There’s no such thing as wasted space

Image of pull tab: "Pull tab for fresh baked taste"

There’s no such thing as wasted space unless you waste it!

You’ve seen these tabs a million times. “Pull here.” “Pull here to open,” maybe. Not much of a sales pitch (or an after-sales pitch), just stating the obvious. Why not use the space to put one more smile on your customer’s face?

I think this one, from DiGiorno frozen pizza, is a great starter for a brainstorming session—what could you do with space (in your graphics or otherwise) that other, less thoughtful competitors are wasting?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.
—Ross Perot

While you’re working on capturing your natural way of speaking for your website copy, brochures, and the like (as we discussed in yesterday’s post), you may consider keeping a record of you, actually speaking to customers.

It’s a great way to see what key phrases you use when explaining how much your product or service can help them—along with the tone of voice, and general level of explanation that works best for your Ideal Customer.

Now that you’ve got that recording, play it back and listen for you, listening.

—Do you do enough of it?

—Do you truly listen to the customer (and does the course of the conversation change based on what you hear from them), or are you really “waiting them out” so you can get your next sentence in?

You’ll answer “Yes” to both of those before you’ve played back the recording. (Almost all of us would—after all, we’re exceptional!) But when you play it back, you may be able to “hear between the lines” and realize that some of your listening time probably isn’t really spent… listening. Or maybe you are listening to the most pressing needs being expressed, but on a second listen there are nuances to the conversation that you missed when you were having the discussion, trying to solve problems/ make the sale in a hurry. Like Mr. Perot said, a lot of companies have the same problem.

When that recording has helped you to capture your style of speaking, it might have a brilliant second life as a reminder of your style of listening, as well—and both will boost your company’s connection to the customer. What better way to boost the bottom line!

It’s a cinch! Speak to prospects and buyers authentically in your writing. Listen to them whole-brain-edly while they talk. Your customers will thank you—twice!


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

It’s not because his brand is better…

Your brand is your favorite. After all, it’s yours…. Of course we should buy from you. You’re better!
—Seth Godin, Brand Exceptionalism

I was about halfway through reading this post on brand “exceptionalism”* ** when I said out loud, with a laugh (to the empty room), “I can hear you saying it. Ha. I can hear you saying it.”

It was when I read, “The problem with brand exceptionalism…” that I could (almost literally) hear him, as if I’d seen him give a talk with that point in it. I heard his voice go up on the word “problem,” heard him stretch out the word “exceptionalism” for a bit of speakerly effect as Mr. Godin is known to do.

I went back and read the post again and wondered if it’s a draft for a new speech, because it turns out I could “hear” him all through it, though it was only at that laugh-and-talk-to-the-office-wall moment that I’d become aware of it.

The clarity of Seth’s voice jumping off my screen is something you can aim for in your writing as well.

For your prospect, that laugh of recognition could be key to a connection that leads to a sale.

For your customer, “hearing” you come through in your words, even when you’re not physically present, is a quick reminder of what they like about doing business with you (and builds loyalty).

When you’re composing blog posts, brochures, ads, emails, and website copy, you want to engage and persuade your readers, not get an A+ for good form. So don’t write a paper for your high-school English teacher. In fact, don’t think of it like “writing” at all.

Think of it like capturing your speaking. Take a little time, and speak your words out loud before you write them down. If you want to take it even further, you can record yourself talking to customers, and play the recording back to find ways you phrase things that are uniquely yours.

It’s not nearly as goofy as hearing me blurt out, “I can hear you saying it” this afternoon—and wouldn’t getting your authentic voice across to your customers be worth it anyway?

I’ll bet you’ve at least tried to “write like you speak” for customers. Have you ever tried really talking out loud, to make what you’re writing as natural and authentic as possible?

