Home Articles What creates word of mouth? A case study in coffee talk.

What creates word of mouth? A case study in coffee talk.


What makes for a good strategy to get people chatting and raving about your brand and passing the word on to others? We posed this question to Soup, a marketing agency that works with companies to help spread the word about products and brands. Tracey Coleman, Soup’s conversations director, shared this story of a successful cafe in Sydney and what it revealed about word-of-mouth marketing.

I don’t need to tell you that word of mouth is the most effective way to market your business. It’s something we know inherently, but it’s often seen as an almost ephemeral force over which your business has no control. The truth is you can harness word of mouth and ignite it even – we see it in action every day.

At Soup, we think of ourselves as experts, but of course we’re real consumers like everyone else. We are looking for the same things, in essence, as any person seeking a tried-and-tested brand, but we probably view businesses and products with a slightly more critical eye when it comes to choosing one over another.

We know that all businesses are looking for that holy grail of ‘free’ peer-to-peer recommendations, so who do we hold up as a good example and what makes them worth talking about?

It starts with passion…

Here’s a brand that really got us talking – a coffee shop, no less, in Sydney’s Surry Hills neighbourhood.

Coffee shops are a dime a dozen here, yet we’ve been going back to one place every day for months. It started with our office coffee influential, Dana, who walked in a different direction one lunch time and found a little cafe called Youeni tucked away on Flinders Street. She came back to the office, raving about this great new find, and within a week, the rest of us were regulars too.

We wouldn’t have gone back again if the coffee wasn’t great but there’s plenty of great coffee around Surry Hills – so what else draws us there?

A straw poll of the office confirmed a resounding agreement that it was all about owner Chris Starke’s passion and the general friendliness of the staff who always remember our orders and names. (It worked for “Cheers”, didn’t it?)

But that passion also travelled outside the cafe. After we started going to Youeni, Chris took the time to come to our office and personally drop off a menu as well as a plant for our office coffee table, which was a very sweet gesture.

Chris is a pretty humble guy but puts his success down to a love for people and a desire to educate his customers about good food and produce. In other words, his enthusiasm and knowledge are authentic.

“I’m a chef by trade and I love food but I also just love ‘doing business’,” Starke says. “I started out delivering fresh produce from the back of a van but realised I needed a retail presence. Good food and good coffee go hand in hand.”

His ethos: educate people rather than just selling to them, and they’ll come back to ask for your advice and opinion again and again.

“I’m a strong believer that if you give good service and a great product, you’ll get people coming back and recommending to others. So far it’s all been based on word of mouth and editorials.”

And ends with outstanding service…

Soup recently commissioned international Word of Mouth research agency Keller Fay to conduct its Talk Track study in Australia. We found that Australians have, on average, ten branded conversations per day. How do you get your brand or product into that conversation?

Starke’s advice is to focus on service because in a world where parity exists in many industries, service is where you can differentiate your business, be it the local coffee shop, printer or software developer.

“Get to know your customers and know their names. I want people to feel like they’re a part of Youeni too.”

Some tips from Chris:

  • First is the product – it’s got to be good (make bloody good coffee)
  • Treat every customer as an individual
  • Build an experience
  • Think about how everything you do will relate down the track; even a small business is about building a brand for the future
  • Keep it fresh – we’re always changing our menu and only sell seasonal produce.

No business is perfect and some of us haven’t enjoyed absolutely everything they produce but we go back regardless due to the great coffee and personalised service on offer.

What else would us WOM experts recommend to small businesses looking to get recommendations?

  • Have a passion for what you’re selling and show it in everything you do.
  • Include all staff (no matter what level) in the ‘vision’ of the company so that they share the future goals with you and it will flow on to the customers.
  • Share your knowledge with your customers, don’t be afraid to teach them what you know, they’ll come back hungry for more.
  • Ask for feedback from your customers, allow them the chance to have input into your business and make them feel like they’re part of the family.
  • Identify your ‘influencers’ – those special people who are more connected to diverse social groups, passionate about your product and early adopters (like to be the first to know about new information in the field they’re passionate about). Focus more energy on them and get to know them more personally and they will spread the word for you far and wide.
  • Surprise and delight your customers – Chris didn’t have to personally drop off a menu and a plant but it kept the office buzzing for weeks about Youeni and it was such a simple gesture.

What can your organisation do to get to know its customers better and personalise the service? How can you surprise and delight in a small way that will get your customers buzzing? What clever things have you done to build word of mouth? Our favourite suggestion will be sent a copy of award winning DVD Startup.com.