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Editor's Note: WOM marketing can bolster or bury your business

Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
By Fiona Robinson
April 01, 2006

Prior to the keynote at last month’s International Boston Seafood Show, I fielded several questions about the speaker, Ken Schmidt. People wanted to know why the former director of communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Co. was chosen to speak to a group of seafood professionals.

Schmidt’s message was not about seafood; he made that clear several times. His message was about marketing, which correlates to any company, in any business.

Schmidt credited Harley-Davidson’s turnaround success to word-of-mouth marketing, an increasingly popular buzzword in today’s marketing circles. WOM marketing, as it’s now called, engages consumers on a personal and emotional level, said Schmidt. After losing significant market share to its competitors in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Harley-Davidson had to start listening to its customers and what they were saying about the company’s products. Company executives went into the market and listened to customer feedback. After years of neglecting its customers, the motorcycle company finally began responding to them. Before long, Harley devotees felt that the company was addressing their concerns, and the WOM marketing began to spread.

Seafood restaurants and retailers can easily do this: Just walk into your store or dining room and ask your customers what they like — or don’t like — about your business. You could put out a customer comment card and wait for it to be filled out, but as Schmidt mentioned, “people want to be noticed, reacted to and validated.” Customers don’t want to wait for a response; they want to know right away if you’ll be able to get a product or menu item, or how to cook the mussels they are bringing home for dinner.

WOM marketing starts with customers you greet every day. If you pay attention to their needs, give them quality seafood that they like and occasionally offer them something new to pique their interest, they’ll go home raving about your products.

WOM marketing can build your company up, but it can just as easily bring it crashing down. “You’re not who you say you are, you’re who the people who can put you out of business say you are,” Schmidt said.

He’s right. Selling product that doesn’t pass muster spreads like wildfire, no matter who your customers are. Selling quality product 75 percent of the time doesn’t cut it. Your customer will go to another company (or retail store or restaurant) if your products aren’t top quality. You will spend a lot more time and money getting an unhappy customer back than you would have spent providing quality product in the first place.

Attendees may have questioned Schmidt’s connection to the industry at the beginning of the keynote, but by the end of his speech the WOM theme was clear. Hopefully his marketing message didn’t fall on deaf ears. The seafood industry can use all the help it can get in this area.

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