Dec 4, 2013


By Dr. Ivan R. Misner & Vince Vigneri

The latest catch phrase being bandied about in the word-of-mouth crowd is “buzz.”  Buzz is defined as:  creating awareness in the marketplace of your business and/or product by stimulating conversations among the consumer base.

The question I have to ask is, “Is buzz marketing enough?”  I have taught for years that more people will talk about you, more loudly, when they are NOT happy with your product or services.  I want to be the voice of discretionary caution in a world a-buzz with buzz!

I’m concerned that as more people flock to the buzz-marketing concept they will think of it as a short cut to generating referral business for themselves!  There is a sequence of events when marketing yourself with word of mouth that cannot be shortchanged.  You cannot eliminate the development of relationships that need to be built in order to create solid referral sources for your business.  Spending a lot of time, energy and money on stimulating buzz in the marketplace and expecting a lot of new business as a result is probably not the strongest way to go about developing referral sources for yourself.

There is a formula for developing a strong word-of-mouth based business that is proven to work:  Visibility, Credibility and Profitability.  Buzz is not a short cut for this formula.  You cannot go from visibility alone to profitability where generating referrals is concerned.  If you go about creating buzz for yourself with the expectation that you are going to see a huge jump in your profit margins, I think you will be sadly surprised.

Buzz can be difficult for more traditional businesses to create.  Some entrepreneurs, who are frustrated with their lack of buzz, will even hire others to start a “word-of-mouth” campaign for them.  They pay others to start blogging about their business, keeping their name in the public’s attention by many very creative and ingenious methods.

Paying others to start talking about you feels like ordering a quarter pounder with cheese and then opening the wrapper to find all you have is the bun!  People who are looking for referrals want to get that referral from a genuine “raving fan”.

I submit that when you start to think about creating buzz for your company, you should look first to the customers and clients to generate that buzz.

That being said, if you are honest about how many customers your clients are currently sending your way, most of us would be hard pressed to identify ONE client who is sending 50 or more people a year our way.  Over the last 10 years, I have asked tens of thousands of business people, as I speak to audiences all over the world, for a show of hands if “any customer has been so thrilled with your customer service that he or she has referred 50 or more new clients to you.”  I have yet to have anyone ever raise a hand affirming that this is happening.  What this says to me is that good customer service is not enough to substantially increase you business by referral.  People EXPECT good customer service.

Rather than expecting to see more and more referrals come your way because of buzz about how great your business is, I encourage you to focus on the relationships with your customers.  If you had to identify a customer you knew so well, whom you trusted and who trusted you, based upon your willingness to hand him or her the keys to your new car, or the keys to your house, and vice versa, could you identify even one??  Think about this: each customer, client, or patient has keys to contacts and referrals that can open doors for you that you have so far only dreamed about!  Deepening the friendships you have with your potential referral sources is the only way you are going to have access to those keys.

Where does buzz marketing work the best?  I believe that buzz marketing is powerful for SOME businesses, like restaurants, plays that are on in the community theater, the weekly farmer’s market; however, the more mundane, every-day businesses, like your tire shop, the bank you frequent and your health food store depend on building solid relationships with customers and vice versa for referrals to begin to fly.

People simply want to do business with others they know and trust; buzz can be a great place to start meeting these people, but it doesn’t eliminate the need to spend time and energy getting to know others so that they can refer you with confidence and without hesitation.

I believe this must be done very systematically, by doing things like catalyst events, one-to-one meetings where you conduct the GAINS exchange interview with each other, putting into place incentives for others to refer you, and developing Contact Spheres of inter-related business people who can cross refer each other (for example, if you are a florist, spend time developing strong ties with a photographer, videographer, travel agent, wedding planner, and a real estate agent).  I have written articles here covering each of these techniques for developing your referral business.  I encourage you to go back to the archives and review them.

Please understand that I’m NOT saying the buzz is not effective.  In some cases, it can be very effective and for some businesses and events, it can be just what is needed.  I’m just not convinced that it is a core strategy for building a solid word-of-mouth based business.  There simply is no shortcut to developing the relationships that are needed to see an appreciable increase in the number of referrals you will receive to your company.  It all goes back to the farming vs. hunting metaphor.  There is no shortcut for sowing the seeds of referrals, tending the soil and caring for the budding relationships that result.