Connecting and Thriving Through Word of Mouth

I have been thinking a lot lately about Word of Mouth marketing. I find it interesting that almost all small businesses, especially those that rely on a local consumer base (whether “local” is Manhattan or Keene) rise and fall on their reputation, and rely on a customer base built by word of mouth. This marketing element, while the most effective form of marketing I have ever encountered, can also be elusive.

So another question I ask myself is this: If word of mouth is so effective, why doesn’t anyone sell it? Sure, people have tried; there are businesses like Angie’s List, which attempt to create an online community of word of mouth. But as of yet, that hasn’t replaced a good old-fashioned recommendation, referral, or chance meeting at the coffee shop. These things are difficult to engineer.

But don’t let that discourage you. There are actually two important components of word of mouth marketing over which you have control:

  1. Building a foundation that ensures positive word of mouth; and
  2. Amplifying, encouraging, and tracking word of mouth

Building a foundation means making certain that you do everything you can to ensure that every customer interaction is positive – both in-person and through your print and online materials. You can’t completely control your interactions – we have all encountered an impossible to please person, but those are rare.

Amplifying, encouraging, and tracking word of mouth marketing means creating what author John Jantsch calls a “Referral Engine” (I highly recommend his book and blog: A little planning can increase the number of people who recommend you – by simply asking people to do so, thanking those who do, and tracking which referrers are your best sources.

In short, word of mouth marketing doesn’t have to be a mystery. It can cultivated, encouraged, and built, and is an essential tool for connecting with customers (and hence, the broader community), and thriving as a small business.

Rich Grogan is the Regional Manager of the NH Small Business Development Center. If you want to explore this topic further, please contact Rich at 603-358-2602, or The NH Small Business Development Center’s Keene office is located at Keene State College, and Rich offers no-cost, confidential business advising to start-ups and existing businesses full time from the SBDC office at Keene State College, and at the Hannah Grimes Center every Monday. SBDC works with clients on business plans, financial analysis, access to capital, marketing, and many other business-related issues.