In the Biz: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

The secret to harnessing the power of word-of-mouth advertising lies in effective “talk triggers”
Illustration by Tony Healey

There are many forms of advertising and marketing, but maybe none so powerful (and free) as letting happy customers do the work for you.

According to a 2018 study entitled “Chatter Matters,” 83% of Americans reported a personal recommendation from a friend or family member would make them more likely to purchase a product or service. That same percentage of respondents reported having made recommendations to others, and 55% said they made product or service recommendations monthly —if not more frequently. Unfortunately, fewer than 1% of companies have an actual strategy for creating, maintaining and sustaining the right environment to generate these crucial conversations.

Late last year, marketing guru Jay Baer asked me to review a galley version of his latest book Talk Triggers. This newest effort — co-written with Daniel Lemin — details cases of extraordinary marketing achieved through strategic operational decisions that successfully compelled happy customers to make recommendations.

While many businesses experiment with gimmicks and bonuses to get customers talking, Baer and Lemin stress that “talk triggers” must be essential elements of your brand experience — something that customers cannot help but share. Rather than fleeting gimmicks, talk triggers are strategic business choices.

Creating these conversations takes effort, but according to the authors, creating a talk trigger is done through a precise process. First, a talk trigger must hit four basic principles; It must be: remarkable, relevant, realistic and repeatable.

For example, one casino I’ve worked with features an unremarkable soft-serve ice cream machine just outside of the buffet. Customers stop by and serve themselves a cone for a refreshing break at any time of the day or night. There are no signs limiting servings, just an ample supply of cones. The management team understood that little perk wasn’t going to break the bank, but it could put a smile on a customer or two, perhaps giving them something to talk about. I think you’ll agree this little effort hits all four requirements.

Creating Talk Triggers in Six Steps

1. Gather Insights. Review competitive positioning, messaging, revenue, customer service issues and compliments, as well as the information you gather through employee stories.

2. Get Close to Your Customer. Find ways – through surveys and sampling, social media conversation data, product, or service usage data – to get an understanding of how customers are experiencing your offerings.

3. Create Candidate Talk Triggers. Search through surveys or engage in social media to find the customer answers to the following.

  • When I buy or use this product/service, I am…
  • What I don’t expect from this product is…
  • What I’m talking about in my life right now is…
  • What I think I want is…
  • What I actually want is…

4. Test Your Ideas. As with all programs, you must test and measure. Try out a few “candidate” talk triggers to ensure they will have the desired outcome.

5. Turn It On. Once you have developed a winning idea and it has tested positively for momentum, it’s time to put it on repeat.

6. Amplify. With ongoing activation, you’re now ready to amplify your talk trigger. Look for opportunities to share your trigger in your media outlets (but not as advertising campaigns). Amplification is about others telling your story. Encourage employees to share their stories with friends and family. Like chocolate chip cookies at DoubleTree, strive to make your talk trigger an icon for your company. The tasty talk trigger has stood the test of time, and customers continue to share their stories.

One last note: Be patient. Remember that by its nature, word of mouth takes time to spread.


Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and