Take this simple test.

Think of your favorite restaurant. How did you first find out about it? Did you see an ad? Read a review? Hear about it from a friend?

Now think of your favorite portal. How did you find it in the first place? Did you see an ad? Read about it? Hear about it from a friend? Is it run by your Internet service provider (ISP)? If so, how did you choose your ISP?

When was the last time you recommended a site to a friend or forwarded an e-mail message that you found interesting? I bet it was recently.

I also bet that you answered "by word of mouth" at least once to the other questions. Most of the brands we use today are brands that have been recommended to us by a friend or an acquaintance. Of course, the hype around a brand gets stronger when there is an advertising or a promotional offer to get the conversation going. But even brands with strong marketing budgets would do well to build what I call "word of mouse" into their marketing mix. I'll point out some common misconceptions on how to do this, then give you some tips on how to get started.

What Is Word of Mouse?

Word of mouse is good old-fashioned word of mouth, but with the ability to spread much faster because of the Internet. Another way to look at it is as advertising you don't pay for.

Before I share with you how to make sure that your business gets strong word of mouse, let me demolish a few myths.

Myth 1: Strong Brands Need Memorable Taglines

It's easy to see how the myth about taglines came about. All major brands seem to use them. The world of advertising seems to be full of famous taglines. But when you recommend a brand to a friend, do you ever remember using a tagline, except in jest?

What's far more important is to have an idea that your brand stands for and to allow the advocate of the brand to use his or her own words to express that idea.

Myth 2: You Must State Your Business

There has been a rush to claim brand names that spell out or imply the business category your company is in. All that achieves is to make your business interchangeable with any other business in your category. If Amazon.com thought like that, it would have paid millions of dollars for the domain name WorldsBiggestOnlineStore.com or BooksAndMusic.com.

Instead, try to find a name that is memorable. A name that provokes your prospects to ask, "What's that?" And then help the penny drop: Go for a name that's easy to remember and spell, but which by itself may make no sense at all.Do you think the names Kodak or Xerox made any sense when they were first invented?

Myth 3: Marketing Equals Advertising Dollars

I suppose the marketing-and-dollars myth grew from the fact that advertising can take up your largest visible investment in marketing. But the truth is that marketing involves thinking through your product, your pricing, how you will distribute your product, and how you will promote it. Most important, in this day and age, it also means how you will manage a relationship with your customers so that they become advocates of your brand.

Now that you've seen some common pitfalls to avoid, you may be wondering how you can go about creating positive word of mouse. Here's how.

Identify What You Are Really Selling

Are you selling candles, or are you selling romance? Go for the emotional benefit that your consumers associate with your business when determining what your company sells.

Now it's easy to work out the rest of the marketing mix. What kind of candles should you make? How should you package them? How should you name them? How should you price them? Where can you find prospects? Answer: at other Web sites and businesses associated with romance. When, where, and how should you promote these candles? Answer: on occasions and at locations associated with romance.

If you do this consistently, your brand or business will win friends, who will recommend you whenever they have a situation that could use a little romance.

Identify an Appropriate Persona

All businesses, or brands, have a character. And it's this character that differentiates your brand more than rational benefits. This is the part of your brand that your customers interact with or relate to, so pick one that your customers will like.

Find an idea that captures the essence of either your chosen persona or of what you are really selling -- or, if you can manage it, both.

An idea is simply two familiar concepts combined in an unexpected fashion.Now make sure that this idea guides your entire business philosophy. It's a fallacy that marketing starts after the product or service is designed.

Things to Remember

You'll get strong word of mouse if everything in your business reflects your branding strategy. Your best advertisement is the service you deliver. And that includes your customers' experience every time they use your product or visit your Web site.

In the end, satisfied consumers are the best return you can get for your marketing dollar. It is they who will become the champions of your idea. And they'll use their own words, not a tagline, to express it.

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