Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business

Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business

by Paul M. Rand


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Seize the power of today's most powerful marketing tool—WORD OF MOUTH

According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers report that a word of mouth (WOM) recommendation is the top reason they buy a product or service.

The founder of one of today's most successful digital and social marketing firms, Paul M. Rand has been at the forefront of WOM marketing since social media and smartphones began revolutionizing the way we do business. In Highly Recommended, Rand reveals how customer recommendations in the digital space have radically transformed the way people buy—which means you need to come up with new methods to reach customers and improve your products.

Highly Recommended provides everything you need to seize the competitive edge and grow your company.

  • Find out where and how your customers are talking about your brand
  • Articulate your "Shareable Story" and get people talking
  • Connect directly with your most influential customers
  • Create compelling content to engage new customers
  • Identify and neutralize negative commentary about your brand
  • Build a true social business based on being the most highly recommended brand

With WOM success stories from Stew Leonard's, Red Robin, Frito-Lay, Kimberly-Clark, Amazon, and other industry leaders, Highly Recommended puts you on the fast track to taking control of the dialogue about your business that’s already taking place.

You have instant access to just about everything your customers are saying about you. You can't afford not to take advantage of this opportunity. And you can bet that your competition is working on it right now.

The power of WOM can't be overstated. It's the most important marketing tool today. Apply the lessons of one of the pioneers of word of mouth marketing to ensure that your brand is Highly Recommended.


"Highly Recommended is an understatement. How about 'Must Read'? Paul is a five-star thinker. His attentive understanding of word of mouth ethics and message integrity deserves a million Likes." — PETE BLACKSHAW, Global Head of Digital and Social Media, Nestle,
and author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends,
Angry Customers Tell Three Thousand

"Paul's book turns the traditional tenets of advertising on their end and empowers us to rethink marketing for the social economy. I highly recommend this book." — ADAM BROWN, Executive Strategist, Salesforce.com, and former Executive Director of Social Media for Dell and The Coca-Cola Company

"In Highly Recommended, Paul reveals that there is a science to being a successful social brand and lays out a compelling blueprint that separates the winners from the rest." — ED KELLER, CEO, The Keller Fay Group, and coauthor of The Face-to-Face Book and The Influentials

"While technology has permanently changed the economy, the lessons in Paul's book are timeless in many ways. Highly Recommended is one book that I will be looking at and learning from for years to come." — PETE MARINO, Vice President of Communications, MillerCoors

"'Would you recommend us to a friend?' It should be, 'Did you recommend us?' Paul shows why, in a time of connected consumerism, recommendations are more powerful than ever. Earn them!" — BRIAN SOLIS, bestselling author of What's the Future of Business (WTF),
and Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group

“The author advises that a new business philosophy is required for engaging customers. Content marketing is that philosophy, providing information that is valued by customers and available at a time when the customer wants it. Rand views WOM (word of mouth) as the cornerstone of content marketing and customer service. Recommended.” — CHOICE

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071816212
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 09/23/2013
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 534,288
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

PAUL M. RAND is the founder, president, and CEO of Zocalo Group, one of the world's leading digital, social media, and word of mouth marketing agencies and one of the fastest growing companies inside Omnicom Group. He also serves at the Chief Digital Officer for Ketchum, a leading global communications firm. He served as president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and is on the board of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus and vice chairman of the Dean's Advisory Board for DePaul University's Driehaus College of Business and Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.


Read an Excerpt


Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business


McGraw-Hill Education

Copyright © 2014 Paul M. Rand
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-181621-2


Stew Leonard's and the 30-Minute Recommendation

In October 2012, after weeks of careful planning, a couple colleagues and I made our way from Chicago to Stamford, Connecticut, for a series of meetings with the brand leaders at Philips Consumer Products Group.

We'd been working with Philips Norelco, and the director of brand communications, Shannon Jenest, wanted to introduce us to the other brands so they could consider word of mouth and social media marketing in their programs for the new year.

We had a busy two days' worth of sessions scheduled with all of the consumer lifestyle brands under the Philips umbrella—Avent (baby products), Sonicare and Zoom (oral healthcare), Philips Norelco (men's grooming), and Saeco (espresso machines).

Our first day of back-to-back sessions had gone very well. To celebrate our collective success, a group of us headed out to dinner. My team had booked a table at a local steak house, our default celebratory setting of choice, but our clients strongly recommended their favorite Italian restaurant. (You can guess where we ended up ...)

