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  • Writer's picturePete Steege

Word of Mouth - Going Beyond Referrals

How do you generate word of mouth for your B2B business? There are a couple of ways.

The first one and most important: satisfy your customers.

Happy customers that believe in your product are going to tell other people about you. And that's far more valuable than anything you can do with your sales or you're marketing efforts.

But what if you don't have a lot of customers yet or you want to get into a new market where your current customer base doesn't have referral reach?

I want to talk about a second way to generate word of mouth that can turbocharge that effort: social objects.

There's a book titled Contagious by Jonah Berger that talks about how to create ideas and products and companies that are infectious - that people want to talk about.

Before Contagious, though, Hugh MacLeod wrote about social objects, and I'm a big believer in them as a foundation for viral spreading of business messages.

Social objects

A social object is just that -- it's a thing. It could be a physical object, an event, or a piece of content. It could be a person.

But most importantly, it has social meaning, and people want to talk about it.

If you create a social object that's related to your business and the value you offer, you have the opportunity to create conversations in your industry that will act similar referral word of mouth, but from people that have not used your product.

A consumer example from Contagious is a Philadelphia steakhouse

that put a $100 cheesesteak sandwich on their menu, not because they needed people to buy it, but because it created buzz in the town and launched their restaurant due to people talking about this crazy sandwich.

How do you create a social object?

A social object needs to do three things to make this work:

  1. Be relevant. Pick something that is relevant to your audience. Look at the intersection between the customer problem you're solving and your solution. You don't want it to be your solution; you want it to be related to your problem/solution area.

  2. Be remarkable. By remarkable, I mean literally people want to remark on it. They want talk about it. You want something out of the ordinary, different, but related to your culture. So if you're all about fun, it should be fun. If your culture is service-driven, consider having a service element to it. Look for something that could be authentically yours and stand out.

  3. Be shareable. It needs to be really easy for people to talk about it. Make it easy, fun and valuable to share.

Social object examples

At Seagate, we froze a disk drive in an ice rink for 100 days one very cold winter. We shared periodically with the industry about it - talked about it beneath the ice, wondering how it would survive the winter and what would happen when it thawed out. Would my personal data survive?

We received a lot of coverage. It was detailed in industry blogs, and the local and national press picked it up. It caught on.

It was a topic that related to our themes (and values) of reliability and the value of data.

All of those conversations happened around a real-world event, rather than a sales presentation or a press release.

Another example was in a very high end manufacturing industry, semiconductor manufacturing, where we had million-dollar machines that were 10 ft by 10 ft across.

We created a very lifelike third-scale model of these systems that we could bring to trade shows and to customers.

The models were remarkable because they looked so lifelike, and no one else was doing this.

They brought attention to our technology and teed up conversations that we wouldn't have had with more conventional techniques. They also happened to be incredibly more efficient to transport than the actual machines.

There are many more examples in business. I encourage you to check out Hugh MacLeod and his work and read the Contagious book.

Two important notes before I go:

  1. A social object is different than a viral video or viral content. The social object is the strategy and the viral content is the tactic. Focus on the social object first. Don't try to skip directly to creating something viral. You're investing in something that will work for you whether or not it's picked up because it's based on who you are.

  2. Don't limit yourself to an online view of this idea. According to Jonah Berger in the book, only seven percent of word of mouth happens online.

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