What makes it easy (or hard) for you to give customers that “I can hear you saying it” moment with your writing?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*“Exceptionalism” is thinking you’re so awesome you forget to care if anyone else thinks you are, and you don’t think the regular rules should apply to you… sometimes heard in reference to parents who overly place on a pedestal/dote on their kids, sometimes in reference to countries, etc. Seth’s post is on the corporate version of this.

**Seth’s post on brand exceptionalism, referenced above, is an absorbing one. Yesterday’s post on the future of the library is even better. It’s off-topic for us, not very business-related (unless that’s your business, or unless you really try to stretch his point) but it’s a great thought-piece. If you’re about to click away to read Seth’s Blog, don’t miss The Future of the Library. I’ve said it before—sometimes he’s just fine for quite a while, then he has a genius week (like we all try to!). Looks like this is one of those genius weeks for Mr. Godin.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

No company can afford not to move forward. It may be at the top of the heap today but at the bottom of the heap tomorrow, if it doesn’t.
—James Cash (J.C.) Penney

J.C. Penney’s company, at the time when he said this, was definitely top of the heap. They’re middle-of-the-road, at best, now, and arguably not even that. This goes right back to what we were talking about in yesterday’s post: Of course, the customer in front of you right now is important, but if you put too much emphasis on the “right now” work and not enough emphasis on the big-picture and future-gains work, in the near future you’ll find your growth spluttering to a halt.


We’ve all gone through times like that. The key is to recognize it before the company’s become an also-ran. Get those internal projects started. Make work *on* the business a critical part of your growth strategy (if you’re overworked and overwhelmed, I’d be glad to give you a hand), and start running hard for the lead again.

Leaders do something that folks at the bottom of the heap can’t or won’t do—

They lead their companies into the future.

It’s an active role. Don’t sit back and think growth will happen while you stand still.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Quick! Time Management and True MCE

Projects for clients take 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 times as long as you expect…

… but you budget for that, right? Basic time management says to make sure to give yourself a little wiggle room so you can afford to do an exceptional job for the client. (& basic Maximum Customer Experience says do an exceptional job if you possibly can.)

Projects for yourself/ your company, inevitably, take 4 times as long as you expect… even if you budget for twice as long…

… and get delayed whenever any item of import or interest comes up… so they’re actually finished in 14 times the span you hoped for…

… if ever.

It’s nearly obvious:

Assign your internal projects to someone besides yourself. Have them set (realistic) deadlines they way they would with any client project—deadlines for you, and for the other staff on the project.

Then honor your deadlines, just as you would with client work. Deliver delight—just as you would for a client.

You can hire someone to do the work, or do the work and meet the deadlines yourself, but whatever you do, don’t make it last on your list.

Whether it’s a new business card, a new website, new employee training, or sprucing up the entry to your shop, don’t let work on the business suffer because work for customers right now is “more important.”

Your customers notice your neglect. They wonder if you can really be as fabulous as word-of-mouth makes you out to be, if you can’t manage to keep your image in tip-top shape…

… and they flee to someplace that never leaves questions lingering in their minds.

Work on the business is a lot more important than it sometimes seems. Treat it as seriously as work for a paying customer, if you hope to continue growing your paying customer base.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

You can never be in a class by yourself when you’re bad.*
—The Kid**

Yet another reason to niche, folks. It’s easy to be not-very-good with everyone else—but as The Kid says, impossible to be a standout that way.

If you choose the path that suits you and no one else, as we were talking about in yesterday’s post? Then you’ve got a lot better chance of being in a class by yourself.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


*As I typed, several weeks after she originally brought forth this wonderful observation, The Kid caught me finishing this post.

“What’cha writing?” she asked.

I showed her the handwritten note made at the time when she first said it.

“Well, y’know,” she said, “you could be in a class by yourself….” She looked at me with an impish grin. “If you’re utterly, un-copy-ably bad. But that’s… not good.”

At that my Kid dissolved into evil laughter.

Moral of the story: Don’t let The Kid’s evil laughter happen to you. Take her first lesson to heart and find a better path to being in a class by yourself, dear reader!

