"I know you and trust what you say."
A mother of a player on my son's soccer team said that to me at a recent Saturday game, after I asked her why she would value my opinion concerning which new TV she should buy.
She wanted my advice because as she began to think about what her options were, she was "completely confused" (her words) by all the new technology and claims being bantered about. She thought I would be a good person to talk to given what I do.
I don't know yet what she ultimately will decide. But whatever she chooses, I will have possibly had more of a hand in her decision than all of the advertising being done by whatever company whose product she finally purchases.
Whoever's product she buys should pay me to do more of the same, but fortunately for them they don't have to. That encounter and millions of others like it is word-of-mouth advertising, and it works better than any other form of marketing you can name.
In the extreme, it is the basis for "buzz," or the seemingly naturally generated tsunami of opinion that occasionally comes along to make, and in some cases break, a product or brand. It is based upon the inherent credibility of personal relations, where one party perceives knowledge and a lack of reason to deceive the other party resulting in an implied, if not outright, endorsement that money cannot buy.
Trust me, you want that working for you whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer, and you can and should consciously develop programs to see that it does.
Coyote Insight's work has recently focused in this area, with the result being recommendations to our clients that they develop what we call attachment marketing programs. The word "attachment" is used in the sense that the marketer will work to "attach" their brand, product or store to some credible third party "node," who will in turn "seed" the marketer's message among a constituent group of target consumers.
My sideline conversation with the soccer mom is an example of natural seeding that occurred without the involvement of any company asking me to help, but it can be done proactively as well. Let me give you a few examples.
It is common knowledge that many schools are financially challenged and unable to pay for even basic programs, not to mention extra curricular activities involving the fine arts, sports and other pursuits. As a result, many school districts encourage fund raising activities that are often managed by the local PTA.
In many cases, you can approach your area's PTA to devise a program that is based upon the parents in that district either buying your product or shopping at your store, with a portion of the proceeds going directly to the school district. The specifics of the program go home with the kids directly from the school, resulting in an instant, credible endorsement of you and your offer (presuming of course that what you make or sell is, in fact, credible to begin with).
The result is increased sales for you, additional funding for the school and consumers who can enjoy products they might otherwise never have known about. Win, win and win.
This same process can take many other forms as well, substituting church, youth sports, scouting and a variety of community groups for the PTA. In all cases, the requirement is to find credible organizations that need something that you can provide (it could be product in addition to, or in lieu of, cash), and who are willing to take your message to their members as a result.
Moreover, depending upon who you are and what you make or sell, the benefit to you in terms of a growing, loyal, repeat customer base can far outweigh the program's cost. In fact, this may well bring you new consumers that you would never otherwise reach regardless of how much you spend.
Even if you had all of the marketing dollars you could possibly want, which no company in the CE or tech industries has, you still cannot match the power of attachment marketing.
Just as that soccer mom placed her trust in me, she and millions of other consumers also value the groups and organizations to which they belong. Harnessing this unique force can and should be a top priority in your allocation of marketing dollars.
P.S. A final housekeeping note: A column of mine that appeared in TWICE back on March 18, 2002 (p. 20) suggested that it was time to offer leasing for high end CE products beginning with big ticket TVs. In the 10-plus years that I have been writing this column, no topic has generated more response than that one.
While many of you had considered the concept previously, many others had not, and the overall response was "Let's do it." Note to manufacturers: Other than being attempted by Best Buy or Circuit City or maybe a few of the larger regional chains, an idea such as this requires your involvement. I hope you seriously consider it.