After enjoying drinks and appetizers and, naturally, rehashing the day's conversations, we got around to talking about everyone's upcoming weekend plans.

One of our clients mentioned that she was taking her son to someplace called "Stew Leonard's" to buy his pumpkin and pick up a few Halloween decorations.

"Never heard of Stew Leonard's," I said, not suspecting I was about to be schooled, big time, in the art of recommendations. "What is it—an apple orchard or something?"

Both clients looked at me incredulously.

"Stew Leonard's is the most amazing, fun, delicious, and incredible grocery store in the whole world," one of them said to me, with the other nodding and smiling, eager to weigh in.

So, for the next 30 minutes (not an exaggeration), my two clients shared every detail of this dairy wonderland—each trying to outdo the other about who loved Stew Leonard's more.

The Disneyland of Dairy

Now, for the uninformed, like me, Stew Leonard's is a chain of four supermarkets—though that hardly begins to describe the full extent of their awesomeness—in Connecticut and New York. I have to admit that once I began researching the company, I felt a little neglectful for never having heard of it before.

Not only has Ripley's Believe It or Not! deemed the chain the "World's Largest Dairy" but none other than Fortune magazine lists Stew Leonard's as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For."

The more I learned, the clearer it became that Stew Leonard's had purposefully integrated ways to be recommended into every aspect of its business: design, product selection, marketing, PR, customer service, advertising, product innovation, promotions, and human resources. In short, it had become what we all must become in this new Digital Age: a social business, integrating customer and employee feedback at the speed of sound and using it to craft our future. As a result, and as I'd just witnessed firsthand, the company came highly recommended.

This place has no right to be called a "supermarket chain." (In fact, the New York Times called it "the Disneyland of Dairy Stores.")

There is an ice cream parlor, naturally; a viewing area where you can watch your milk being processed, bottled, stickered, stamped, and rolled right down the line; a bakery; a catering operation; and an outdoor cafeteria or, as Stew's calls it, the Hoedown Area. Forget the small florist section you find at most grocery stores; Stew's has a full-on nursery complete with seasonal cuttings, floral arrangements, and more.

There are handmade, supersized, from-scratch potato chips made right in the store; grind-your-own-beans coffee stations; fresh sushi made right on the spot—the list goes on and on.

And even as impressive as all that is, Stew's has also found a way to add rich, interactive, added-value details to nearly every nook and cranny. The Hoedown Area doesn't just offer the usual burgers and fries but also lobster prepared freshly all day long. The ice cream parlor doesn't just add free sprinkles to your cones. It also offers a free cone for each $100 spent in the store. Stew's doesn't just juice its own oranges and bottle its own orange juice. The employees do it all behind plate glass windows where everyone can watch them all day long.

The website offers recipes for everything from appetizers to full-course meals. Stew's will send care packages to your kid in college. There's even a "cow cam" where you can watch the cattle where your milk comes from. An online suggestion box at the bottom of the home page reveals just how critical customer feedback, response, involvement, engagement, and interaction are to the company, as does its customer service policy, which is literally written in stone.

I'm not joking. There's a giant rock in the store on which the following policy is etched: "Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1."

The Vocal Majority: Welcome to the Recommendation Age

Have you ever been shocked to discover that a friend, family member, or colleague hasn't seen your favorite movie, read your favorite book, visited your favorite restaurant, or tasted your favorite Starbucks beverage of choice?

Now do you recall the zealousness of your explanation about said movie, book, restaurant, or beverage? The passion of your vocal advocacy? The sudden opportunity to share your love of a particular person, place, or thing with someone you care about or even someone you've just met? "You just have to read it! I know you. You'll love it, and the best part is, when you're done, there are six more books in the series!"

If so, then you can picture what it was like listening to these two women extol every virtue of the great and mighty Stew Leonard's over dinner that evening. Here is a representative sampling of the snatches of conversation from dinner:

"I love it when they start sampling the seasonal specials all over the store!"

"Have you ever had the lobster roll?!"

"It's the first place I take out-of-town visitors."

"I could spend a whole day in the bakery aisle!"

The only real debate about how great Stew Leonard's was came when one of the clients said she "thought their prices were a little bit high, but it was worth it." The other client said, "No. They aren't high at all; and they have great deals."

Amazing. When every grocery chain I know of sends out regular "can't beat our prices" inserts and runs full-page "we're the low price leaders" advertising, the issue of price was the last, and seemingly the least relevant, issue when it came to Stew Leonard's advocates.

