Word-of-Mouth Isn't Enough
“Build it and they will come.” Maybe!
As thousands of otherwise successful retailers have learned, having the best store in the area doesn't guarantee success. It takes more. It takes referrals from friends, various media, and other trusted resources. It takes hard work, lots of money, and some time. You can't profitably depend on your first customer to tell ten others, who will then each tell ten more. You can't afford to wait for profitable customers.
How Long Does It Take?
Aren't word-of-mouth referrals valuable? Won't quality products and service ultimately be rewarded by drawing customers? The short answer is “Yes.” Meantime, your store is paying rent, utilities, salaries, and the inventory is getting older waiting to be purchased. You must pay these ongoing expenses until customers find you. So the more accurate answer is, “Not in time.”
How long does it take to build word-of-mouth advertising? There are many factors in spreading “the word” about your store. Even with advertising, many retailers find that local customers will “discover” their store two and even three years or more after opening day. What can help to speed that process is determining who the local authorities are in your field and making sure that they know about your new store. You also can use the proven techniques in this chapter for promoting your store. You can't afford to wait on word-of-mouth advertising to find you more customers.
What Will They Hear?
Another inherent problem with word-of-mouth promotion is that you don't always know what is being said about your store. You are not controlling the conversation. You might have a dynamic and unforgettable mission statement, but few are going to quote it. They will pass along their perceptions, which may be accurate but limited. Or the perceptions may be inaccurate and misrepresent your store entirely. You can't afford to rely exclusively on other people's words.
Will They Hear It Over the Din?
People are bombarded by hundreds and sometimes thousands of consumer messages every day: use this brand; buy from that store; operators are standing by.
Because there are so many messages, most consumers simply turn off their internal message receivers, zoning out during commercials and passing over pages of ads in magazines and newspapers without ever seeing them. What chance, then, does word-of-mouth advertising have? Unless passed along by a trusted authority, it has the survival span of a Saharan snowball.
The Value of Word-of-Mouth
By now you may be asking, So what is word-of-mouth advertising good for? It can, at little or no cost, supplement your primary promotional efforts. If it is offered by a respected authority, it can initiate or support a positive awareness of your retail store in a customer's mind.
However, word-of-mouth promotion cannot supplant smart retail advertising. Your retail store cannot succeed if it must wait idly for customers to discover it. Advertising is a tool that you need to learn to use to grow a successful business.