June 18, 2024

How to build epic word-of-mouth without leaping from space


On October 14, 2012 Felix Baumgartner plummeted 24 miles from the edge of space, landing safely on the earth.  He broke the record for the highest skydive in history. The epic event generated epic word-of-mouth for his sponsor Red Bull.

Has Red Bull ruined social media for the rest of us?

When the conversation turns to word-of-mouth marketing, the Red Bull event is cited as the gold standard for social media storytelling by awestruck marketers.

The social buzz began in real time and built up steam in the weeks following.

Eight million people viewed the live video stream on YouTube. It also generated 2.6 million Facebook and Twitter mentions on the day of the event. That was just the first day.

Achieving this kind of word-of-mouth did not come cheap.

Red Bull did not disclose the cost of sponsoring the jump. But some estimates put it in the neighborhood of $65 million. This is beyond the budget of most brands. Is this the new table stakes for generating epic word-of-mouth on social media?

Fortunately for us mortals, it is not.

We don’t need to stage a grandiose event to create word-of-mouth. The everyday marketer can build it one interaction at a time and see powerful brand exposure and sales. We don’t need to break a world record to get attention.

Let me give an example by looking at the story of another world record holder.

How word-of-mouth created the ‘world’s greatest salesman’

Joe Girard is listed as the world’s greatest salesman in the Guinness Book of World Records. In the years 1963-1978 he sold a record 13,001 new cars. These were individual retail sales, not fleet sales. His other sales achievements which make him the ‘world’s greatest’ include:

  • Most single day sales of 18 new cars
  • Most monthly sales of 174 new cars
  • Most sales in one year of 1425 new cars
  • Sold an average six new cars every day

Joe Girard

In most of those years he sold by appointment only. He never had to wait for a customer to walk in the door. In fact, people would wait 7-10 days to get an appointment to buy from Girard. Imagine being his coworker. Every day you stare at the door waiting for a hot prospect  to come in while he has them lined up a week in advance.

His secret?

Early in his career he discovered the power of word-of-mouth. It happened by accident.

One day he attended a funeral. At the end of the service everyone received a mass card. While talking to the funeral director he asked how he knew how many cards to print in advance. The funeral director told him that most people have an average of 250 friends and family who attend their funeral.

Soon after, he attended a wedding where he saw a similar correlation. The minister told him most weddings had 250 guests each from the bride and groom.

He realized most people have 250 friends and family that are closest to them. That means losing a customer costs more than one sale. It could cost 250 sales. But if he did a great job on one sale, it could add up to 250 more. He called this the Law of 250.

He set about building a word-of-mouth network one interaction at a time. That network enabled him to break all sales records in his industry. Some of his techniques for engaging and influencing people are instructive for online marketers on social networks today.

The secret to building word-of-mouth online

Joe Girard’s philosophy of life and sales is that the most important product you are selling is you. When people like and trust you, they will buy from you. Then they will tell their circle of 250 friends about the experience. That is how organic word-of-mouth spreads online too.

Girard’s secret to connecting with people is simple. He made them feel important and gave them sincere recognition. Everyone has the fundamental human desire to feel important and appreciated by others. Do that, and you win a friend and customer for life. Here is a story that illustrates this.

One day a customer walked into the showroom covered in dirt and wearing a hard hat. “You must be in the construction business,” Joe said.

“That’s right,” the man answered.

“What are you in?” Joe asked. “Steel? Concrete?”

“I work at a screw machine shop.”

“No kidding. What do you do all day?”

“I make screws.”

word-of-mouth-construction-workerThen Joe did something most other salespeople wouldn’t do. He took genuine interest in getting to know more about this man. “Really. I can’t picture how they make screws,” he told the man. “I’d like to come to your place one day and see how you do it. Would that be okay?”

And he did just that. During slow times he would visit the man who would greet him enthusiastically. He would tell his coworkers, “This is the guy I bought my car from.” Joe would hand out his card and end up selling cars to many of them too. They saw Joe’s sincere interest and wanted more of it for themselves.

This approach will win you word-of-mouth through social media too.

Winning with organic word-of-mouth

It’s a mistake to think you have to stage an epic event like Red Bull to build word-of-mouth for your brand. Joe Girard’s story shows you can build an organic network of fans and customers that will drive business growth.

Building relationships one interaction at a time activates the Law of 250. Like Joe Girard, following this principle could land you in the record books.

If you liked this, please spread some word-of-mouth by sharing!

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