A Secret Word-of-Mouth Marketing Technique

Nearly every marketer knows that word of mouth is the most powerful engine for driving new customer acquisition. However, many marketers dismiss it because it’s an acquisition driver that’s largely out of their control – absent mind control, there isn’t a great, intentional way to truly drive word of mouth.

There are “long-drag” approaches that can make a difference. Building a unique brand that’s rooted in a strong understanding of the brand’s target audience is the ultimate way to drive word of mouth. But what if you’re looking for a bit more juice? Read on for a (not actually) ancient, (no longer) secret technique for driving word of mouth in your business.

One thing that we can’t neglect to mention on the upfront – this is not a technique that is exclusively for big brands or consumer-facing ones in hospitality. Anyone in any industry can use it to their advantage. Financial advisors have access to incredible details about what’s meaningful to their clients. Asset managers have incredibly driven sales organizations who are passionate about creating connections with their target.

First: A Couple Stories

If you take a look at this post from the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur magazine, you’ll be reading about a story from 2011, when Morton’s Steakhouse spotted a tweet from a customer who jokingly asked for steak to be delivered when his plane lands. Not that he expected it, but Morton’s actually went ahead and did it. All of a sudden, the story went viral nationwide. And here we are in 2023, with a highly influential editor still posting about the story to his follower base. And here we are, writing about it. 


One more story before we get to the point. You’ll see in the post below that Tash Elwyn, CEO of Raymond James, received a lovely, unexpected gift from Marriott Bonvoy. And actually, it wasn’t a gift for him – it was for his pup, Buttermilk (by the way, we love this doggy name). Which led Tash – also highly influential – to post on social about what Marriott did.

Screenshot of Tash Elwyn's post

Notice what Tash says at the end of the post? “When brands and businesses wowed and delighted” – right there, hidden in plain sight, lies the essence of the secret technique to driving word of mouth.

Creating “Wow” Moments

When you make someone say “wow” in the moment, you’re likely to make them say “wow” later on, too: On social media and to their friends and family. If brands are intentional about finding ways to create these “wow” moments, it can be a huge driver for referrals, meaningful brand building and customer acquisition. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Make “Wow” Everyone’s Responsibility

The fundamental challenge is that no one knows where the opportunity will be to create a “wow” moment. It may be within customer service, it may be within marketing, or it may be a sales activity. The key, then, is to understand from the onset that “wow” moments need to be anyone and everyone’s responsibility from the start. Having this mindset is going to shape everything you do from start to finish. Once you’ve established that organizational mindset, it’s time to take the next step.

Step 2: Create a Custom “Unique Personal Detail” Field in Your CRM

Whether it’s your sales team or your customer service team, there are plenty of interactions with customers that lead to uncovering unexpected, surprising details about a customer. Maybe it’s the name of their pup (i.e. Buttermilk), maybe they’re a rabid Penn State fan (groan), maybe they love to paint. Whatever the fact is, you need to have a way to capture that unique detail for the future. Create a place in your CRM to capture this, and then train whoever interacts with customers to grab that detail and drop it in. You’ll use these factoids at a later date.

(Optional) Step 3: Tag Customers If They Are Highly Influential

We don’t have the skinny on how Marriott knew to engage Tash Elwyn. But it would seem that someone over there knew that he was a pretty big deal. And they treated him accordingly. 

While we’d love to tell you that everyone deserves a “wow” moment – and in the case of Morton’s Steakhouse, everyone did – the reality is that it can be important to prioritize the people whose word of mouth will go the furthest. So if you have a client with a massive social media following or who holds a position of influence, it may be smart to identify them in your CRM, so that you can prioritize a “wow” activity with them later on. This can help you maximize the impact of the efforts that follow.

Step 4: Create a Slush Fund for “Wow” Moments

If you want to empower your people to go above and beyond, you need to give them a little cash to do so. Create a small line item in your budget for “wow” moments – it might be that everyone has $100 of discretionary funding to use to surprise and delight a customer. The idea here is that you want your people to be able to be nimble, move fast, and do something really, really nice for a customer. By letting them know that they have an “expense account” to do so, it allows them to be empowered to act independently without a bunch of red tape.

Step 5: Train Your People

Now that you have the foundation laid, you can train your people. Create a small, 30 minute training presentation about surprising and delighting customers. Here’s what should be in it:

  • Tell them the Morton’s Steakhouse or Tash Elwyn story, or find your own – there are plenty of examples. 
  • Show them the new place in the CRM to encode and find unique personal quirks of your customers. 
  • Tell them about the new slush fund they have access to.
  • Tell them that it’s now an expectation that every single one of them should find one chance per year (or whatever time frame you want) to surprise and delight a customer with something special. They should use that personal quirk that got documented as inspiration – maybe they buy them the latest Penn State gear, maybe they send a personalized gift for their pup – you get the picture.
  • Tell them to share with you the story of what they did and the feedback they get.

Step 6: Watch (and Document) the Magic Unfolding

You have now officially created a word-of-mouth marketing program that can drive unprecedented brand advocacy at scale. Now, you need to keep the program in front of people. As you are hearing stories of these “wow” moments, you want to share them across the organization. You’ll also want to reshare the moments when delighted customers post about you online. 

Celebrate the most creative moments and recognize the people who are responsible for them. This will keep the program’s momentum going, and frankly, “wow” is a really nice thing for morale (hey, that sort of rhymes!).

An Important Point In Closing

We could go on, but you get the picture – this is a universal technique that can have a huge impact on your brand and business. So get to it, and good luck!

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