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A 2012 Marketing Plan – Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of Mouth happens with or without your participation. Clients, for better or worse, are going to talk about their experiences with your travel agency. However, that does not mean it is out of your control and cannot be managed. To the contrary, you can promote and amplify your brand through a good word of mouth campaign. By strategically cultivating your message, you can help ensure that when people talk about you, they are saying the things you want the market to hear.

Word of mouth marketing is really no more than consumers providing information about you to other consumers. As a travel consultant, you know the value of a good reference. Smart word of mouth marketing encourages and gives people a reason to talk about you and your services. While word of mouth marketing happens with or without your participation, you can encourage and facilitate it. Let’s explore how you might do so.

At the heart of a strong word of mouth campaign is authentic marketing: knowing exactly who you are, what your travel practice is about and being able to clearly articulate that message. If your core marketing identity is not well defined and clear, if you are not able to easily identify your mission, then others will not be able to do so either, and your message in the market will be muddy and not well defined. This is particularly important because a word of mouth campaign depends on an initial group of “influencers” being charged with the mission of “spreading the word” – employees, associates, family and other contacts who know your travel practice well.

The secret to casting a wide net with community word of mouth is to locate and utilize “hubs” – community segments that form small “tribes” within the community. Churches are a “hub” as are social clubs, charities and civic organizations. Ethnic communities often form loosely knit hubs as do seniors and groups with political agendas. Choose your hubs with care. There must be an internal dynamic that holds the hub together. Thus, an apartment complex is probably not a sufficient “hub” for most word of mouth opportunities, but a local chapter of the VFW may be. Local radio, newspaper and television stations are also hubs, but fall under the more specific public relations topic of press releases which we will cover at another time. Finally, online communities are also hubs.

Let’s use an example. You want to promote the use of your travel services in the ranks of those citizens in your community that are military veterans. You have chosen this particular avenue because you have several clients who are veterans who have traveled with you and who are very pleased with your services. Perhaps you are a veteran yourself. You understand the inherent desire in many veterans to return to the battlefields where they lived out a very important part of their young lives. You are certain that you can assist the veterans in your community to have a profound travel experience by returning to Normandy, Vietnam or South Korea. The place to begin your word of mouth campaign is with those closest to you – co-workers and existing clients. That inner circle needs to clearly hear and understand your mission, to grasp your authentic belief and passion for the project. If they do, they will become your evangelists. If you can assist them to understand the importance of this project to veterans in your community, one of them will tell two others and those two others will tell four more. That is how good word of mouth public relations happens.  The resulting word of mouth will re-inforce every other effort you undertake in your campaign: presentations, press releases, networking and advertising.

One of the most important ways to facilitate positive word of mouth activity is to very directly ask for referrals from your existing clients. Give your happy customers a way of easily describing your services to others. Provide two business cards to each of your clients: one for them and one to pass along to someone else. Some clients reward their clients for referrals with a small gift. However, a “Thank You” note is also an acceptable acknowledgement of the favor.

Testimonials are another source of word of mouth marketing techniques. Testimonials provide a third-party endorsement of your travel planning ability. They act as a public record that you have performed well in the past; so well, in fact, that someone felt compelled to give you a testimonial. Such assurances calm the concerns and fears of new clients when they turn over thousands of their hard earned dollars to you for their vacations.

Good public relations is the result of much effort and planning. Word of mouth has an important role to play in any PR campaign and will contribute substantially when it is launched with a clear vision and articulation.

Exercise – Write down a list of clients that you can ask for referral and testimonials. Most satisfied clients are happy to provide both.

Ask the clients on your list to write you a short recommendation of your services. One of the best times to ask is within a few days of a client’s return from a successful trip. Ask permission to place their comments in your marketing materials. Include the testimonials on your web site, in your brochures and on your other printed materials. Below is a short note you might write to request a testimonial.

Betty:

Would you do a favor for me? I value your business greatly and want more clients exactly like you. Would you provide me with a short two or three sentence recommendation? If you could give me a small testimonial that I can use in my marketing materials, I would be very appreciative. Just a mention of how satisfied you are with my services and the travel planning I have done for you would mean so much.

Many thanks,

Angie Agent

Once you have obtained your first testimonial, show it to other clients when requesting theirs so they have an idea of how to write one for you.

Next, incorporate asking for referrals into your marketing plan. Formally request your clients to refer their acquaintances to you. Facilitate the process by making it easy for the client to pass along the good word by providing them with extra business cards and marketing collateral! If you actively promote referral activity with your clients, some of it will return to you in the form of the new business for which you are looking for the balance of this year and beyond.

Examine the possible marketing “hubs” you might access most easily. Consider how you might use employees, business associates and influencers in these hubs to assist with a word of mouth campaign.

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