Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Feed Your Business

Kyle Noonan, co-founder and CEO of FreeRange Concepts.
Kyle Noonan, co-founder and CEO of FreeRange Concepts.
By Kyle Noonan

I recently was doused in a frigid bath of ice and water. Yes, like millions of people, I participated in the cultural phenomenon known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

I didn’t necessarily want to join in on the movement. I don’t know anyone suffering from ALS, and cold water makes me more miserable than Shaq in a MINI Cooper. At least that’s what I kept telling myself. Yet, deep down, I really did want to participate.

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I just didn’t want to miss out. I had FOMO (that’s Fear Of Missing Out to the layperson).

I found myself being captivated by the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge. After raising well over $100 million for ALS research, and earning free celebrity “endorsements” from countless professional athletes, musicians and movie stars, it could go down as the most brilliant – and lucrative – not-for-profit marketing campaign of our generation.

One of the most compelling aspects of this ingenious campaign is that it cost the ALS Association very little money and even less time to generate widespread awareness. Global conglomerates spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising and social media campaigns in an effort to stimulate a similar level of awareness, and even then, most fall far short of what this charitable organization achieved.

So it got me to thinking, how can I use what I’ve experienced with this incredible cultural groundswell and apply it to my restaurant business?

That led me to…The Three Components of Successful Guerrilla Marketing.

Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Feed Your Business

Video: The Rustic Owners Kyle Noonan & Joshua Sepkowitz accept the The ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge

#1 – Tap into the Social Signaling phenomenon

Generally speaking, we all possess a certain level of narcissism. We want to show others, to one degree or another, how special, unique and important we are. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have exploited, and profited handsomely from, our innate desire to project a positive outward image to others.

This is commonly referred to as Social Signaling. If you have any doubt, just spend five minutes scrolling through photos on social media, and you’ll see just how important it is to us humans to show off.

How can we harness consumers’ insatiable appetite for self-promotion to benefit our business?

The answer is simply to encourage people to do what they instinctively want to do, and that is to tell others how much fun they’re having. Give your customers something to brag about. Offer them a “cool factor” so they feel compelled to tell their friends, family and even complete strangers how cool they are for being at your establishment.

I am a huge proponent of providing my guests with photo opportunities. I offer them multiple props and backdrops at our restaurant concepts to inspire them to snap pictures and share them via social media. We also accomplish this by offering several uniquely presented menu items and various fun activities.

The possibilities are endless if you just get creative.

Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Feed Your Business#2 – Answer the question ‘Why?’

Another key component of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it has a purpose. Even though a large share of participants have no idea what ALS is, millions of people worldwide have been convinced to dump icy water on their heads in support of the charity.

Cause marketing, once again, has proven to be a powerful means of changing people’s behavior.

Achieving mass participation in any endeavor is difficult, but it’s virtually impossible if people don’t immediately see the point. If you give your customers a reason to patronize you that goes beyond the tenderness of your steak or the speediness of your service, you will generate goodwill and build a sense of loyalty.

Do you benefit the greater good? TOMS shoes is a great example of a brand tied inextricably to a worthy cause.

Do you stand for something? No matter what side of the debate you are on, no one can deny the gigantic sales boost Chick-fil-A experienced after their CEO made his controversial remarks on gay rights.

Are you fun? Nathan’s Famous basically owns the July 4th holiday thanks to its world-renowned Hot Dog Eating Contest.

In other words, give people a reason to rally around you and become your brand advocate. A sense of purpose goes a long way toward motivating people.

Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Feed Your Business#3 – Harness the power of compound Interest

In order for any guerrilla marketing campaign to catch fire, you must use the principle of compound interest to your advantage. Whether or not you paid attention in school, it doesn’t take a math wiz to understand the power of multiplication. If one person tells three people and then those three people each tell three people, and so on, it doesn’t take very long to get very big, very quickly. In the online world, it’s called “going viral.”

The ALS Association utilized compound interest masterfully by “requiring” each participant to nominate three new people to follow in kind. And thus, the Ice Bucket Challenge spread like, well, a virus.

The challenge, therefore, is to motivate people to want to get others involved. To put their own credibility on the line on our behalf. But how?

Again, it has to be fun. Otherwise, it will be nearly impossible to engage a large audience. And second, it must be easy. Make the process too difficult or overly complicated, and you’re simply engaging in an exercise in futility.

Ultimately, aside from dousing countless millions of people in frigid water, and raising an enormous windfall in donations virtually overnight, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has illustrated the power of expertly executed word-of-mouth, guerrilla marketing tactics. Utilize the three components described above to help put your own plan into action and, with proper execution – and a little luck – you might just create the next global marketing phenomenon.

Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Feed Your BusinessKyle Noonan is an award-winning restaurateur and co-founder of FreeRange Concepts, a Dallas-based operator of unique restaurant concepts, including The Rustic, Mutts Canine Cantina and Bowl & Barrel. For more information, visit