I was already impressed with their advocacy when not one but both clients offered to pick me up early before the next day's meetings to see the nearest Stew Leonard's location for myself.

When at last the pep rally ended and both clients took a breath, I sat back and marveled aloud at the job they'd just done on not just Stew Leonard's behalf but my own. When they looked back at me quizzically, I explained that they'd just spent half an hour exemplifying the power of word of mouth and recommendations.

And they had. It was a microcourse, right there at that dinner table, about how the recommendation culture worked, the power of recommendations, the passion of advocacy, and the motivation behind helping others through suggestion.

So we sat there for another half hour, detailing the process and brainstorming why these two women were such passionate advocates and cheerleaders, really, about Stew Leonard's. Here's what we came up with:

* Stew Leonard's goes out of its way to make the shopping experience pleasant and fun for everyone involved.

* The company's employees are in on the game—which has also helped Stew's earn a Fortune "100 Best Companies to Work For" designation.

* The store has a carnival-like atmosphere that reflects local produce and personality, seasonal holidays, and the smells, tastes, and foods of the season.

* The company is committed to the community with various and regular outreach services like "Stew the Duck" and a variety of holiday and seasonal in- and out- of-store events.

* Employees actively engage consumers in a real and vital way, soliciting customer feedback both online and off, while in the store and out.

* Local ads aren't about "slashing prices" or "special offers" but about what is new, fresh, ripe, or now. It isn't just about pumpkins. It's about "jack o' lantern" pumpkins. It isn't just about ground chuck. It's about its "world famous" filet mignon, "fresh from Kansas."

* What's more, the store circulars regularly feature the owner, "Stew," posing with local or at least "real" farmers. There is a folksy, rather than corporate, feel to any and all printed, web, and other marketing materials.

* No one seems to associate the store with commerce but with emotions. Stew's is about family gatherings, celebrations, holidays, scents and sounds, and seasonal produce like pumpkins in the fall and flowers in the spring. It is, as one client mentioned, a place to go with family and friends, a place to take visitors and guests and out-of-town folks to "show it off."

This was, of course, all nonscientific, heart versus head stuff, but clearly the folks behind the Stew Leonard's folksy, familial brand were doing something right, and they knew how to keep doing it so that the customers become cheerleaders and the skeptics (like me) quickly become at first, devotees and later, willing and quite vocal advocates. (Here I am writing about them, for Pete's sake.)

Obviously, this didn't just "happen" by accident. Behind the folksy exterior, no doubt, the folks behind the Stew Leonard's "brand" are working as hard as the rest of us to do more of what works and less of what doesn't. The question comes to mind, if it is that easy to become recommendable, then why don't more businesses do that? Why are they still "push" marketing?

Although companies like Stew Leonard's and the rest of those we'll read about in case studies throughout this book make it look easy, it is complex. For us, the challenge is turning the recommend-able part into a sustainable system of excellence.

Another challenge for most of us, big company or small, B2C or B2B, external or internal, is that we don't inherently feel like a Stew Leonard's. We may not have ice cream cones and fall pumpkins and sampling stations and "cow cams" to brag about.

You may be thinking that dairy stores and your brand or industry have little in common, but the fact is recommendations are recommendations, whether they're for running shoes, bestselling young adult vampire novels, blockbuster or indie movies, designer handbags, protein bars, sports drinks, widgets, or throw pillows.

Even in the B2B or nonprofit worlds, even within your own company, recommendations are vital to your success, growth, and survival in a world increasingly dependent on one-to-one, word of mouth marketing.

How do we make deodorant sexy? Old Spice and Axe have managed to do it.

How do we get folks talking about something as surface "boring" as car insurance? State Farm, Progressive, and Geico make it happen.

How do we turn a movie about kids killing other kids into the next blockbuster teen sensation? Ask the folks at Hunger Games marketing HQ, and they'll tell you it's largely due to recommendations, cheerleading, and advocacy.

I think the takeaway for me and my clients that night, and a most surprising one at that, was how to put ourselves in Stew Leonard's shoes and make it so that others want to recommend us, cheerlead and advocate for us, and spread the word in such a way that they're passionate, proactive, and prolific about it.

That, in a nutshell, is what Highly Recommended is all about.


Why Angie and Her List of Recommendations Are Worth $1.4 Billion

Sometimes we make succeeding in business more complicated than it needs to be. Among the myriad buzzwords, metrics, analytics, white papers, articles, statistics, and strategies surrounding social media, it's easy to lose track of why all those tools exist in the first place. To clear away the clutter and focus on the takeaway, we need to return to the basics to remember what our customers think—and why.

