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The 4 keys to giving your customers something to talk about

triggerThis review first ran in the Oct. 27 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth

By Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin


Portfolio / Penguin

It’s the bonus chunk of kielbasa that comes with the mixed meat sandwich from Starpolskie’s Deli in East Hamilton.

It’s the Tim Horton’s gift card you’re given and told to use while your kid spends the next 90 minutes getting his braces put on at Taylor-Edwards Orthodontics.

It’s also the warm chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree by Hilton, the Graduate Hotel room keys that look like college student ID cards, the free and unlimited soft drinks at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, the Cheesecake Factory menu that run to almost 6,000 words and the silver telephones at Umpqua Bank branches that connect directly to the president.

These are all examples of what Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin call talk triggers that drive word of mouth. None of us talk about a good customer experience. But we’ll rave online and off about something that’s different, unique and unexpected. Research shows that word of mouth drives five times more sales than advertising so smart organizations are deliberating engineering these conversations.

“Word of mouth is perhaps the most effective and cost-effective way to grow any company,” says Baer and Lemin. “We’re in an era where trust matters more than truth, and the truth is that your customers simply don’t trust you as much as they trust each other.

“The best organizations are purposefully crafting differentiators that get customers to tell authentic, visceral, trusted stories about the business and its products or services – stories that create new customers through referrals and recommendations.

“A unique selling proposition is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room,” says Baer and Lemin. “A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party. Done well, talk triggers clone your customers.”

So here’s how you do it well. Your talk trigger must be remarkable, relevant, repeatable and reasonable.

Take DoubleTree’s chocolate chip cookie. No other hotel chain gives away 75,000 cookies each day to every guest whenever they check in. The cookies are baked onsite and served warm. The free cookie reinforces DoubleTree’s brand promise of a warm welcome and triggers conversations. When surveyed about the hotel’s best attributes, guests rank the cookie just below friendly staff and comfortable beds and more than a third of guests tell others about the cookie.

DoubleTree’s talk trigger would be nothing more than a marketing and PR stunt if the cookies were only given away on the first Saturday of the month or during the holidays or just to Hilton Honors members or first-time guests or if a suitcase-sized cookie covered in gold leaf was given one-time only to a randomly chosen customer.

A talk trigger falls into one of five categories based on empathy, usefulness, generosity, speed or attitude. Choose the category that works best for your organization and come up with something unique. Same is lame, say Baer and Lemin.

There are then six steps for successfully launching your talk trigger. You start by gathering internal insights from marketing, sales and service and having this cross-departmental team sift through data about your customers, your business and the competition.

Get close to your customers to better understand what they really want.

Come up with four to six potential talk triggers and then assess for both complexity to deliver and customer impact. Focus on a trigger that has medium impact and complexity.

Now test and measure your talk trigger with a subset of customers. Is it spurring conversations, emails, online comments and reviews?

If your talk trigger gets people talking, roll it out across your entire organization to all your customers.

Finally, amplify your talk trigger through paid advertising so everyone knows both the what and they why. DoubleTree tells guests the cookie is part of their commitment to a warm welcome. Guests can also order the cookie dough and have it shipped to their homes.

Baer and Lemin show how any business or organization can drive word of mouth by doing something remarkable every time for every customer. They also offer their own talk trigger to readers. If you don’t like their book, just send Baer and Lemin a note and they’ll buy you whatever book you want. While it’s unlikely to get many takers, it’s the thought that counts and gets people talking.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

An introvert’s survival guide for mixing and mingling (review of Hiding in the Bathroom)

hidingThis review first ran in the Oct. 13 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home)

By Morra Aarons-Mele



You’re about to walk into a room full of strangers for an hour of mixing and mingling.

Will you have a blast shaking hands, making small talk and swapping business cards?

Or will you repeatedly skip to the loo to screw up your courage, calm your nerves and recharge your batteries?

Morra Aarons-Mele feels your pain. The author of Hiding in the Bathroom is an extreme introvert and self-proclaimed hermit entrepreneur who’s spent a lifetime wrestling with mental health challenges.

“Given my natural inclinations, I would hide almost all the time,” says Aarons-Mele. “I would rarely chose to leave my house. But as extensive as my online network is, I could not sustain a business that way. So I’ve learned to get out, building in strategies and tricks that allay my anxieties and introversion while I’m at a professional gathering or client meeting, then creating home time to recharge, be on my own and do the work.”

So here are some of Aarons-Mele’s tried and tested tricks for surviving social situations like conferences, dinners and networking events that can exhaust and overwhelm an introvert.

Channel your inner Oprah. “If you feel alien, unworthy, shy or nervous in a room full of powerful players, pretend you’re there to report a story. Ask people lots of questions – this is your strength as an introvert.”

Remember you are there to work, not to make people like you. “You’re a grown-up, it’s not middle school and you don’t need everyone to sit with you anymore.”

Make someone else comfortable. Asking someone how they’re doing is the gateway drug to feeling comfortable, says Aarons-Mele.

Find a conference “spouse” for cocktail chatter and to kill time while standing in line.

Be prepared. “When I have to go out in public and be awesome, I’m training for the Olympics,” says Aarons-Mele, who puts together a briefing book for small talk and rehearses names before she walks into a room.

Connect and move on.  Master the art of the “cocktail bump” where you introduce people and then let the conversation go on while you slip away.

Chunk your time. Set a minimum target for how long you’ll be an event before you need a time-out to recharge.

Know what comes next at the conference or event. “The more you plan your schedule so you know you’re hitting what you need to, the calmer you’ll be and the quicker you can exit.”

Aarons-Mele also has strategies for avoiding social media’s twin plagues of achievement porn and FOMO (fear of missing out). “If you’re an anxious introvert, an Instagram picture can turn into a dagger. If only I were different I too would be invited to that party. I’d be getting that award. Instead, I’m hiding.”

Every time you feel left out or there’s a twinge of envy, remind yourself why what you’re doing is right for you. Turn FOMO into JOMO or the joy of missing out. Feel grateful for what you have instead of resentful for what you’re missing. You can also break the cycle of bragging by using online communities for getting and giving advice.

While introverts need to work at getting themselves out there, Aarons-Mele says employers must also do their part and recognize our skills and strengths.

“As we recognize neurological and emotional diversity in all its forms, workplace culture needs to begin to make room for the Technicolor range of emotion. Although so much has been done to promote diversity at work, there’s a giant hole in the understanding of how temperament and emotions play not just into our daily grind at the office, but into the very trajectory of success.

“It’s my fondest wish that managers and HR professionals begin to recognize the ambivalence and inner conflict that many insanely talented people feel. Because when they get the space they need, great employees have no reason to quit or feel miserable. Great things happen when teams are truly diverse and team members can be honest about who they truly are.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999.