** From the mouths of babes, part 6. You never know what the daughter of an Experience Designer will say next. If you’re looking for more bon mots from the tween set, The Kid also speaks—briefly!—on management, on customer service, on discounts, and on public speaking, and on what makes a truly distinctive business—which is, in a way, just what we’re thinking about at MCE this week.

or, Why You Should “Niche”

Have you ever heard some small business “guru” tell you that you should narrow your product or service offerings down to just one “niche”?

If you’ve read through Maximum Customer Experience’s archives, you know we’ve talked about the subject once or twice. (It’s near and dear to our hearts here at MCE.) Nicheing—choosing a niche, or a specialization, for those of us who get tired of guru-talk—can make it a lot easier to explain what you sell, to figure out who wants to buy what you offer, and to stay focused as you grow your business.

But let’s say you do something practically everyone does—something that’s grown so easy to do, it almost seems as though we don’t need professionals any more.

Writing, for example. At the risk of shooting my own blog in the foot, we’re all capable of putting together a headline and a few paragraphs these days, if we choose to.    🙂

Perhaps something so newly accessible, that customers become more selective (and price-conscious) almost weekly. Like handcrafted goods. (Has Etsy made things better or worse for cottage-industry artisans?)

Or photography, where the technology is now so good that everyone’s an Ansel Adams at least once in a while.

If you’re facing this commoditization in your industry, you need to focus in on your niche with Pinpoint accuracy, now more than ever.

Go Impossibly Small, Grow Improbably Faster—3 Big Reasons Why

Niche Equipment

When you’ve chosen a niche within your field as your specialty, you’ll begin to put together the gear you need to be the very best within that niche. Whether your “gear” is tools, gadgets, or even specialized staff, choosing a niche allows you to concentrate on making those acquisitions without having to be sure you also have a little of everything else.

The result? You can be ready for those jobs you’re best suited to more quickly than the competition, and because your gear is already in place, you may be able to provide a better cost to your customer, as well. Nicheing gives you efficiencies within your specialization that your generalist competitors just can’t match.

Niche Expertise

In the beginning, you’ve just got to find the specialization that interests you and grabs your Ideal Customer’s interest and go for it. You’ve got the knowledge, but now you’re going to hone in on only this one type of offering. If you’ve been a generalist to this point that can seem a bit scary—like “giving up” potential, rather than like gaining prowess.

One truly cool part of nicheing is that the more you do only one thing, the more you are the expert that you began by claiming you were. You hone your knowledge and you develop confidence, because your efforts are super-concentrated. Your audience grows along with your expertise.

When you are The guy who…, you finally develop the recognition for your expertise that you never could when you were one of a million who…

Niche Joy

Simple but true—the more you know it, the more you love it and obsess over it. And it shows. Everybody wants to work with the guy who knows their stuff better than anyone else.

Easy + Accessible + Great Technology DOES NOT EQUAL Doom for these guys

And it doesn’t have to for you, either. Ever heard of:

William Wegman, THE Weimaraner photographer

Paul Nicklen, THE Arctic/ polar photographer

Anne Geddes, THE baby photographer

Annie Leibovitz, THE celebrity portrait photographer

With a camera like practically everybody’s got and a very, very determined focus, these folks made themselves into the only name many people think of in their respective specializations.

Along the way, they picked up some gear that each of them could not do without. Clothing, gadgets, staff, and even a network of help they can call on—the “equipment” that enables them to pick up and go at a moment’s notice. Equipment that makes their work the best that their expert eyes could hope for. Equipment that is so specialized, that most of it couldn’t be of any use to the others on this list—even though they all all experts in the same business.

Along the way, they became known as experts and started getting called on by Big Boys—book publishers, speakers’ bureaus, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, and many more.

Along the way, they each became known for the obvious delight they take in what they do. Clients and fans gravitate toward them—all because they decided on a niche and stuck with it.

If these people in one of the most copy-able, most commoditized of industries can use a Pinpoint focus on their niches to succeed, what’s holding you back?

