You can't control whether or not people talk about your business.
Or can you?
Do some businesses simply get lucky and enjoy an abundance of word-of-mouth buzz? Or do they make decisions and take actions that generate buzz?
I believe that you can actually control how much buzz your business generates by addressing a few simple—but crucial—issues. In fact, there are three primary "buzz problems" that every business needs to address.
1. Figure out what your business does. It is surprisingly common for businesses to not have one clear goal and approach. Here's how it often happens: business owners have one good idea (the thing that will make them money), but then they have a few decent ideas, as well (things they like, but that won't really fly off the shelves).
Because business owners believe in their ideas, they end up running with all of them. They justify this decision by telling themselves that they are now offering a range of products for different consumers and that they are supplying additional features and creating added benefit and value for the customer.
The problem is that adding options usually confuses potential customers rather than exciting them. It's not just about product features, however. It's about losing the core idea behind your business. With so many options, it becomes difficult to be known for any one thing. And if your business isn't known for something, then people won't talk about your business.
Journalists call this "burying the lead." The lead is the number one thing that the writer wants the reader to get out of the story. If you don't read anything past the first line or two, you should know the most important part of the story. And if you don’t? The journalist has buried the lead deeper in the story.
Do customers quickly grasp the most important part of your story? Or do they see multiple options? There can only be one lead. Don't bury the thing that makes you noteworthy—your lead story— just because you don't want to leave your second-best idea on the sidelines.
2. Adopt an interesting business model or approach. If you want to generate more buzz for your business, then you need to do business in an interesting way. This isn't about finding an interesting business idea or choosing a "sexy" industry to do business in; it's about making your business unique. In other words, it's about making your business noteworthy.
For example, let's say that you run a local pastry shop. You make birthday cakes, wedding cakes and so on. There's just one problem: No one is really talking about your pastry shop. Why? Because every other pastry shop in town does the same thing you do.
You need to make your business stand out and be worthy of remark. Maybe you eliminate everything except your best-selling carrot cakes. Maybe you deliver your cakes in a cake-shaped van. Maybe you focus solely on baby showers and target all of your cakes towards that market.
The point is, baking cakes isn't a new or sexy industry, but you can make it interesting and buzz-worthy. People will talk about "the baby shower bakery" or "the carrot cake place" or "that weird cake car," but just another pastry shop doesn't really stand out on its own.
3. Use your business to create stories. In December 1999, the town of Halfway, Ore., renamed itself “Half.com, Ore.” As you might expect, the name change occurred because of financial backing provided by Half.com ($100,000 and some computers).
At the time, Half.com was a budding Internet startup and was looking for a way to generate buzz. The move paid off and Half.com found itself mentioned in The New York Times, Wired and dozens of other mainstream media outlets. Less than a year later, eBay bought Half.com for $312.8 million. It's an interesting story, but the story-behind-the-story is even better.
At the time, Half.com's VP of marketing was a man named Mark Hughes. A few years later, Hughes wrote a book called Buzzmarketing. In his book, he outlines six principles, what he calls "buttons of buzz," that he used at Half.com to generate buzz for the business.
Hughes's 6 buttons of buzz
- The taboo—sex, lies and bathroom humor
- The unusual
- The outrageous
- The hilarious
- The remarkable
- The secret—both revealed and unrevealed
If money is tight and you're looking to generate word-of-mouth buzz about your business, then apply any of these six things to your business in order to start a conversation, or get people buzzing, about your company. As long as you have taken the time to address the first two points above—not burying the lead and making your company interesting—then you'll have a business worth talking about once the story hits.
James Clear is the founder of Passive Panda. He is an award-winning writer on business strategy and entrepreneurship and has delivered speeches in the United States, the U.K. and Switzerland.