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5 ways to generate WOM for a boring product or business

Here’s a guest post Stephanie Bullis, Word of Mouth Marketing Manager at Grasshopper, wrote for our WordofMouth.org project. Check out WordofMouth.org for more great word of mouth marketing tips like this every day.

Not all products and services are as exciting as Google Glasses or Willy Wonka’s ever-lasting gobstoppers.

When was the last time you expressed outward enthusiasm about your new car insurance or shared your passion about the new blender you purchased? Chances are if you bounced into work and blurted your decision to join a razor-of-the-month club, your colleagues would raise their eyebrows and try not to feel embarrassed for you.

In a sea of boring products, what’s a marketing manager to do to? What does it take to spark conversations and word-of-mouth buzz around the most humdrum product?

Here are five examples of companies whose products are rather mainstream but thanks to a little creativity and spin, consumers can’t stop talking about them.

1. Cultivate Fans, Not Customers

Burgers are… well, burgers; nothing more than a piece of meat with some condiments on a bun. And millions of restaurants claim their burger is the best. So how can a small fast-food burger chain standout and get noticed?

How They Did It:
California’s In-N-Out Burger chain doesn’t use expensive advertising. Instead, the company focuses on marketing efforts that convert customers into fans who then broadcast the brand’s message to their friends and so on…

Sometimes the thrill of the hunt can set off a word-of-mouth frenzy. One of In-N-Out’s most successful marketing strategies was a sweepstakes contest involving branded bumper stickers. During several months, In-N-Out gave away branded bumper stickers which led to a hunt. Spotters were instructed to jot down the license plate numbers of cars displaying a sticker and the numbers were entered into a series of drawings.

In-N-Out Burger has also been known to leak secret code words equating to off-the-menu items such as a grilled cheese. Hunting for and figuring out the secret code word creates anticipation among customers eager to know the inside-scoop. Discovering the secret code word makes customers feel like an insider or part of a special club.

Key Takeaway:
Build a fan base, not a customer base. Customers come and go. Fans stick around and convince others to join. Give your fans inside information and treat them better than family.

2. Surprise and Amaze

When was the last time you used a blender? Was it to make smoothies or margaritas? More importantly, when was the last time you used the word “blender” in conversation among friends? (crickets…crickets…)

How They Did It:
Blendtec, a leading manufacturer of blenders, created a series of Internet videos demonstrating the power of its blenders. Sound interesting? But wait, there’s more. Mocking infomercial format, Tom Dickson, Blendtec’s founder, fills the blender with unusual items and then asks a simple question, “Will it blend?” What kind of items? The videos feature Dickson blending ingredients such as silly putty, a baseball, and most recently, the new iPhone 5.

Of course you probably won’t ever need to pulverize a baseball. And if you own an iPhone 5, you would never try this at home. Yet the shock value created by these videos is intense and judging by the number of online views, they are also captivating.

Key Takeaway:
Emphasize product features by adding some drama and excitement. Don’t focus on what the product does, but rather what it could do.

3. Mock the Ordinary

Razor blades have a singular function, right? We use them to remove unwanted hair. That’s it. There’s really not much else to talk about when it comes to razor blades.

How They Did It:
In 2012, Michael Dubin launched Dollar Shave Club. With a shoestring marketing budget, Dubin created and launched a video on YouTube starring himself riding on a fork lift in his company’s warehouse, poking fun at guys’ needs for the unnecessary bells and whistles razor blade companies have been touting for years. The video includes Dubin dancing with a fuzzy bear and asking rhetorically, “Are our razors any good?” before pointing to a sign outside his office that reads “Our blades are f**king great.”

Playing up the fact that Dollar Shave Club is selling an average product and that razor blades don’t need to be overly complicated nor expensive turned out to be a winning strategy for Dubin who recently raised $1M in seed money.

Key Takeaway:
If your product category is ho-hum and/or your product is rather ordinary, then make fun of this mind-numbing reality.

4. Solve Their Problem

Did you know U.S. consumers spend more than $1 billion a year on air-freshener products? With so many fresh-smelling products on grocery shelves, how can a manufacturer make a stink about their brand?

How They Did It:
Proctor & Gamble put Febreze to the ultimate test in its TV commercials. They recruited subjects off the street who agreed to be blindfolded for an experiment. Then, in video captured by hidden cameras, the consumers were guided into malodorous settings such as a restaurant kitchen with uncooked fish and spoiled food sitting on the counters. The participants were then asked to take a few deep breaths and describe what they smelled. Words such as “lilacs,” “citrus,” and “fresh laundry,” were expressed. The subjects were then told to remove their blindfolds, and we witness the shock on their faces as the squalor of the room is revealed.

These commercials provoke a visceral response in all of us, even before the participants take off their blindfolds. Viewers instinctively cringe upon first seeing the exaggerated filthy kitchen and then again when the producers “come clean.” And by casting Febreze as THE solution to a problem the audience hopes never happens in their house, the brand makes a compelling and intoxicating impression.

Key Takeaway:
Demonstrate how your product solves a problem in an over dramatized format. Dig deep and find out what problem(s) your product or service solves for your customers and make it larger-than-life.

5. Push the Outrageous Button

What should a company do after they’ve spent six years building a brand and then realize they’ve outgrown their name? Rebranding would be risky since GotVmail already had thousands of customers, but with a name that was hard to say and spell and pigeonholed the product with limited features; our company realized it was time for a change. Sometimes big changes call for outrageous actions!

How We Did It:
In 2009, we decided to rebrand our company from GotVmail to Grasshopper. Now the challenge was, how do we communicate our new name, Grasshopper, to the masses?

We sent out 25,000 chocolate-covered grasshoppers (yes, real grasshoppers) to 5,000 of the most influential people in North America, including politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and bloggers. We intentionally left the packaging very vague and challenged recipients to take a risk and try a chocolate-covered grasshopper. The obscurity and mysterious nature of the “gift” was enough to prod recipients to go online and watch an inspiring video that we created about the power of entrepreneurship.

Key Takeaway:
Borrow some tips from Mark Hughes, author of Buzzmarketing. Hughes identifies six buttons that can be used to get people talking about your brand: The Unusual, The Remarkable, The Outrageous, The Taboo and The Hilarious and Secrets (kept and revealed).

The examples above prove that making noise and grabbing attention is not just for big-budget and household-name brands. Has your company taken the plunge to spice up ordinary? How did your run-of-the-mill brand capture attention and rise above the monotony?

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