Most companies don't have really cool products and services that naturally spark buzz. So marketers often think that word-of-mouth marketing is not an option.
The missing ingredient in word-of-mouth marketing is having a point of view: beliefs, perspectives and insights about your industry, category or issue that engages people in conversations. They are ideas that provoke conversation, build understanding and, ideally, are something that a person would actually say. And they exist in every organization.
I recently explained this to a marketing executive and added, "The secret is to reach deep into your soul to talk about what you believe in as it affects your audience."
The exec shot back: "That may be true, but how do we do that? When we think about what we believe in, we default to things like increasing margins and revenue, and producing quality products that provide value to our customers. That doesn't sound interesting or new."
Ouch. So let's break it down. Here are six ways to uncover fresh ideas to talk about; ideas that provoke conversation and help people get to know your organization in a deeper way.
1. Tap into the CEO's beliefs
CEOs spend most of their day talking with customers, employees, investors, analysts and partners about ideas, trends and issues and problems. Most have incredible points of view. As marketers we have to sit down with them and ask new questions to elicit those beliefs. Instead of the usual questions about competitive positioning and differentiation, ask the CEO questions like, "What is the one thing that would make a big difference to customers' success that they don't realize?" Or, "What are people in the industry wasting too much time talking about?" Or, "If you had a crystal ball what three changes would you predict for our industry over the next two years?"
2. Listen in new ways
Listening carefully provides clues to what people are talking about, what they're concerned and frustrated about, what trends are dissipating or emerging, what language and feelings are resonating or falling flat. Check out new passive listening tools from companies like Cymfony, Nielsen/BuzzMetrics, Umbria, TouchGraph and NetroCity. Regularly use more active ways of listening, like setting up online customer communities, commenting on blogs and getting out on listening tours with customers.
3. Run a point of view workshop (but never on Monday)
Another way to find talk-worthy ideas is to bring interesting people in the company together to brainstorm ideas in a point-of-view workshop. Ask new questions that uncover ideas, advice, overlooked insights that customers would find interesting and like to talk about, but that no one in the industry is talking about. Go for speed and quantity of ideas. Break into teams of four to five people (that competitive spirit is quite productive). And never hold workshops on a Monday because people are just too swamped gearing up for the week to want to spend time brainstorming.
4. Hold a clearness committee
Ask a diverse group of five people from outside the company to come in once a year to help you think through how to talk about the company in more interesting ways. Modeled after the Quaker practice of Clearness Committees, you write a brief about frustrations or obstacles prior to the session (just writing it down often helps you see the answer), present the issue to the group, and then everyone asks good questions to help find new approaches. The diversity of the group and the focus on problem solving can produce amazing ideas in just half a day. (Note: It's best to invite people you don't ordinarily work with, e.g., don't invite the agency.) Extraordinarily talented people are more than willing to help if you just ask.
5. Think more narrowly
Another way to find a point of view is to talk about a narrower piece of a broad topic or trend. Too often we tend to think that being thought leaders means talking about everything. When we focus on a narrow slice, we often find we can engage in richer conversations and provide deeper, more insightful advice on particularly difficult or overlooked areas of interest to customers. Digital marketing is broad; tapping into online communities for co-innovation and advocacy is narrower. Childhood obesity is broad; the important value of neighborhood playgrounds is narrow, yet interesting.
6. Go on a walkabout
Sometimes the best way to tap into the company's beliefs is to get out of the office with colleagues, go for a walk or hike and focus on a few good questions. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, has done this with his management team, roaming the windswept mountains of the real Patagonia. These walkabouts have helped the company repeatedly come back to what its founders and customers believe and want to talk about: protecting the environment and creating sustainable business practices.
Lois Kelly is the co-founder of Foghound and author of widely-praised Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing. .