How to create word of mouth for your local store marketing plan


After graduating from Stanford Business School and taking my very first marketing job at Del Monte Foods, I moved to San Francisco and was looking for a new dentist.  A co-worker suggested I visit Dr. Leon Feldbrill. “He’s kind of a rock and roll dentist,” she shared.  Not quite sure what that exactly meant, yet being a huge music fan, I scheduled an appointment to visit the good doctor.   As I point out in an earlier blog post, Dr. Feldbrill’s office looked and felt like a Hard Rock Café, and of course, he is a music fan which led to several interesting discussions about bands, venues and music (and parties – to this day I’m still amazed that when he first looked at my teeth and noticed a slightly chipped front tooth, he nonchalantly asked “Opening a beer bottle?”  And of course he was right!

That’s the power of word of mouth.  A dentist had created something so different than all the other me-too, boring-ass dentists in San Francisco that I gladly followed up with my co-worker’s suggestion.  To this day, a retired Dr. Feldbrill and I are Facebook friends.  


The key to word of mouth marketing is not in building the best website (or launching a mobile app for your business – enough with the mobile apps already!), it’s not in offering steep price discounts, it’s not in producing slick and fancy TV ads or putting up billboards near the busiest intersections or highways.  Nope, believe it or not, the key to successful word-of-mouth support is to do something that gets others TALKING ABOUT YOU.  You do something to get noticed.  You DO SOMETHING to be considered different.  Being average is boring.  Being boring is not getting noticed (except in a negative way).   Copying what your competitors do is playing it “safe” and accepting what it’s like to be average.  


It doesn’t take much to find ways to be above average.  

  • What if you offered free coffee or free wine to your customers? 
  • What if you offered free pizza, cooked by the neighborhood pizzeria that you bartered / partnered with? 
  • What if you showed your favorite movies in the waiting room and handed out free buttered popcorn and boxes of candy?
  • What if you had free pinball machines and classic video games (such as Pac-Man and Donkey King) in the lobby? 
  • What if you had a magician or stand-up comedian entertain those waiting in your lobby? 
  • What if you have an auto repair shop and you gave customers free movie tickets and a ride to the movie theater while the car was being worked on?
  • What if you are a fitness trainer who only trains white collar professionals (e.g., CPAs & attorneys) who are often chained to their desks many hours each day?

I find with many types of creative exercises, the more examples I see, the easier it is for me to identify examples that work for my situation.  Along those lines, I’d like to help you by sharing the following 10 best articles I’ve found on the internet about Word-of-Mouth marketing:

  1. How 22 Successful Companies Fought For Their First Customers
  2. Not Just A Crock: The Viral Word-Of-Mouth Success Of Instant Pot
  3. Facebook Adds New Tools to Amplify Word-of-Mouth Recommendations, Boost Response
  4. 25 Powerful Ways To Increase Your Word-of-mouth Marketing 
  5. Dance festival grows from 5,000 to 30,000 attendees with word-of-mouth marketing
  6. Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Building a Strategy That Really Works  
  7. 6 Creative (and Cost-Effective) Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategies
  8. 5 Steps to Create a Deliberate Word-of-Mouth Sales Referral Program
  9. How Lush Cosmetics uses word-of-mouth marketing 
  10. 10 Word-of-Mouth Marketing Tactics To Grow Your Business 


Focusing your business on a niche is another way you can establish a unique point-of-difference against your competition.  When you pick a niche, remember you are usually deciding to serve it at the expense of all other customer groups. 

a la the dentist for rock and roll music fans? 

Rock and roll dentist office

a la the auto collision repair shop for Lamborghinis Bentleys, Porsches, or Bugattis? 

Lamborghini Collision Repair

a la the restaurant that only serves breakfast and lunch?

Wecks Albuquerque - Breakfast and lunch restaurant

a la the clothing store for goth and other counter-culture teens?

Clothes for goths

a la the restaurant for video game fans

Restaurant for gamers


Most business owners are too close to their business to be objective or to identify creative ideas.  The truth is, however, that most of you actually do have ideas inside of you that could help with word-of-mouth in your business.  One simple way to bring those ideas out of your brain is to apply the “You know what would be cool?” test.  Think up some new ideas that make you say “That would be cool if I did…”  I suggest you come up with 3 to 5 new ideas then test 1 idea each week and see what your customers say about them.  After testing the new ideas, pick the one that works best to create word-of-mouth.

Just decide to be cool, to be noticed to be talked about.  Then and only then will you have the strongest foundation to build a local business that owns and that is a leader in your neighborhood.  THAT’S the essence of great Local store marketing.