Let’s hear about your niche expertise in the comments—what are you THE one of?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

If people… in a social environment see something they like, they tell their friends, and it spreads virally… Word of mouth is much more valuable than advertising.
—Chris DeWolfe

The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.
—Rupert Murdoch

Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.
—Mark Zuckerberg

(Oh, sorry! Did you think the title meant Mark Zuckerberg and Rupert Murdoch are on speaking terms? If they are, it must be some mighty cold speech.)

Today, perspectives from the trenches—on word-of-mouth, on innovation, and even on your potential as a small business person in a brave new world where you have the potential to slay giant companies. These quick… and somewhat ironic… quotations from three of the players in yesterday’s discussion of word-of-mouth gone wrong, will help us close out our series on encouraging word-of-mouth, one of the most powerful drivers for your business’ growth.

What do you think? Would the risk-taking involved in moving fast and breaking things like Zuckerberg be worth the stress to you?

Could it help your sales to be talked up as the small, fast-moving new kids, disrupting the “old ways” in your industry?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Links to all the previous posts in the Beginning Word-of-Mouth series:

Part 1: A Line Out the Door

Part 2: Craigslist Founder’s Growth Secret

Part 3: If You Gotta Have It and Can’t Wait To Talk About It, It’s Because…

Part 4: 3 Ways To Make Talking About You Easy

Part 5: Experts, Sandwiches, and Mustard With Your WOM

Part 6: HOW Did MySpace Spin Out of Control So Fast?

P.S. Welcome! If you enjoyed this series of posts, I hope you’ll subscribe to Maximum Customer Experience to get updates by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

The Dark Side of WOM: Beginning Word-of-Mouth, Part 6

Word-of-mouth is a beautiful thing. Here at Maximum Customer Experience, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about how you can blast your sales into a new orbit with word-of-mouth referrals, online and offline.

In case you missed any of the series:

Start where we began, with A Line Out the Door.

Read Craig Newmark’s secret to learn about the early growth of Craigslist.

What makes someone talk about you? (Read this one and make sure you’re worth talking about.)

In these busy days, your growing business needs to master the essentials. 3 Ways To Make Talking About You Easy gives you tips you can put to use starting today.

Last time, we packed computer- vs. sandwich-buying advice into a lunchbox-sized-post. Whether what you sell is simple or complex, you’ll find something there to chew on.


It’s been great discussing word-of-mouth with you, dear reader. After all, WOM really is a beautiful thing—that is, except when it turns ugly.

Exhibit A: MySpace.

MySpace, known as “a place for friends” when they launched, and morphing quickly into a place for friends of music, was once the darling of every young hipster and wannabe hipster on the www. From their founding in 2003, they were almost a case study in viral word-of-mouth referrals.

People flocked to the site to socialize and to discover new ways to be hip. MySpace helped them achieve their own aims, like Craigslist helped buyers and sellers in its fast-growth phase. MySpace helped their users to look like heroes, not only when recommending that a friend join (which they did in droves, in old-fashioned face-to-face conversations and online), but also when recommending new areas of the vast site to be explored.

What did MySpace have that made them grow so fast?

In their first years MySpace had a dreamy online cocktail of novelty, ease of use (or, better said, ease of customization…), speeding tangled webs of communication (it’s hard to recall now, but from 2003–2005 MySpace really did de-clutter some users’ online worlds), and helping their users to increase their authority with friends.

The site was originally popular with early adopters fleeing dying online stars like Friendster, and with teens and college students—for a site that always wanted music to be part of the social mix, these heavy music listeners and buyers were a great target market. With teens’ intense desire to demonstrate their social relevance with peers—and with the inside word on so many bands—word of the site grew like wildfire.

Word-of-mouth mushroomed. More and more folks who didn’t want to be left out continued to join—parents of the early adopters, Gen X and Y who wanted to know what all the fuss was about, the technologically semi-savvy, and new music seekers in slightly older age groups, as well.

