Word of Mouth Marketing- Turns out what you don’t know CAN hurt you

Word of mouth marketing – it’s the holy grail for small business owners.  In the world of Web 2.0, word of mouth advertising is sometimes known as “viral marketing“. In any case, word of mouth advertising is where you rely on your satisfied customers to spread the word about your products or services.

Word of mouth marketing is a GREAT way to build a business when the message being carried by your customers is positive.   Heck, there is even Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association dedicated to promoting this method of marketing and advertising!

I have a love/hate relationship with word of mouth marketing.  I love that it’s powerful, it’s effective and best of all, it’s cheap!  I’ve built my business solely upon word of mouth marketing – which is the definition of irony because I help small business owners as a marketing consultant and I warn my clients NOT to rely solely upon Word of Mouth Marketing as their sole promotion tool to promote their business because ….


Tomorrow marks the 4 week anniversary of the extraction of my wisdom tooth.  Unfortunately, this is a tale of how important trust can be when it comes to word of mouth marketing – especially when you’re  building a business and a brand.

My tale begins in classic Word of Mouth Marketing fashion.  I was asking friends if they knew of a good dentist and  I was referred to Southport Dental Clinic in Port St Lucie, FL.

Turns out that since this friend’s last dental visit, the practice was sold and the fabulous dentist had quietly retired.  Of course, when I called to schedule my appointment, I wasn’t told of the switch.  I was just assured that I was being scheduled with Dr. Cook instead of the dentist I requested because Dr. Cook was “fantastic” when it came to extractions.   (On my way out of the office after the procdure, I overheard a conversation with another patient who was told that the dentist to whom I was referred retired  and had sold the practice to Dr. Cook a few months ago.  That was the first “dent” in my trust of this office.)

I told Dr. Cook on my initial visit that I had real trust issues when it came to dentists.  About 10 years ago I had a dentist destroy a tooth with a simple filling.  Dr. Cook assured me that after the extraction, I would trust him completely to take care of the rest of my dental needs.  Since he quoted me $5000 worth of work that needed to be done, he had every reason to want to gain my trust.  Unfortunately, in the weeks following the extraction, I have been battling an infection of epic proportions.

I put my trust into the hands of a licensed professional and it appears that trust was seriously misplaced.

I’m not a dentist, nor do I play one on TV.  Despite that fact,  I’ve learned A LOT about how wisdom teeth extractions are SUPPOSED to be handled.  Turns out, what you don’t know CAN hurt you.

Unfortunately, this illustrates the dark side of word of mouth marketing.  Not only has  Dr. Cook has lost 5 new patients (my entire family) directly – patients with dental insurance no less- as word spreads through word of mouth – the damage to the practice will probably end up being much, much higher.

Fortunately for Dr. Cook and Southport Dental, Port St Lucie, FL is a growing community.  In 2005, it was the fastest growing city in the US and the influx of new residents will give him a pool of potential unsuspecting patients to prey upon.

I’m hearing the “You’ll Be a Dentist” song sung by Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors in my head right now.  I must be feeling better – I can laugh at this again!


The Southport Dental practice now has the business equivalent of a minor infection.  One infection may not kill his practice, but repeated infections will.


Last week, when I finished my antibiotics and still had a lump the size of a golf ball on my right jaw, I asked to come in again.  I was given another round of antibiotics and this time was told this was my fault.  I probably hadn’t been eating properly prior to the extraction.

Here’s the problem – this may WELL be my fault.  Maybe I should have been drinking green smoothies in the week prior to the extraction – but as I tell the tale, I have people assuring me that the fault lies not with me -but with Dr. Cook.  Meanwhile, these people with whom I’m talking are forming their OWN opinions of Dr. Cook – unfavorable ones at that.


In the world of Web 2.0, every business owner needs to know that the web is a powerful transmitter of your word of mouth advertising.    In my book, Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results I warn business owners of the “power broker” customers.  These customers have unusually strong word of mouth marketing platforms.  In the book, I identify hair dressers as potential word of mouth power brokers – however, bloggers are another type of word of mouth power brokers.    A blog with a few thousand readers can do a lot of damage to your brand.  For example, Jackie Huba did a LOT of damage to a day spa with an unfavorable blog post Handling fee, or manhandled.

The interactivity of Web 2.0 is making it a powerful tool in the Word of Mouth Marketing Game.  Yet another reason to treat every customer like they have a well read blog!


  1. Such a great reminder! It’s true, every customer has the potential to give us a great gift or destroy a portion of our business. Still, if we’re delivering great value, referrals will come in.

    I have a business that’s very odd when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. Some people are definitely reluctant to tell others that they work with me – I’m kind of their “secret weapon” and they don’t want to lose credibility in the business world. However, the clients that are open about their spiritual perspective usually send lots of referrals my way.


  2. Andrea,

    You have the same problem that great plastic surgeons have – your best clients don’t want to broadcast that you’re their clients.

    Word of mouth is great when people are willing to talk. If they’re not, you have to take other measures!


  1. […] small business marketing.   I guess I thought this “secret” was fairly obvious, but recent experiences have illustrated for me that in the case of small business owners and entrepreneurs, word of mouth […]

  2. […] Jacob makes a point in the comments section of David’s post where he points out that you don’t expect your dentist to work on spec.  (OUCH!  That illustration really “hit home” with me thanks to my little “dental drama” of late and the ensuing anti-word of mouth marketing campaign.) […]