What do alpacas, cookies, and funky hold music have in common? They're all valuable tools in the fight to achieve relevance in competitive markets.

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Word-of-mouth is directly responsible for 19% of all purchases, influencing up to 90% of purchases. Despite the power of this channel, less than 1% of companies have a strategy for intentionally generating customer conversations. Best-selling authors, consultants, and speakers Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin have set out to bridge that gap, explaining how these "talk triggers" spark conversation online and offline.

In their new book, Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth, Jay and Daniel reveal findings from their proprietary research on how "talk triggers" enhance brand awareness, improve brand sentiment, and drive revenue for global brands, such as DoubleTree by Hilton, the Cheesecake Factory, and Five Guys.

I invited Jay and Daniel back to Marketing Smarts to discuss the book, explain the different types of talk triggers, and share examples of how businesses are using word-of-mouth marketing to achieve success.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

To grow your business, you have to get people talking; and to get people talking, you have to be remarkable (07:50): [Jay] "Talk Triggers are an operational choice that you make in your business that produce a marketing advantage. Talk triggers are not marketing. It's not a promotion. It's not a slogan. It's not a campaign. It's not a contest. It's not a coupon. It's an operational choice that you make every day, but because you make that choice—a choice to be different, to be remarkable—it creates customer conversations [and] that then produces new customers on the back end. Because the best way to grow any business of any size of any description is for the customers to do the growing for you, and the only way that works is through word-of-mouth.

"But people don't talk about things that are the same. They talk about things that are different. So the whole idea of a Talk Trigger is to make an operational differentiator that customers are like, 'Oh, that's interesting, that hold music is hilarious instead of just smooth jazz.' You expect smooth jazz. You get a hilarious custom song. The delta between those two things is the Talk Trigger."

To trigger positive conversations about your brand, treat customers with empathy (11:02) [Jay on "Talkable Empathy"]: "At one point, empathy was the default. When we interacted with customers and prospects, we did so almost reflexively with a degree of humanity, a degree of warmth, a degree of caring. It's safe to say now that we are operating in an era of empathy deficit, not only in business but [also] in politics and in life. The default state is no longer warmth and caring, it is knives out. Consequently, if you can be disproportionately empathetic in your business, it is noticeable in a way that it wouldn't have been in the past and can create customer conversations accordingly."

A little generosity goes a long way in word-of-mouth marketing (13:20) [Daniel]: "Beyond attitude and empathy, there's also a related notion of generosity. Generosity doesn't have to be thought of as giving away an island to everybody who buys a new car. It's really just doing a little bit extra, being a little bit extra generous. A good example of this, if you've stayed in a DoubleTree Hotel, you've probably taken a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie from the front desk staff. They give those away 75,000 times a day, and people talk about it.

"This was one of the companies we studied very intently. We did a primary research study about the DoubleTree cookie. In the last 60 days, about a third of their customers, without even being asked, have talked about that cookie. Think about the power of a silly chocolate chip cookie, it's not a baby alpaca in your room when you check in. It's a cookie. For DoubleTree, their brand ethos is 'the warm welcome,' so the cookie fits that brand ethos really well." 

For a "Talk Trigger" to exist, there are four mandates [Jay] (23:50): "The four things a Talk Trigger must be are repeatable, which separates it from surprise and delight, remarkable in the true sense of that word (worthy of remark) because we're trying to create conversations. It has to be relevant. It has to make sense in the context of your business...to be talkable in the right way.... The last one is it has to be reasonable.

"You don't want to make it too big. A cookie is a gesture, but it's not overwhelming. Sometimes we have a tendency to shoot for the moon...and that's where you have this giant promotion and people are like, 'Wait a second, that can't be true.' When they start checking your terms and conditions, you know you have overshot it."

To learn more and get free bonus content exclusively for Marketing Smarts listeners, visit TalkTriggers.com/MarketingSmarts. You an also follow Jay and Daniel on Twitter: @JayBaer and @daniellemin. And pick up your copy of Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.

Jay, Daniel, and I talked about much more, including the different types of Talk Triggers and how your brand can begin laying the groundwork for word-of-mouth marketing, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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