In December 2006, they were for a shining moment, the biggest site on the web, with an estimated 60 million unique visitors per month.

(The irony is that this number—combined with their total pageviews per month—was hailed as a watershed at the time; as I write this, in April 2011, their “uniques” are in about the same place, once again, but it’s considered their death knell. Why? Because the web has become a much more trafficked world, and because the mighty folks at MySpace have gone for such a hard spin. Oh, and then there’s these other guys on the scene… but we’ll get to them in a second.)

It’s been said that with their ease of “getting under the hood,” they made everyone into a bit of a designer. (As a designer, I might beg to differ, but that’s for another post.) MySpace truly was everyone’s very personal space.

The good: I get to show you what my bedroom or locker walls might look like.

The bad: Everyone gets to show you what their bedroom or locker might look like, and you wander endlessly from one bedroom/locker to the next.

The bigger they got, the more confusing the Experience. MySpace was losing brand identity almost from Day 1, but this malady was overlooked because they kept posting those incredible growing numbers. Had I written this post in late 2006, after a year in which they saw 200% growth even with already-staggering stats, I would have been laughed out of existence.

Soon, spammers found it just as easy to use and made it a worse mess than millions of design-happy users could. Huge financing burdens made the company succumb to just about every advertiser’s whim, to drum up more eyeballs and generate more clicks. Bad Experience began, very slowly, to kill the enjoyment of the site, while growth in new countries hid the truth.

Was it suicide or something more sinister?

Finally—those other guys.

Whispers were that a clean, simple, not-very-customizable, newer, lesser-known place called Facebook had become the cutting edge.

Early adopters were easily picked off.

MySpace watchers on the outside wouldn’t even have noticed how sick the sleeping giant looked, until the whispers suddenly erupted. Facebook began to reach critical mass, and the whole world seemingly left in droves.


Word-of-mouth is much more than the key driver in all this. WOM plays an almost cruel part in the last two years of MySpace’s history. At the time when techies and the media first began to write that MySpace was another casualty of the fickle Internet—mid-2009—those critical “uniques” were at (depending on whose stats you like) between 80 and 125 million per month. In other words, the site had grown since the days when it was hailed as king—but at only half the size of Facebook, it was considered finished, or on its way.

What did FB have?

MySpace’s teens had aged, so they were the people FB was aiming at.

Facebook was created by and engineered for a slightly older demographic, college students and recent grads. WOM funneled kids and kids-at-heart to FB.

There’s an allure—for younger teens and for older folks, edging out into their 30s—in hanging out with the 20-somethings, that “let’s go hang out with a bunch of teenagers at MySpace” can’t quite match. And MySpace had allowed themselves to be seen that way.

The place was all that MySpace never was—clean, to-the-point, smooth-running… efficient. No slow-loading locker-walls. No crashes. No confused navigation. You could use it at work and probably get away with it.

And then the ball started rolling downhill. The viral WOM that gained MySpace their huge following in the first place turned against them. Friends told friends it was time to move on. Not necessarily because a lot had changed with MySpace—in fact, change isn’t something MySpace has ever been very good at, so whether it was to your liking or not, little had changed—but when the media announced the death of the old king and the crowning of a new one, good WOM for Facebook ended up being bad WOM for MySpace.

Even if no one was specifically dissing MySpace (which they were…), word-of-mouth in favor of someplace new had completely—and probably irreversibly—changed the game.

But perhaps the very darkest Dark Side to WOM is the illness that began before the negatives of MySpace or the positives of Facebook began to be clear to this group of dedicated referrers:

The Backstreet Boys Effect: The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
—Yogi Berra

Any of these leave you with a touch of exhilaration and a twinge of regret? (Definitely not in date order):

  • Backstreet Boys
  • slap bracelets
  • fanny packs
  • Cabbage Patch Kids
  • Jordache jeans
  • Tamagotchi
  • the Macarena
  • henna everything
  • jelly shoes
  • mullets
  • Silly Bandz (is this over yet? I don’t want to break it to The Kid, but I hope it is)

Oh, they started as the “in” things, each of them.

