Who’s singing your praises? If it’s no one, you’ve got a problem (review of Brittany Hodak’s Creating Super Fans)

You’re tired of being a best kept secret.

You need to get the word out to drum up more business. More sales. More subscribers. More registrations and enrolments.

You’re convinced that the world will beat a path to your door once they get to know all about you.

Good luck with that.

Your problem isn’t a lack of awareness. Your problem is apathy.

“When I consult with new clients, they often tell me they have an awareness problem: not enough people know about their amazing brand and the wonderful products and services they sell,” says Brittany Hodak, an award-winning entrepreneur, founder of an entertainment start-up and author of Creating Superfans.

“This is sometimes the case, but much more often I find that lots of qualified prospects and leads are aware of them. Many of these people have even considered them before but didn’t convert.”

Here’s the hard truth. Your prospects and leads don’t care enough to buy whatever you’re selling. They’re apathetic in large part because they’re not hearing from your current and former customers. The people you’ve done business with aren’t singing your praises because your best kept secret isn’t actually the best.

You’ve left them underwhelmed, unimpressed and uninspired. “The product was fine; the service was okay. It was all very…forgettable. Ordinary. And so, when the time came to purchase again, they rolled the dice and tried another solution.”

No one raves to family, friends and strangers about a product or service that’s ordinary and forgettable.  And that silence is deadly when so many of our purchasing decisions are driven by reviews, recommendations and testimonials.

“If your customers aren’t telling their friends about you, you’re in trouble,” says Hodak. “You can’t afford to let your customers become numb, comfortably or otherwise. Apathy drives attrition and eats away at your profits. If you’re not paying attention, your customers can shrug and move on with their lives. Your customer always has other options.”

So what’s the cure for apathy? Superfans. These are the customers who create more customers for you because they love what you do. They’re incredibly loyal and very vocal.

“A superfan is a customer or stakeholder who is so delighted by their experience with a brand, product or service that they become an enthusiastic advocate,” says Hodak. “Superfandom is real, authentic enthusiasm from true supporters.”

You can’t buy superfans. You have to earn them.

And you do that by delivering outstanding personalized experiences that exceed expectations. “Find a way to create as many net positive experiences as possible. Can you pay an invoice early? Deliver something sooner than promised? Provide real-time updates before you’re even asked? Say ‘thank you’ with a handwritten note? Acknowledge someone’s contribution ni front of a group? Set the bar high and then systematically raise it with your actions.”

You also need to find a way to overlap your story with your customer’s story. “Stories accelerate the path to connection,” says Hodak.

“To connect your story with every customer’s story, you’ve got to understand the struggles that led them to this point, the transformation they’re hoping to undergo, the options in the customer’s minds that are competing with whatever you’re offering, any reservations they have about moving forward and whether you are the best solution to their problem.

“If you do your job correctly, your customers will talk about you (and, more importantly, get their friends listening) – it makes them feel a sense of ownership in your brand. Your story becomes part of their story.”

So if you’re tired of being a best kept secret, don’t jump to getting the word out. Instead, do a better job of being exceptional in a way that’ll win over the customers you have. Show them some serious love. Tell them your origin story, understand your customers’ stories and weave the stories together. Some of your customers are ready to be your biggest superfans.

Jay Robb serves as the communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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.