes it much more likely that people will create a positive buzz.
Harley-Davidson Inc. figured this out a long time ago. The power of "regular" people, sharing their excitement about products or services may drive sales more than slick television commercials or any of the other ultra-expensive means of getting the word out.
So here’s to many conversations about your business and mine, coming up with regularity, with non-spin sincerity, with personal stories to boot, authentic, positive and leading to growth and prosperity for us all in the coming year.
Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay and can be reached at (414) 332-0300, or The firm’s Web site is
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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