“I remember when I was the only person on the planet who had/loved… [insert your own thrill here]… then all of a sudden, everyone had/loved it.” That statement is the essence of The Dark Side.

—It’s cool when they’re your own little secret and you’re the super-hip one, sharing the secret with those you deem worthy. “I know someone I’ve just got to tell about this…”
(MySpace, 2003–early 04)

—It’s cool when enough people know what you’re talking about, so you don’t have to start at the beginning and explain everything every. single. time. Some people even start to view you as an authority, which is also… cool.
(MySpace, 2004)

—For a little while, you feel validated when the world catches on to how wonderful your early find really is. You still know more about it than anyone else, there’s still some room to be the hero to new people…
(MySpace, 2005)

—But it is getting kinda crowded, isn’t it? I mean, when everybody loves the Backstreet Boys, what’s the point in knowing each guy’s middle name and favorite food by heart? And why have they abandoned their early fans and gone so commercial? It feels like I’m being sold out. Not cool.
(MySpace, 2006)

—I’m looking for someplace where I can be a cowboy again. A pioneer, discovering the new “in” thing, telling only those who are worthy.
(MySpace, late 2006–07)

—That old thing? That is so lame. Who wants to do what everyone else is doing? This new thing, though, I’ve just got to tell someone about this…
(MySpace, 2007-08)

And by 2009, they’re the Backstreet Boys. By early 2010, anyone who’s not in a band and will admit to having signed on to MySpace in months must be completely clueless. Throughout 2010, realizing that all they’re left with is completely clueless people, bands are shifting to other scenes, too.

In 2011? Without divine intervention, MySpace looks like it’s about to be MyGhostTown.

We started today with a tricky premise:

WOM is a beautiful thing, except when it turns ugly.

Sure, there were other factors in taking down one of the creators of “Web 2.0” as we know it. Dozens of ‘em. Lots of businesses struggle, even big businesses, but rarely at such epic speed. The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth is the only factor that caused MySpace to spin out of control this fast.

Nobody goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.

Combine the Backstreet Boys Effect with the negative press, negative WOM, and positive WOM for FB, and you have the makings of a true disaster, from which the formerly-sleeping giant may well not recover.

So what can you do to avoid The Dark Side?

Use the force—of Maximum Customer Experience, of course!!

>Control growth—A good part of MySpace’s problem was their meteoric rise.

Their skyrocketing numbers eventually led to not being perceived as even remotely exclusive (hip), contributed to their identity crisis (impossible to be all things to all people), and degraded the Experience for hardcore and casual users alike (ugly, navigation insanity, spammers crowding out real communication…).

If you should be so lucky, you will discover as they did that it’s hard to appreciate the negatives of such a rise (or to want to control it—greed, and the fear it won’t continue or return, are powerful motivators) when you’re watching your revenues soar, but controlling/managing growth is exactly what will help you stay around for the long haul.

>Ear to the ground—Monitor what’s being said about you.

Hear (and heed) the rumblings of the early adopters, who are happy to be your champions. As you grow, stay nimble enough (as an organization) to capitalize on what you learn, instead of resting on your laurels.

>Make friends. Stay friends—MySpace didn’t have the one-man-at-the-helm that Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook have, but they did have devoted and caring founders—who too soon lost their grip on the company.

Within a couple of years of their start, a company that wasn’t ever very well known for their personal touch (or even for their personalities) become faceless.

It’s far easier to leave a faceless company (and to bash them, trash them, bad-mouth them, even on their own site…) than to desert/ trash your friends. If MySpace had (as a company or as individuals within the company) kept closer relationships with early adopters who had the biggest megaphones, and maintained some more diffuse connection to the rest of their users, this could have translated into a lot more help when they were down. Maybe, it could have stopped them from getting so far down that they are easy to kick, too.

