Word of Mouth in construction – Ignore it at your peril

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NWS PAUL HEAPS Ian Denny founder of Plus 1 Networking.

Word of Mouth in construction – Ignore it at your peril

By Ian Denny

Special to the Canadian Design and Construction Report

That may seem like a dramatic introduction, intended to urge you into some sort of action. And quite frankly it is, because most of us are guilty of ignoring word of mouth.

You see I did too. I had always known word of mouth was important to my business. In fact, one day I went through a year’s invoicing, casually noting the origin of each piece of work.

It surprised me how much had come from word of mouth. But like you probably do, at the time I shrugged my shoulders and simply wished for more of it, not believing you could do anything about it.

After all, word of mouth just happens. Or not. Surely you can do nothing about it anyway?

Then one day, I owed a friend a favour. Her company had done a great job for me, and as she was also a friend, I thought I should tell my clients and recommend her services.

So I wrote an email outlining exactly what she did and how it had really impressed me. I casually mentioned that I was meeting her for a coffee in a few days, and if they’d like to meet her to discuss, I could pass on their number and ask her to call.

I sent that to 65 clients. I thought maybe one or two would respond. But 28 responded asking me to pass on her number.

Interestingly, she fed back that she had tried to meet several of the same people. I was puzzled. Why? So I looked at her brochure. It said pretty much the same things I had said in my email.

Removing the bias had strengthened the message. People say wonderful things about themselves. In their brochures. Their tenders. Their case studies. On their websites etc.

But when a real client says pretty much the same thing, the message becomes compelling rather than viewed with healthy skepticism and suspicion.

The facts about word of mouth you can’t ignore

Nielsen, in their 2013 ‘Global Trust In Advertising’ survey, polled 29,000 people from 58 countries. Out on its own with 84 per cent was word of mouth as the number one trusted influence on their purchasing.

Interestingly, in second place on 70 per cent was online product reviews which is another form of word of mouth. All the usual suspects like magazine advertising, social media, TV etc were much further down the list.

So if word of mouth is by far the biggest influence, why do we shrug our shoulders, invest fortunes on inferior and less trusted forms of advertising and marketing, and leave it all to blind faith?

In fact if you fire up your accounts application, look at the “Marketing” cost centre reports, how much did you spend on word of mouth compared to everything else in that category last year?

I would bet your spend is rather skewed against the most trusted form of advertising.

Word of mouth is gaining credence fast as a separate discipline in its own right. And yes, you can engage an expert to accelerate it, but the good news is that there are a number of things you can do yourself.

Your social proof – Case studies

If you read my earlier example, you will spot that pretty much the same thing, spoken from a different perspective changes the results. Dramatically.

That’s what I noticed in UK construction. Case studies, which are the equivalent of bottled word of mouth if done right, are nearly always produced from completely the wrong perspective.

To make the point, I Googled contractors in my home town. For the number one result, I clicked on their case studies. Names changed to protect the innocent (or rather guilty!), but here’s what I found:

Acme were appointed main contractor within this large scale manufacturing facility…

And:

Acme Construction was appointed to project manage the removal of 1960’s vehicle loading tables and replace with…

Because pretty much everyone does the same thing – write from their own perspective, the peril in the title of this article applies to your competitors who are NOT reading this.

The peril may apply to you too if you don’t act and change the perspective.

That’s because you can very easily stand out from the rest by simply interviewing your client and asking them about what you did and how well you did it.

It becomes instantly engaging.

Let’s try those openings again, this time quoting the client we interviewed, so note the quotation marks and how different it sounds:

“I was delighted we appointed Acme as our main contractor for this large scale manufacturing facility…”

And:

“Acme Construction did a fantastic job of project managing the removal of 1960’s vehicle loading tables and replacing them with…”

Turn it into a story – The battle between logic and emotion

For some reason, many in business think we leave the home as a human, and when we arrive at our place of work we suddenly become a Vulcan.

Especially when it comes to a ‘big decision’ involving for example our choice of sub-contractors for a large construction project.

This is where it’s useful to consider Star Trek and in particular the main character Spock.

Why did we relate to Spock over the last 50 or so years? Even those who didn’t follow Star Trek knew the story – he was wrestling in a constant battle between logic and emotion. But was it really a Vulcan problem?

Or did we all relate to it because as humans we go through the same? The point here is that we like to think logic is at the centre of every business decision.

But when people are wired up to monitor their brain activity before being presented with an advertising message, the synapses in the part of the brain dealing with emotion fire off first. Logic kicks in too, but afterwards.

So let’s combine both together. Produce our case studies through the eyes and words of our clients. And make it a story with a touch of emotion as well as business logic.

US psychologist tells us which emotions to focuson

Abraham Maslow was a U.S. psychologist studying human motivations. So if you want to fire those positive emotional synapses in your case studies, let’s look at the areas his 1943 paper on the topic reveals as central.

We are programmed first to survive. Then seek shelter. Belong to a group of people. Be respected by others and have our self-esteem validated.

For example, by choosing you, did your client receive praise from their colleagues and management? That triggers the respect and self-esteem emotion.

And when your potential client reads a case study featuring somebody like them receiving respect and added self-esteem, guess what? Yes, they want it too.

They want to belong to a group of successful people, and you are part of their solution to achieve it.

“I got a huge pat on the back for a job well done from our Financial Director…”

You can do this yourself by preparing a list of questions for your client which may prompt a quote like the above example.

Or, it can sometimes be easier to use an expert word of mouth copywriter (me) to conduct the interview for you.

How to use your case studies to secure more business

Case studies are just one part of an holistic word of mouth marketing plan. But they are central to it.

If your clients were available 24/7 to accompany you to every meeting and tell people how wonderful you are, there wouldn’t be a problem.

But you don’t want to constantly pester your clients to be a reference point testifying about you.

That’s why case studies should become central to your bids.

In your bids, proposals and tenders, you will stand out and certainly win more projects than you did before.

How do I know? Well you don’t even need to trust me. Type “commercial contractor Toronto” or your own city into google.

Visit the first 10 sites of your competitors.

Look at their case studies. How many take the internal, logical perspective? And how many take the client perspective with all of those emotional triggers built-in? How many just use images and don’t even give the client perspective?

Be careful

There is an understandably huge temptation to boast about the wonderful job you did and all the technical details of the construction project. And then add a token quote from your client.

Avoid it. Elsewhere in your proposals, bids and tenders you can outline the detail of your expertise. By all means use project photos.

But in your case studies, make it 80 per cent from the clients’ perspective using the words they gave you in the interview. 10 per cent should be profiling the client. And maybe 10 per cent about the project you were engage to execute.

Ian Denny specializes in word of mouth marketing, working with clients globally. The magic of the internet and Skype means he can boost your word of mouth from his hometown of Liverpool, UK.  Find out more on his website here.

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