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Talk Triggers: Using Word-of-Mouth Marketing to Promote Your Self-Storage Facility

When it comes to word-of-mouth marketing, self-storage operators can’t just stand by and hope people talk about them. Instead, they should develop a “talk trigger” they can share with every customer.

If you’ve ever stayed at a DoubleTree hotel, the warm, gooey cookie handed out during check-in probably stands out in your mind. At Five Guys eateries, you know to order a small batch of fries because they always overload you with extra. The experience at The Cheesecake Factory is always unique due to the massive menu. All these are examples of business “talk triggers.”

When it comes to digital marketing, many self-storage operations have a social media strategy, a local business strategy and a Google-review strategy. However, when it comes to word-of mouth, they come up short. We tend to trust that if we provide good enough customer service, tenants will surely talk about our facility with others. At least, that’s what we hope.

And there’s a good reason to want this kind of promotion. According to a 2018 study by data and analytics firm Engagement Labs, 19 percent of purchases are caused by word-of-mouth and almost 90 percent are at least influenced by it. Marketing firm Convince & Convert found that recommendations from friends or family members rank third in consumers’ decision-making process, coming in behind only personal experience or familiarity with a brand. The same study found that 83 percent of consumers have given at least one word-of-mouth recommendation at some time.

As self storage operators, we all care about word-of-mouth marketing but don’t seem to know what to do about it. Enter the talk trigger.

How Does It Work?

The phrase “talk trigger” was coined by social media expert Jay Baer as a “strategic operational differentiator that compels word-of-mouth.” A good trigger isn’t based on something any business can do (provide good customer service, give out company keychains, offer discounts, etc.) but on something no one else is doing.

Once you’ve identified the talk trigger for your self-storage operation, the trick is to repeat it with every customer, every time. In his book “Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth,” Baer writes that in addition to being repeatable, a trigger must be relevant to your business and its customers, realistic and remarkable. Customers tend to ignore what is average and “same” but will discuss what is different.

Baer identifies five types of “talkable” triggers: empathy, usefulness, generosity, speed and attitude. The point is to focus on one and not try to promote multiple triggers at once. If a trigger runs its course, a new one can be implemented. Here are some examples from Baer’s book:

  • Empathy: You do something more human and empathetic than customers expect, like the Clinton, N.J., oral surgeon who calls each new patient before his appointment to see if the person has any questions or concerns.
  • Usefulness: You do something useful for customers that they don’t expect, like the locksmith who oils every lock in every home he visits, not just the ones he fixes.
  • Generosity: You give your customer something extra, like Five Guys does with its fries.
  • Speed: You respond to customers quickly, like sandwich chain Jimmy John’s, which delivers super-fast.
  • Attitude: Your company attitude is unique, in a good way, like conference-call service UberConference, which uses super-funny on-hold music.

Talk Triggers in Storage

“The core element of a talk trigger is the story it creates,” Baer writes. It’s different from a unique selling point (USP). For example, a popular USP in self-storage is the first-month-free discount. While that might stir conversation, it’s temporary and there are typically restrictions on who qualifies. Conversely, a talk trigger is an act or item that’s given to every customer every time.

As self-storage becomes more customer-centric, we need to seriously consider word-of-mouth marketing and talk triggers. Customers are no longer mainly focused on price as a differentiator between one facility and the next. The emphasis is more on the experience they have with a brand. A talk trigger could greatly enhance that experience.

Finding Your Talk Trigger

When implementing any word-of-mouth strategy, it’s wise to listen to your customers. They may have ideas for things you could offer. Also, ask your managers suggestions and others involved in the day-to-day operation of your self-storage facility. Like DoubleTree, your talk trigger might be a free cookie or similar item. It might be that for every rental, you give a percentage of rent to a local nonprofit. You might create a loyalty program that not only comes with discounts every so often but a “loyal tenant breakfast” or other neat perks.

The point of word-of-mouth is to stand out, to be exceptional. No one tells his friends about an average experience, but he’ll go out of his way to talk about the experiences that are remarkable. What kind of story do you want customers telling about your business?

As self-storage continues to grow exponentially, operators must be intentional and strategic in all marketing avenues, including word-of-mouth. It isn’t enough to have the lowest prices, cleanest units and nicest staff. We’ve relied too heavily on our customers to talk to their friends and family based on those ordinary qualities. Developing a talk trigger for your company may be just what’s needed. It’s time to find your own “warm cookie” idea.

Steven Jeffers is a facilities asset manager for Bee Safe Storage and Wine Cellar, which operates 12 self-storage facilities in the Carolinas. His experience and knowledge includes local marketing, management optimization and leadership training. For more information, e-mail stevenfjeffers@gmail.com; visit www.beesafe.com.

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