I’ll go out on an MCE-limb and hazard a risky guess—from the research I’ve done, MySpace’s top people (and people at NewsCorp, their parent company since 2005, as well) may have actually had some disdain for these “kids,” their best and most fanatic users, leading them not to try for strong customer relationships. If so, the kids showed them what-for. Don’t let that happen to you!

Final thoughts on The Dark Side:

Be careful what you wish for. Like MySpace, you just might get it. (But since you’ve read our word-of-mouth series over the last couple of weeks here at MCE, you’re a lot more prepared than they were. May it bring you a line out the door of your own!)

No one wants to be the last guy left in the building when it burns down. So don’t wait until other folks can see the smoke before calling out the fire brigade, or your business will be an empty shell when you finally get The Dark Side of Word-of-Mouth under control.


Grow (virally!) and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. I hope you’ve enjoyed all the posts in this series. If you’re ready to make your website WOM-worthy, check out our Web Audit and Web Experience Solution, and we’ll get busy crafting a winning solution just for you!


For more on MySpace’s Customer Experience, and their epic, word-of-mouth fueled-rise and fall:


TechCrunch: It’s Official(ish) – MySpace Is the Biggest Site on the Internet


The MySpace Shrinks as Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo Grab its Users

Los Angeles Times: How MySpace Fell Off the Pace

Harvard Business Review Blogs: Will the Real MySpace Users Please Speak Up?

Fast Company: MySpace – A Place for Friends No More


Daily Finance: MySpace’s Dwindling Traffic Looks Even Worse From the Inside


New York Times online: Hot Social Networking Site Cools as Facebook Grows

Tech Crunch: Amazingly, MySpace’s Decline Is Accelerating

Reuters: Special Report – How NewsCorp Got Lost in MySpace

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Unless their friends are real experts, people tend to use blogs / review sites for more complex topics and friends for less complex ones (think computer vs. sandwich buying advice)….

Studies show that advice that is sought is, on average, twice as likely to be acted upon than advice that was not asked for.
—Marcus Riccoboni, Do people trust their friends’ opinions when making purchasing decisions? on

True, at least as far as it goes. And it’s definitely a stumbling block for many entrepreneurs and small business owners these days—maybe for you?

We may have expanded our idea of how to locate an expert, but you and I both know that we haven’t stopped talking to our real-life friends. (Sometimes, these days, we’re even talking about the online search.) The truth that’s not stated here is that we’d still prefer to get our information from them, but experience and good sense tells us there’s more information online, and more might equal “good.”

What we really want, when we want a word-of-mouth recommendation, is good advice. For as long as we go out to work and play and connect, the opportunity to be talked about in real life as well as online will still be there for our businesses.

We’ve been talking about word-of-mouth for a couple of weeks here at MCE:

Can you shape it?

Will word-of-mouth work… maybe even better than traditional advertising and marketing methods?

Are you “talk-able”—and are you making it easy for staff, suppliers, and customers to talk you up?

Today let’s take Marcus Riccoboni’s excellent ideas, above, and twist them around around so you can make WOM work for you, whether you’re the sandwich-seller or the computer-seller.

  • As the Internet becomes a trusted source for independent and (sometimes-expert) opinions, your customers are starting to trust the ‘net over their own friends, the source for traditional WOM referrals when making complicated buying decisions.

Ow! Or is it?

The obvious reaction to this shift is to encourage referrers to mention you online, in the hopes that they’ll talk to people they don’t know and be seen as trusted referrers. But whether we’re becoming wary of the next-door-neighbor’s expertise in roofing shingles or not, we still trust people we know more than we do strangers on a personal level—and I don’t believe giving up on offline word-of-mouth makes any sense at all! In fact I see three underused opportunities to make this shift work for you if you’re the guy selling the complicated product or service.


ONE: Explain your complex or expensive offering to your customers so well that they *can* be the experts for their “real-life” friends and colleagues.

