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Word-of-mouth: David versus Goliath

Yesterday, I experienced the arrogance some big companies display toward their customers first-hand. As a young start-up agency, I had to deal with a big, established agency - a self-professed 'market leader' - for one of my prospective clients. The experience again drives home the impact one single bad experience can have on the way female consumers will view a brand in the future.

Let's take a real-life example of what women do when they have a negative brand experience.
One of my clients - a female marketing manager at a multi-national - had a negative experience with a research agency whom she retained recently for a very high-profile project and who's performance was below-par to say the least. I was not involved in the project, and as such was not on a 'need to know' basis regarding the ins and outs nor the results of the project. My client however, fuming about the lack of service, attention to detail and quality of the supplier's work, did not miss a single opportunity to share her story with others. I heard it at least 3 times in meetings with different parties. Not only did she mention the brand by name, regailing the flaws of the agency in detail, she also explicity said "Let me give you some good advice: don't ever work with them!". Most of those present were women in managment positions. Women who have the decision-making power to choose suppliers and who went back to their respective companies with a very clear impression of the company in question in mind. No doubt this company was never going to be included in the short-list of possible suppliers for any of these women. What's more: when their companies in turn need to retain a research agency, these women are very likely to proactively warn their colleagues about the supplier.

Here are some important lessons brands can learn about women as customers:

1. Women bond with each other by exchanging stories and personal information. If your customer has had a bad experience with your brand, you can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that she will tell her family, friends and colleagues about it. Repeatedly.

2. Women remember the advice they are given or the stories they are told by others. (I've never considered buying an Alfa Romeo because two of my friends - both Alfa Romeos drivers - told me that they tend to have mechanical problems and advised me never to buy one).

3. Word-of-mouth between consumers has a credibility factor no advertising campaign can match. It is the most powerful influencer of your brand's image. As marketeers, we can tell our customers whatever we want about our brand. Ultimately, it is what consumers tell each other that carries the most weight. Word-of-mouth will determine whether a prospective consumer believes our communication or is willing to try our product.

Word-of-mouth: it's the 21st century battle of David versus Goliath.

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