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The “Ins and Outs” of WOM Marketing

Hi, Richard Seppala, the ROI Guy here.  Word of Mouth (or WOM, if you can handle another acronym) has long been seen as one of the most effective ways to increase ROI inexpensively.  It’s the concept behind most of the social networking marketing going on today through Facebook, Digg, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications.

But before you or I ever heard of the internet – and when computers were closer to the size of the offices they now sit in – one Southern California franchise built its success on WOM, as well as increasing their marketing ROI from their small-scale advertising campaigns.  

“Business Week” writer Stacy Perman recently wrote a book on how the “In-N-Out Burger” chain achieved cult status by, first, being the real deal, and second, using its very satisfied customer base to spread the word and increase sales.

A Typical In-N-Out Restaurant

Let’s talk about the first part – being the real deal.  “In-N-Out” insisted on putting only fresh quality ingredients into their burgers.  Not only that, but imagine a fast food franchise paying employees more than minimum wage, and throwing in great benefits to boot.  That’s what “In-N-Out” was all about from the beginning – treating both workers and customers as well as possible.  And because it was a privately-owned family operation, there was no stockholder pressure to lower standards in order to improve profit margins.  The family was free to build on its quality formula from the beginning when they opened the first restaurant in 1948.

Over the years they built up an insanely happy group of customers that visited the limited number of carefully-located sites regularly.  Celebrities began openly touting “In-N-Out Burger” in interviews without being paid to do it.  Patrons would drag in their friends and family and make them try the food.  “In-N-Out” fostered the cult by having secret “off-menu” items at restaurants that only the regulars knew about.   

But many a quality product has foundered through lack of marketing expertise.  In this case, the management knew how to use their customers to their best advantage.

In the 80’s, they pulled off a relatively inexpensive marketing campaign that tapped into their grassroots WOM appeal – and hit the ROI bulls eye by taking the franchise’s cult status into the mainstream.   Periodically, they would give away “In-N-Out” bumper stickers to customers.  They would then send out spotters to write down the license plate numbers of cars with the bumper stickers on them and hold drawings to award prizes such as trips to Hawaii, video recorders, microwaves, etc.  It was a tremendous success.

At the time, a restaurant trade magazine wrote, “The burger Goliaths doing business in Southern California must surely envy the kind of hometown customer enthusiasm which can turn little David in the form of In-N-Out into a self-advertising car cult.”

A new exciting service I now provide, “I Refer,” uses this same method of using your already-satisfied customers to build your WOM appeal.  WOM, used the right way, is way more inexpensive and delivers way more powerful ROI than any conventional marketing techniques.   Find out more about “I Refer” at my website, www.yourROIguy.com.  

By the way, if you’ve never had the chance to have an “In-N-Out Burger” and you’re wondering just how good they are, let me give you an idea.  You know Gordon Ramsey, the notoriously short-tempered and world-acclaimed chef who slices and dices contestants on a regular basis on “Hell’s Kitchen?”  One time he stopped by an In-N-Out for the first time, had a Double Double, drove away – and five minutes later, came back for another one!


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