Copywriter, blogger and author, Ashley Ambirge has some mighty fine ideas of how she would establish a local business as a candidate for word-of-mouth and why word-of-mouth can be considered an alternative to SEO


“Guerrilla marketing” is a term coined by Jay Conrad Levinson who wrote a book in 1984 titled Guerrilla Marketing.  In Mr. Levinson’s own words, the idea is:

achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money.

Guerrilla marketing is generally an alternative strategy to more traditional advertising forms such as print, radio, television and direct mail.  While it could be the foundation of your Local Store Marketing strategy, I prefer to use it as one of four pillars.  It’s also a way to get your business and brand known for being different, which is the foundational requirement of word-of-mouth marketing.  While I don’t believe most of the ideas in this article will create WOM, they do a fine job of pointing out how you can get creative without spending lots of money.

The examples in this article, however, show ways brands have created temporary word-of-mouth.  Temporary word of mouth is a good way to get your brand name known (such as in a launch or startup period) but is often unsustainable.  Think of it as similar to getting a newspaper article written about your brand.  It’s not going to drive new traffic into your store 3 or 6 months later but it will likely get you new tryers and buyers.    

What if you hired a marching band to perform outside (or inside) of your business?  After football games in Berkeley, and especially after a win, the Cal Marching Band is often seen playing and marching inside one of the most popular bars in town.  It usually brings such excitement to the patrons that drink orders (and sales) skyrocket.  Henry's Public Grill is a place that alumni talk about as the place to meet for game day spirit.

The following are a list of 10 guerrilla marketing ideas I’ve assembled from a wide variety of sources:

1. Picket your own business

Fake Protest

2.  Wrap a vehicle with your brand and logo

Vehicle Wrap

3. Conduct a blogger outreach campaign

Blogger outreach campaign

4. Create a peer-to-peer  online challenge (a la the Ice Bucket Challenge or the #nomakeupselfie campaign)

peer-to-peer online challenge

5. Showcase your product in an unexpected or surprising location

Product in unusual locations

6. Create humorous or surprising signage

Creative in-store signage

7. Produce 3-D chalk art of your product

3-D chalk art

8. Produce “sculpture-style” outdoor signage

Street sculptures

Creating a distinctive point-of-difference that prospects, customers and other business owners in your neighborhood is the foundation of an 80 / 20 Local Store Marketing strategy.  







A lead magnet is sometimes called an “ethical bribe” because it’s something that a business gives away to a prospect in exchange for their contact information, usually an email address or phone number.  What you should be trying to accomplish with your lead magnets is to identify those people who are interested in your restaurant but who have never eaten there.  Those people are called leads.   What you give away needs to be valuable enough to somebody for them to give you their contact information.  When somebody is willing to make that trade with you, they are effectively saying, “yes, I’m interested in learning more about what you sell…”  Once you have their contact information, you can then make offers to invite them into your restaurant, usually via email.  

So then, what could you possibly have that would be valuable to a prospect who has never dined at your restaurant? 

Well, here are 11 ideas for you:

  1. Save $20 off your next bill (50% off, maximum $20 savings);
  2. Get the recipe of our signature dessert;
  3. Learn how to make a perfect chocolate soufflé in this video lesson;
  4. Sign up for a chance to win a free rooftop meal for you and 3 of your friends;
  5. Sign up for a chance to win a shopping trip to the Farmers Market with our chef to buy ingredients for a recipe we’ll give you;
  6. Sign up for a chance to be selected for a customer tasting council – where you will give us your monthly reviews and opinions of new dishes we are planning to introduce;
  7. Buy a ticket to a private cooking demonstration and kitchen tasting for only $25;
  8. Get a FREE entrée when you buy one.  Sign up and we’ll send you a voucher to redeem in the restaurant;
  9. Get a FREE dessert when you buy an entrée and appetizer. Sign up and we’ll send you a voucher to redeem in the restaurant;
  10. Join the birthday club and get a free meal on your birthday
  11. Join our loyalty program.  Just share your phone number every time you visit and we’ll track the points you earn for free food and beveragesor your barrtender's beer pairing guide.

One critical element of using a lead magnet strategy is that you need to buy into the belief that the discounts you offer and salaries you spend making videos and taking customers to Farmers Markets are marketing expenses. 

The second critical element to understand is that you shouldn’t try to make a profit on the first transaction with one of your leads.  Instead, think about how you can impress your leads so much that they end up eating with you multiple times a month.  That repeat business is where you really start to see the profits kick in.

If you don’t want to take the time and make the effort to create some of these lead magnets, do not think that you can merely put a fishbowl on your hostess stand and collect business cards to add to your email list.  The idea of a lead magnet is to identify prospects, those people who have never spent money at your restaurant.  When you can add to the number of customers you have, you’re well on your way to growing revenue.


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