Arian Horbovetz is a Strong Towns member who writes for The Urban Phoenix. The following story is republished from his blog with permission.
As a small business owner, I know how important “word of mouth” is where my work is concerned. I truly believe that, with all the photographers out there, my regular customers choose me and recommend me based on my approachable price and my accommodating personality. They get a clean, easy, frill-free experience at a good price, and a photographer that makes the often awkward experience of picture taking fun and enjoyable. That’s why almost all of my business is repeat business or word of mouth. This network of good vibes keeps my very small business going, and creates good feelings all around.
But the thing that it really does is create a better, more reliable and sustainable bottom line. Obviously, I run my business the way I do because it’s the right thing to do, but the positive net effect is that I spend almost nothing on advertising and thus have amazingly little overhead. This allows me to charge less for my work and still keep more money to reinvest in my business and my customer experience.
Let’s look at this concept with regard to our cities today. I’ve been consistently critical of city projects that are, in effect, advertisements aimed at wowing a regional audience with bright lights and shiny things. While good marketing is an important component for every city, let’s recognize that our local governments can do more with less by empowering our residents and citizens and allowing them to spread the good word.
It’s a simple concept based in good business practice: make your customers (or in this case, residents) feel welcome and provide an experience where are heard, appreciated and cared for — then let them be the engines of promotion.
As our economy pulled out of the recession, the major companies that were struggling cut back on advertising budgets and doubled-down on preaching good customer service to their workforce in an effort to rebuild more organic relationships with their customers. This saved money and created a better company image. Our city governments and organizations have the ability to do this, but only if they place the utmost importance on community outreach and an effort to build and legislate for the best interest of their citizens.
When we bypass our residents in favor of building our cities the prioritize drawing money from outside, it’s similar to incentivizing new customers instead of the ones that give you regular business. The worst thing a business of any size can do is alienate their regular patrons by showing favor to new ones.
The best and easiest way to draw new residents, visitors and city-seekers is to empower the ones we already have. Build for them, reach out to them, and let them feel like they are of paramount importance. Make it clear that their happiness, their safety, their families and their goals are the city’s first priority, and if we do this, we create the most powerful marketing tool ever conceived: word of mouth.
(Top photo by Arian David Photography)