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Word-Of-Mouth Is Ignored – Unless The News Is Bad

In my experience, word-of-mouth rarely works when you’re passing on something positive.

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Yeah, you read that right. I’m calling out the idea that word-of-mouth works. It does work, but only sometimes. When is that? When the news is bad, really bad. When you’re supposed to stay away from someone, some company, some thing. In my experience, word-of-mouth rarely works when you’re passing on something positive.

I’ve chosen not to back up my unscientific observation not because I didn’t look it up, but because you wouldn’t have believed me. The fact is, most studies show that people will pass along negative news WAY more than positive news.

We are inherently prepped to not only receive, but act, on bad news. We can’t be blamed for being attuned to bad news. It has kept us alive, after all. Being attuned to bad news is why people don’t like dark caves. That’s because inside that dark cave, many, many generations ago, there was a large bear or some other wild, ferocious animal. And that large, nasty thing ate one of your long-forgotten ancestors or one of their friends. And the others saw this and told their friends: Stay away from the cave, yo. It’s deadly. And spiders? Tell me a caveman somewhere wasn’t bitten by a spider. Hence why you hate them today.

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I don’t want you to think I’m saying positive word-of-mouth doesn’t work and only paid advertising does just because this magazine is supported by ad revenue. I’m going to prove it to you. I want you to participate in a research project. Just you and me. Come up with a movie you like. Any movie. Tell your friends. Record who and when you’ve told them about said movie. Really talk it up. I mean, really. Then, wait a month. Check back in. How was the movie? Answer: They haven’t watched it. They will, they’ve just been really busy, they say. It’s on their list. (Uh-huh.) Now, check back in with all your other friends. Hmmmm. They haven’t watched it either, huh? Getting the picture now?

There’s one caveat to all of this: You have to actually love the movie, because the sting of when you find out they haven’t watched it will be all the more greater and reinforce my point.

Now, if a recommendation is based in part on danger, on an inconvenience you might suffer, you bet the other person will listen. Friend going out of town and needs hotel advice? I bet if you tell them which hotel has bed bugs, there is a 100 percent chance when they return, they’ll tell you they didn’t stay there. Does your friend have a bad back? Let them know which hotel’s mattresses are like boulders.

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What can we do about all this? Nothing, really. It’s in our DNA to ignore most positive word-of-mouth. It’s just the way we are. However, there is one type of positive word-of-mouth advertising that really works: Amazing customer service. We tend to think of word-of-mouth as some long tentacle that just keeps reaching out and reaching out, person to person. It’s not really this way. The real positive word-of-mouth comes through daily interactions with your customers. While they may not pass on their good experience to others — because hey, what’s the point? — they’ll be customers for life.

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