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5 painless strategies to make word-of-mouth work for you

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You know that word-of-mouth advertising is the best way to spread the good news about your company. But many small businesses ignore some of the easiest ways to increase the level and intensity of that type of free advertising.

Word-of-mouth marketing is more than just sitting back and hoping customers tell their friends. It’s about giving people a reason to talk, and then making it easier for that conversation to take place. Here are five ways to do that:

1. Exit surveys. Within 10 days of a purchase, contact the customer by phone or e-mail with a super-quick survey about your product and services. Rule of thumb: The smaller the purchase, the sooner you should survey. Post your survey on your Web site, and make sure customers know how to access it.

2. Free trials. If you have a product that can be sampled, explore novel ways to give it away and collect feedback.

Examples: Set up a sampling table for your product at a local grocery store. Help sponsor a radio-station event (perhaps lunch or happy hour at a local office park) with your product front and center. Hand out plenty of short feedback forms and pens so people can respond quickly.

3. Guest books. In your store and on your Web site, create a special space for customers to share their thoughts about your business. This tactic is especially relevant to retail and hospitality businesses, but guest books can apply widely. They glean valuable information about who customers are, where they’re from and how they heard about you.

4. Direct mail response cards. If you ship your product to customers, include a return prepaid postcard that asks for their opinions. Then, use positive responses as testimonials for future marketing. Gain a better response by offering a future discount.

5. Blogs. If your best clients spend a lot of time online, create a blog to keep customers updated on your company. Blogs give your customers a chance to comment, creating a closed communication loop.

Online resource: Find more tips on spreading the news about your company, go to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association at www.womma.org.

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