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We're All In the Business of Making People Feel Good

A couple weeks ago I found myself in my new doctor’s office awaiting my inevitable fate (two shots…neither of the fun tequila variety). As I sat there reading posters about proper hand washing procedures and the merits of flu vaccines, something occurred to me. I’ve moved around a lot over the past decade. From dentists to ophthalmologists, veterinarians to family MDs, I don’t remember the last time I settled on a new doctor without a WOM referral from a friend. According to one study, when selecting new primary care physicians, half of all consumers relied on word-of-mouth recommendations. If 50% of your new customer base is a direct result of word of mouth referrals, that must mean you’re doing something right, right? Right.

And here are three simple lessons we can learn from them:

Specialize in something.  From skin to sinuses, bones to brains, doctors tend to pick one thing and get really good at doing that one thing really well.

You’re probably not the only brand in the world making what you make or doing what you do. What you can be is the only brand in the world doing it the way you do it. Find your something special…then own the heck out of it.

I’m openly fanatic about Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products. There are hundreds of brands that make hand soap and cleaning supplies. There aren’t hundreds of brands that do it the way Mrs. Meyers does it. Their garden-inspired, no-nonsense approach warms my heart. They’re a happy brand that knows who are they are and what they do best. I’m willing to pay for their soap even though I know other brands they share the shelf with can do the job at a cheaper price. So why do I do it? Every dollar a consumer spends is a declaration. Mrs. Meyers has found their something special by owning what they do and how they do it. With each dollar I spend, I stand alongside their brand and proudly declare, “Yeah, me too!”

The best form of advertising is WOM by way of a happy customer.  Ever notice how many of the best doctors never seem to be accepting new patients? There’s a reason for that. People talk behind their backs…in a good way. I recently got my foot in the door with a GP who wasn’t accepting new patients. How did I do it? Word of mouth. I mentioned that I was looking for a new doctor to a mutual friend (who also happens to be a doctor.) He put in a good word for me…and I hit the doctor jackpot.

Too often brands focus on the new, new, new. New technologies, new advertising, new people. In doing so, they often forget about their established customers and existing fan base. Like old friends, the people who have been along for the ride with your brands are probably the people who are most invested in you. As we mention in our first book, if you (god forbid) got hit by a bus tomorrow, these are the people who would pick up the torch, carry your message forward and keep your brand alive. Don’t forget about them or overlook them. They know you, they love you and they’re a powerful force spreading the word about you out in the world.

Get to know your customer before you jump into the conversation. Imagine for a moment that your doctor barges into the exam room and promptly begins marking up your nose in preparation for rhinoplasty. You’re there to see her about a sprained ankle. Awkward turtle.

In order to create compelling messaging and spark meaningful conversations, you need to know who you’re talking to…and what you’re talking to them about. Marketers love social media (guilty as charged), but we often forget that being social doesn’t mean monopolizing the conversation. It doesn’t mean broadcasting and talking about ourselves. Just like a real world one-on-one conversation, good communication is a two-way street. You’ve got walk before you can run — and you’ve got to know how to listen before you can engage.

Talk to your customers. Ask them what’s going on in their lives and world. Listening gives you insights into your customer’s values, how they use your product, what they like, what’s frustrating to them and what they need. Listening helps you identify potential opportunities and partnerships. Brands pump so much money into research and development in an effort to decode the secret lives of consumers. You can bypass all of that by simple reaching out, asking the right questions, then listening to their response.

Less talking, more listening.

Never underestimate the power of a lollipop. The power of surprise + delight is remarkable. When things go unexpectedly awry, a human touch takes the sting off a bad situation. In times of smooth sailing, going above and beyond to recognize and show appreciation for your advocates is what gets brands talked about. It’s as simple as that.

So. If someone asked you what business you’re in, what would you say? I imagine most marketers would be honest. They’d say “auto” or “government,” “tech” or “education,” then they’d carry on carrying on. Brands, I’m here to tell you that you are not in the X business – you are in the people business. If you want to succeed, you need to change the way you think and the way you do. You need to understand that no matter what industry you’re in – no matter what you do, offer or produce – you’re in the business of making people feel good.

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