Word  of Mouth: The Best Marketing You Will Never Pay For
If you provide not only a meaningful service but also a remarkable experience, you’ll create fans, and they’ll do your advertising for you.

by Matthew Painter

Sitting at your desk on a quiet Tuesday morning, a car pulls into the parking lot in front of your business. The front door opens and in walks a pleasant young person with a smile on their face and a bundle of magazines (or newspapers) under their arm. You smile your best smile but inside your mood sinks because instead of signing up a new customer you’re reluctantly looking at advertising rates. Queue the sad music sound effect.

What if I told you the very best advertising isn’t $1,500 a month or $500 a month? It’s free. But before we get into the details, consider the case of the most valuable company in the world: Apple.

Apple has, quite literally, the deepest marketing budget anyone could ever hope for. But their ads are remarkably few and far between. Think about how you first learned about the iPad, iPod or iPhone. Was it a black and white news- paper ad? Perhaps you saw it on the back page of the phonebook or on TV.

Likely your first Apple “ad” was a friend raving about their new Apple device, telling you how awesome it was and how it changed their life. That word-of-mouth recommendation is incredibly powerful, and it is why you see relatively few advertisements for Apple products relative to their marketing capability.

I am a big fan of word-of-mouth marketing. It is free, powerful, and the process of generating word of mouth makes the job of promoting your business a lot of fun. Why? Because you must be genuinely remarkable to earn it.

“Well, that sounds great but I’m no Apple Computer!” Correct. And I appreciate that the self-storage industry isn’t as glamorous as the MacBook I’m typing on. But being remarkable isn’t necessarily about your product or service. Often, it’s about the customer’s experience and that’s where you could create powerful, free word-of-mouth marketing.

The key word here is “create.” One of the big misconceptions about word of mouth is that it is a wonderful-yet-random phenomenon; a shooting star that we appreciate and soon forget. And if that’s your approach then you will soon find yourself talking to that ad salesman! The good news is that word of mouth is not random. You can create it and here’s how:

Who are your best customers? Who, if given the tools and opportunity, would chat up your business to their friends and coworkers? These are your talkers and you need to treat them with care.

People like to talk, and your talkers will market your business for you, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. Do you have good business cards? Are you accessible both physically and online? Do you have great promotional items people want to give to their friends? Be creative! But the idea is to make it easy for your talkers to spread the message.

If your market is anything like the Austin area, there are self-storage locations all over the place. What makes you different? Fundamentally, you offer a place for people to keep their stuff. But don’t get hung up on the simplicity of that service. Rather, focus on what value you can add to be remarkable. How? Here’s a quick example: My dad has a storage unit and when we go over there I often forget to bring gloves. I hate it because we’re always moving something heavy. If there were loaner gloves at the front gate (or in the office) that would make my day and I would tell my friends.  Simple? Yes. Cheap? Yes. Remarkable? Absolutely!

We would be remiss to not mention social media. Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram will likely become a logical component to your word-of-mouth strategy should you choose to implement it (and I highly recommend you do). But resist the urge to just post photos and monthly specials. Instead, focus on adding value. Consider linking to articles about cutting clutter and organizing. Talk about how parking in the garage (because their stuff is at your facility) is great on a cold morning. Social media is a dynamic (and free) platform—have fun with it!

My favorite cartoonist is a guy from Marfa, Texas, named Hugh MacLeod. He penned a piece that reads, “Advertising is the cost of being BORING.” And he’s right. If you provide not only a meaningful service but also a remarkable experience, you’ll create fans, and they’ll do your advertising for you. And that makes running your business a lot more fun.