Marketing is a key component of building a sustainable business. If you can’t tap into or generate demand, you can’t reach a sufficient volume of customers to cover costs. But not all marketing plans are created equal; the right strategy will suit an organization’s budget and its target market. For Jacaranda, we have decided that a word-of-mouth marketing campaign is the right fit.
Part of the reason for our decision is cost. We are a lean organization and, as such, we have a limited marketing budget. If we ran a large-scale conventional marketing campaign, we would need to offset the expense by charging more for our services.
But the real reason we like word of mouth as a marketing strategy is that it is likely to bring us the better results than any other option.Even if we had the budget for extensive television and radio advertising, billboards and promotional teddy bears, we would still center our efforts on word-of-mouth referrals. It seems to be the best fit for our market: The mothers in we’ve talked to in east Africa have consistently told us that input from friends and family members is the most important factor influencing their healthcare decisions. Conversely, our focus groups have indicated that billboard and radio advertising has minimal impact on local mothers’ healthcare decisions. For us, it makes sense to have our patients and community partners market for us. Having mothers hear about us from their friends and neighbors is far more effective than having them learn about us via a more formal – and expensive – publicity campaign.
We at Jacaranda believe that quality is the biggest driver of person-to-person recommendations. The most important thing we can do to support our marketing strategy is provide excellent service. But we are always on the lookout for tactics that will accelerate our campaign. As we launch our first clinics, we are testing four ways to boost word-of-mouth referrals.
1) Get more people – and/or, more influential people – talking about you.
The opening of our first clinics in Nairobi is a natural time for us to generate buzz. We are capitalizing on this natural talking point and spending a little extra money on an initial marketing push. We are taking advantage of Kenya’s Community Health Worker (CHW) program, paying CHWs a small stipend to spread word of our services in their communities. Our CHW mobilization strategy has been our single biggest supplier of new patients so far. At the same time, we are targeting influential members of the communities we work with – chiefs and chiefs’ wives, pastors and pastors’ wives and the administrators and secretaries of schools – and encouraging them to use their influence in the community to talk up Jacaranda.
2) Get the people who talk about you to talk to more people.
This one is about incentives and personal connection. We want satisfied customers to recommend us to their friends, so we offer referral discounts: When a patient refers a friend to Jacaranda, both the initial patient and the friend get small discounts off their next visits. (CHWs who bring in new patients also get a small bonus.) We have our nurses directly encourage the patients they see to send new customers our way – and we offer genuine gratitude when a patient does refer a friend, calling the referring patient to thank her.
3) Give the people who talk about you a better message to pass along.
Providing good services is essential to having a good word-of-mouth marketing message. But there are additional small steps one can take to encourage fans to share their enthusiasm in the most effective way possible. We make sure that when we talk about Jacaranda, we emphasize the aspects of our services that we want people to remember and communicate to others: our friendliness, our respect for patients and the high quality of our care. Our patients fill out customer feedback forms as they check out, which prompt them to write a few words about the service. This too increases recall, and the likelihood that they will repeat a satisfied message to their friends.
4) Increase the conversion rate: Get more of the people who hear about you to become customers.
We also make it easy for anyone who’s curious to learn more about us: Interested people can use their phones to “flash” our customer-service line – calling but hanging up before we answer – and we will call them back, so they don’t have to spend their own mobile-phone minutes to learn about us. Providing this service costs a little money, but it lets us remove a barrierthat might otherwise prevent a prospective customer from reaching out.
The examples cited above reflect some of our early efforts to accelerate our word-of-mouth campaign, but we are constantly thinking of new ways to publicize our services and increase our customer base. A nice attribute of word-of-mouth marketing is its flexibility: We are not locked into a particular print campaign or distribution channel, and can implement new ideas quickly. In the coming months, we expect to use what we have learned to adjust pricing, bonuses and messaging so that we are hitting the right volume of customers at the right price point – and are that much closer to running a sustainable business that can scale throughout east Africa.