“Topics”: The Second Step in Developing Word of Mouth for CDFIs

12 Jun

Welcome to the third post in our series about creating powerful word of mouth marketing for community development financial institutions. As we mentioned in our intro to WOM for CDFIs, using the Andy Sernovitz/Word of Mouth Marketing book approach to developing WOM, there are five key elements of developing word of mouth. Conveniently and alliteratively, they all start with the letter ‘T’:

  • Talkers: who will be most likely to talk about us (when given something worth talking about)?
  • Topics: what will these Talkers find so interesting that they can’t keep it to themselves?
  • Tools: what can we do to make sure the Talkers are able to share the Topics easily?
  • Taking Part: once we’ve spurred word of mouth with our Talkers about our Topics, how can we join the conversation?
  • Tracking: now that there is WOM about our CDFI, how can we keep track of it and measure its impact on our business?

In today’s post, we will discuss the second ‘T,’ Topics.

What Are Topics?

Topics are the things we can “give” talkers that they find so darn interesting, they can’t possibly keep it to themselves. In other words, it’s the thing that they actually find buzzworthy and want to tell others about. It might be something tangible or physical we gave them (like a gift, or a voucher for a free sample), or an idea or message we gave them (like a slogan, a joke, or surprising offer).

So, what kinds of things do people find so interesting? Well, the specifics vary from person-to-person, but in general there are things that we humans tend to take special notice of:

  • Things that make us feel important, smart or in-the-know
  • Things that surprise or shock us
  • Things that make us laugh
  • Things that we have a strong opinion about
  • Things that make us feel helpful to others

Let’s look at a few examples of buzzworthy things we an all relate to.

Tom’s Shoes: People talk about Tom’s Shoes all the time. Why? Because with their one-for-one program, for every pair you buy, the give a pair away to a kid in a developing country. This is a talkable idea–it surprises us with its generosity.

A Great New Restaurant: Remember the last time you went to an amazing new restaurant? The next time you saw your friends, you were sure to tell them all about Chez Delish, and the amazing experience you had there. Unexpected free dessert, the chef came out and introduced herself, and they wrapped up your leftovers in tinfoil and shaped it into a dinosaur for your son. You told your friends all about this memorable, talkable experience because it made you feel cool, in-the-know and helpful to be the first one to discover and recommend this great new place.

Viral Ads: I’ve shared Kmart’s recent ad campaign with my friends on Facebook. Why would I market Kmart’s ads for them, for free, to my friends? Because it was shockingly funny and I knew my friends would appreciate it if I shared it with them. And I loved knowing they heard about it from me first.

The Bottom Line: People talk because it makes them feel good to do so.

Each Talker Probably Needs A Different Topic

To be most effective, you must custom select your topics based on your Talkers, and what will make them feel good to talk about. That means, you must brainstorm Topics on a Talker-by-Talker basis.


Let’s go back to the Talkers we identified in our previous post. We had chosen one Talker group, Small Business Borrowers, and identified that they were likely to care and talk to their friends about:

  • Growth: Increasing sales and growing the business
  • Vision: Seeing their dream come to life
  • Financial Stability: Being able to continue making their payments on time
  • Stress: Avoiding and managing the pressure

Given this insight, what are a few things we might brainstorm that we could “give” them that they would find remarkable and talkable? Here are just a few quick ideas:

Tangible Items

  • A “skip-a-payment” voucher at the end of the year, mailed with a handwritten card that says “Finish the year strong–skip a payment this holiday season” (credit unions have been known to do this)
  • A framed picture of their business, to hang in their office.
  • Placing an ad in the paper with their business name and picture, with a “congratulations on your growth–we are proud of you” message (law firms do this all the time)

Ideas and Messages

  • Offer to donate $500 to their favorite charity for every referral they give you in July.
  • Make it a policy that whenever a borrower closes a second loan with you, your Executive Director will cook them a homemade dinner for their whole family.
  • Always shake hands with your left hand–tell them it’s your way of making sure they don’t forget your agreements

These, of course, are just examples. Some are silly, others are serious, and a couple of them I can already see you are planning to steal. Please do. The main point is this:

Every touch point is a chance to be remarkable.

If you just take the time to ask “how can I make this touch point remarkable instead of just going through the motions?” you have the opportunity to create another great Topic for your Talkers.

Action Step: For each of the previously identified Talker groups from the previous post, brainstorm at least one Topic that you think would get them talking. What could you give them–tangible or intangible–that they wouldn’t be able to keep to themselves because it was so memorable?

Next Article: “Tools”

The articles in our word of mouth marketing series are cumulative and sequential. Now that you’ve got a good understanding of Talkers and Topics, we can move on and talk about the third ‘T’: Tools: ”How can we make our talkable message spread further and faster?”

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