Sure, customer service takes a little longer when you’ve made it part of your mission to make every customer not only happy, but well-educated. Is service like this worth it?

The customer feels she is super-important to you. She is.

The customer feels confident explaining what you offer and saying that you rock. You do.

The person listening to the great recommendation feels they’re talking to someone with inside knowledge. They are. What a great way to turn the expectations of the person hearing the referral around!

Bonus: Now your original customer is a customer for life, because of the attentive service she received from you.


TWO: Break it down so it’s sandwiches. For some people, no matter how much you educate the customer you hope will go out and become a completely delighted referring-machine, that’s still their fishing buddy or sister-in-law or dance teacher. What can that person possibly know about buying this complicated, expensive thingy?

Yet you can make your complicated, expensive thingy a series of less complicated thingys—let’s call ‘em “sandwiches”—and give your customer the tools to spread word-of-mouth with much more ease. Take a cue from what the best online reviews do, and break your thingy up into easy-to-recommend elements that most folks are curious.

Any good car review, for instance, will talk about only a few topics in depth—handling/feel, style, fuel efficiency, quality/repairs, price.

I might mention I’m looking for a new car to a friend without really wanting to hear an opinion—I probably don’t believe my friend knows “cars” and I’m probably already planning to look online—but if my friend hits my sore spots/hotbuttons, tells me it rides like a dream, looks like a million bucks, never needs a tank of gas, etc…. All of a sudden, any one aspect is as simple as a sandwich to talk about, and because my friend didn’t try to be an expert, just told me about the highlights I’d most expect to hear about in any good review, it’s a lot easier for me to appreciate my friend’s opinion.


The sandwich-seller and the computer-seller have one more hurdle, and this one’s nothing new:

  • Advice someone asks for is twice as likely to be acted on as the advice your buttinsky brother-in-law gives you.

THREE: Offer mustard. The best reviews also tell you something quirky, something personally interesting to the author, or they uncover a “delicious” hidden feature. Something that sounds less like a sales pitch, and more like a secret that the reviewer couldn’t wait to share. These tasty tidbits are frequently the conversation-openers for your “talkers” in real life.

How many times have you started a conversation with “I saw the craziest/ most amazing/ coolest thing at the such-and-so store,” only to have a friend or colleague practically demand a full review after they’ve heard the fun part?

If it’s so share-worthy your customer excitedly starts a normal conversation about it, it’s not giving an unsolicited recommendation at all. By they time your customer gets around to their recommendation, they’re being asked for advice.

Make sure when you’re breaking down your complicated thingy into less complicated sandwiches, that you reveal a couple of less-essential but fun-to-talk-about features as well. Often, the sandwich satisfies, but it’s the mustard that gets remembered, and you want to help your talkers to spread the spicy details around.

(Lest you think this only goes for “fun” products and services, this exact scenario—great story (“mustard”) leads to product recommendation—happened to me this morning about a medical issue a relative is going through. Friend says to me, “I saw a show last night, and they were talking about these symptoms, and I shouted to my husband, ‘Kelly knows someone who’s got that! Get me a piece of paper so I can write down the meds this woman uses!” Not fun, but after that intro, do you think I walked away without the rest of the story—and the names of those meds?)


Yes, I am angling this discussion of WOM toward traditional, offline recommendations today, but it’s worth pointing out that advertising, marketing materials, labeling, and service that work together to help the customer become an expert, *and* breaking your complicated offering down into “sandwiches,” both work just as well in the online world. Just think of your website, your blog, outreach efforts, and your impeccable email-responses/customer service, like brochures, package labels, and face-to-face interactions at your physical location—they’re all elements of your Customer Experience that you can use to encourage and shape those ever-multiplying WOM conversations.


How do you help your customers spread the word about you: Do you encourage them to become experts, do you break it down into sandwiches, or do you combine both approaches?

What’s the “mustard” in your sandwich that they can’t wait to start talking about?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe to get updates by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

« Previous PageNext Page »