The Word-of-Mouth Myth

Local food events are a great way to build brand recognition.
(Photo: Tracy Morin)

I’ve talked with countless pizzeria operators over the years. One of the standard questions I always ask them, since PMQ is a magazine dedicated to pizzeria marketing, is, “What has been your most successful form of advertising/marketing?” As you read this, you may be saying the same thing most of them say, “word of mouth.” But unless you own a historic pizzeria, more often than not, there’s more to it than that.

PMQ‘s publisher, Steve Green, would always tell me, “Don’t let them get away with telling you ‘word of mouth’ is their only form of marketing; there’s more going on beyond word of mouth.” And he’s right. While word of mouth is definitely a huge factor in bringing customers into most pizzerias, word of mouth doesn’t usually happen independently of outside influences, and it’s often not the original reason customers end up in your restaurant. Usually, when I dig a little deeper, operators begin to talk about charity drives they organize, sports teams they sponsor, monthly dinners they hold, etc. In the end, these promotions all result in a lot of “word of mouth,” but they started with an organized marketing effort.

I asked my Blog Advisory Board to weigh in on some of the ways they see pizzerias market/promote/advertise their businesses, and here’s what they had to say.

“In our market, the most important thing is staying highly rated with review sites Yelp, Google+ or even Trip Advisor. Billboards are there for the main players, but not for your average restaurant. Keeping hotel concierges happy plays a huge role in Chicago, as well as landing pages on Food Network or Travel Channel.” —Jonathan Porter, Chicago Pizza Tours

“I think the best marketing is when there are mouth-watering pictures…pizza porn….Seeing a beautiful pizza just makes you crave it and want to go get some right away.” —Vanessa Maltin-Weisbrod, Delight Gluten-Free Magazine

“The number of customers is really an objective piece of data. If I were being asked what form of advertising I think is more effective by pizzerias, I’d say it’s mainly printed collateral and social media. Coupons and door hangers are pretty effective because they remind customers you exist. Loyalty programs are cool because they reward return customers. If we widen the scope to marketing in general, I’d say press and word of mouth are by far the most powerful.” —Scott Wiener, Scott’s Pizza Tours

“It’s all inside the four walls. If you run an A operation, your current customers will recommend new customers. It’s all about frequency. If you can get your current customer to make one more visit a month, you would almost double your sales.” —Tom Feltenstein, Power Marketing Academy

“Word of mouth will always be the most important kind of marketing any business can ask for. Social media, PR, even events at some point rely on people relaying the message. This is based on the thought that personal endorsements will always trump advertisement. That is how brands go from being a local spot to being a place people will travel to see. You want them talking about you in their daily lives and social media not just when they mention what they did last night to their inner circle, but becoming their go-to suggestion whenever they hear anyone talk food, as if it’s a gift that they just have to share.” —Jeff Varasano, Varasano’s

Offers that create a ‘call to action’ with a SHORT expiration date. The two primary motivations to buy are fear and greed. If you can get patrons to fear they will miss a great deal and the offer is strong enough to create greed, you win on both and create the psychology for a sale.” —Ed Zimmerman, The Food Connector

“Ask any successful operator what their best advertising is, and they will all answer word of mouth. This is why social media is so appealing and is another form of spreading word of mouth. To successfully engage and maintain a strong social media presence, restaurateurs must have a strongly articulated message and the resources to communicate it. The big myth is that social media is free, however, it needs someone to manage it, it needs a plan and communications on a daily basis, and that requires time, effort and a human!” —Linda Duke, Duke Marketing