Word of mouth is your most valuable marketing tool, which is good news and bad news.  The good news is that it works so well because it’s authentic.  The bad news is, you can’t fake it.

If you’ve got an email or postal list of people who like your product enough to sign up, you have a massively valuable tool.  So when someone buys in person, on the phone or online, ask them if they would like to join. Encourage them with an offer, something that will appeal to those genuinely interested in what you have to offer.   In other words, don’t offer an M&S voucher or everyone will sign up.  Offer a ticket discount voucher or a free programme.  Actually most people will sign just to be better informed, so offer a regular newsletter. At Your Life Your Style, we have forms by the till and a box on each page of our website, and we promise special offers and exclusive information.

So how do you turn your email or mailing list into word-of-mouth?  People love to share good things with their friends because it gives them kudos. So, when you email them, encourage them to forward it to a friend.

Given the value of a mailing list, it’s astonishing how little care some people take with it.  Please, don’t send unsolicited emails- it is actually illegal to send emails to someone who hasn’t opted in to your list, unless they are a customer.  You should take advantage of a ticket sale acknowledgement email to sell future shows and of course your email list but pestering people with emails or postal mail is not the way to win friends.  It’s also good business practice because you get reported as a spammer if you don’t.  For the same reason, make it easy to unsubscribe.

Always send your emails from the web address you say it is.  You may only be trying to be helpful because the address you are sending from is a bit obscure but, since this is what people trying to steal your bank details do, you are likely to be identified as a spammer.  Spam filters will also pick up on certain words like ‘free’ and ‘discount’ because they sound like sales letters.   Once you are identified as a spammer (and apparently it takes very few bad reports), you may find yourself banned by your Internet Service Supplier.  And that’s completely for all emails.

The internet is another great way to generate word-of-mouth. In fact the main reason people belong to social networks is for word of mouth. So set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and encourage your customers/supporters to follow you. If you post interesting information or offers, your followers will pass them on. Give visitors to your website the opportunity to send the page or a link to the page.  Encourage comments and conversations on your website.  Track comments being made elsewhere on the web and join in conversations about your product. However, you must be upfront about who you are – pretending to be a disinterested person can be very damaging, as a top Hollywood production company found out!

‘Bring A Friend’, as in letting your loyal customers give discount vouchers to their friends, works well because sending a gift really impresses

Samples are an excellent way of kick starting word-of-mouth.  You know how you can go to your local supermarket on a Saturday morning and stuff enough free samples down your throat to see you through to supper?  People taste the product and quite a few not only buy it again but tell their friends and family that they were given something nice at the supermarket.  How can we apply that to seeing a theatre show?  My own experience is that CDs and even DVDs don’t really make an impression.  Giving away tickets for the whole event somehow defeats the object.  Fortunately, we already have a tried and tested solution.  Put a lesser known artist on as a support or get a sample of a stage show or act into an awards ceremony, charity fundraiser or festival.

Or… a personal appearance.  An interview accompanied by a photo or a recorded extract from a show is an ideal way to enthuse a potential attender into a ticket buyer.  Having said that, there are a number of bricks that must be in place.  The interviewee must make the show sound like it’s worth seeing.  Enthusiasm, amusing anecdotes, clear description of the show are all de rigeur.  I’ve been surprised how often a performer is unprepared to perform in an interview or else is so scripted they persuade no-one.  Go through likely questions and have snappy answers.  The interviewee must know what needs to be said and make sure they say it.  Ditto you must have top quality production shots, video or sound recordings available.

Feel free to pass this advice on.