Case in point: Angie's List, a website that aggregates verified consumer reviews of service companies as a way to capture word of mouth wisdom went public in November 2011 and currently has a market cap of nearly $1.4 billion. There's a very clear—and simple—reason why: consumers want, and are willing to pay for, recommendations they can trust.

Dealing with Information Overload

We've all seen the numbers. Each one of us is overwhelmed with commercial messages, channel choices, e-mails, text messages—and now Facebook updates, tweets, pins, and check-ins.

Of course, there are so many numbers about these numbers that no one can quite agree on the actual number. Consumer Reports tells us that the number of incoming messages we receive each day is as low as 247 while some of the more vocal anti-advertising antagonists tell us that it's anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000.

Add these messages to the extra push from the average 30,000 new products introduced each year (95 percent of which fail, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen), and it's a wonder that any marketing messages actually make it through the clutter at all.

In the history of the world, there has never been a time when more information was available to the general public. Nearly any piece of data we need—from historical to educational to governmental to the trivial—is available in a few mouse clicks.

Want to know the gestation period of a water buffalo? Wikipedia has you covered. Want to know who the sound effects editor was for the 1986 John Hughes classic Pretty in Pink? Imdb.com has you covered. Eager to find out who the twenty-seventh president of the United States was? Just Google it, and you can spend the next two weeks getting to know everything and anything about William Howard Taft.

No fact is too trivial, no genre too niche, no statistic too archaic to avoid the nearly endless reach of the Internet. And more information is coming every day.

The first wave of this information overload came in one direction: from creator to end user. Someone posted something, such as a Wikipedia entry; we took advantage of it. But with each new factoid, photo, link, or reference, we needed more ways to deal with the information bits and to filter them, process them, and categorize them. The second wave of information overload included more social interaction; someone posted something, we took advantage of it, and we let the person know what we thought of it.

This second wave, or Web 2.0, or any of a myriad of names it's been called, eventually wound up under the general heading of "social media." Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube — take your pick; it was all about people connecting in ways they never had before.

Suddenly, we could control the content we saw. On Twitter, we could "follow" those like-minded individuals who "got" us or sounded like us or made us laugh or think or nod or even shake our heads in ways that were unique to us. So rather than following anyone and everyone, we could limit what we saw to those people we wanted to hear from.

It was the same on Facebook, where our walls were full of only those people we chose to "friend" or "like." If we ran across a blog that fit our lifestyle, needs, or personality, we could subscribe to it, join it, or follow it. We could subscribe to this newsletter or that person's updates or that company's news.

Excerpted from HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by PAUL M. RAND. Copyright © 2014 Paul M. Rand. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents






PART 1 Word of Mouth Recommendations: Marketing's Holy Grail          

CHAPTER 1 Stew Leonard's and the 30-Minute Recommendation          

CHAPTER 2 Why Angie and Her List of Recommendations Are Worth $1.4

CHAPTER 3 Fixing What Advertising Has Broken          

CHAPTER 4 A Whole New Model for a Whole New World          

CHAPTER 5 The Power of Positive Recommendations          

CHAPTER 6 Why, Where, and How We Recommend          

CHAPTER 7 Some Recommendations Are More Valuable Than Others: The Oprah

and the Influencer Ecosystem          

PART 2 The Road Map to Recommendations          

CHAPTER 8 Know: Understanding Where and How Your Brand—and Your
Competitors—Are Talked About and Recommended          

CHAPTER 9 Plan: Articulating Your Shareable Story, Boosting Your Search
Ranking, and Formalizing Your Paid, Earned, and Owned Recommendable Brand

CHAPTER 10 Identify: Discovering Those People Whose Recommendations
Influence Your Brand's Purchase Decisions          

CHAPTER 11 Activate: Creating Compelling Content and Experiences That
Engage—The 90/10 Rule          

CHAPTER 12 Protect: Identifying and Neutralizing Determined Detractors:
Hear Me's, Reputation Terrorists, and Competitive Destroyers          

PART 3 Beyond Marketing: Operationalizing Recommendations          

CHAPTER 13 Customer Service That Gets You Recommended          

CHAPTER 14 Attracting and Keeping the Best: Becoming the Most Recommended
Place to Work          

CHAPTER 15 Creating Products and Offerings Your Customers Tell You They
Will Buy: Product Innovation and R&D          

CHAPTER 16 Tying It All Together: Becoming a Highly Recommended Business          



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