Everyone wants a piece of the pie…Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie, that is.  Ever since James Wright Chanel’s YouTube video went viral, people have been clamoring to taste “Patti’s Pies”.

Sold exclusively at Walmart, the pies hit the market in September but did not pick up steam until Mr. Chanel’s video went viral. Sales climbed to over $2 million for the weekend that the video went viral (that’s one pie per second for 72 hours).  The video humorously shows Chanel opening, singing (à la Patti LaBelle) in pie bliss as he partakes in one of the five pies that he bought for his friends.

It’s every company’s dream to receive such a successful and free marketing push, especially from social-media buzz.  While it’s not easy for a video to go viral, with the right timing and the use of social media, it can skyrocket a product from lackluster sales to catapulting it to the top-selling product in its market, such as Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies. Ms. LaBelle’s pies sold-out in many Walmart’s across the country and the mega-retailer had to secure an additional two million pounds of pie to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday rush.

This proves just how powerful word-of-mouth is. There are advertising and marketing firms that specialize in Word-of-Mouth Marketing (WOMM).  But, having consumers generate the buzz around your products without spending money on that kind of marketing push is priceless.  How can business owners generate this kind of buzz?

  • Create a product that your customers can get excited about.  A good product that exceeds expectations can go a long way in converting “window-shoppers” to actual customers.  And, it starts with a stellar product.
  • Timing is everything. Mr. Chanel’s video came out just three weeks before Thanksgiving, a time when families are thinking about their Thanksgiving menu.
  • The spokesperson reviewing the product should be passionate, believable and likeable.  Neither Walmart nor Ms. LaBelle chose Mr. Chanel.  He chose them.  A longtime fan of Ms. LaBelle’s music and recipes, Chanel’s infectious personality, humorous commentary and spot-on renditions of some of LaBelle’s hit songs are truly engaging and were the catalyst of LaBelle fans and pie-enthusiasts alike, storming Walmart to see if the pies really were as good as Chanel said they were.  Since then, his video has over 13 million (and growing) views on Facebook and YouTube combined. While many consumers have their relative’s “famous” sweet potato pie recipes, they are still making the trek to their local Walmart, based on one young man’s video because his reaction is authentic and believable.
  • Social Media, use it.   Word-of-mouth has evolved from friends just talking about a new purchase or product over a cup of joe in the office.  Now, a business’ reach is much broader.  It’s global.   Once buzz (whether good or bad) hits the internet, current and potential consumers now base their next purchase on what their social media friends, family and colleagues are buying as is evidenced in Chanel’s video.  One Patti LaBelle fan and consumer who has LaBelle’s cookbooks and grew up on the songbird’s music said that she plans on buying some pies, not because of the taste but because she would “take part in a wider celebration of black culture. It’s about communing around food with others through social media.”

Sometimes, people don’t buy a product because it’s “the best” in the industry.  They buy it because of the experience and James Wright Chanel’s video has people salivating to have the same experience.  As one customer in a NPR interview puts it, “After I saw the video, I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to go out and buy some pies’.”

This holiday season, while people are in the shopping mood, think about what you, as a business, can do to generate positive buzz around your products and services.  According to Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising Report, 84 percent of consumers say that their friends and family are their trusted resources.  That means that active social media users are listening to what their friends, family and colleagues are saying on the internet and taking their opinions into consideration.  Therefore, having a stellar product or providing excellent service will go a long way in bringing in not just repeat business, but new clients and customers as well.  What more is word-of-mouth than ultimately, referrals?  According to a 2011 study by the Harvard Business Review, customers that are obtained through referrals are considered to be more loyal and more valuable than other customers.  Customers are 18% more likely than others to stay with a company and generate 16% more in profits.

This means that positive word-of-mouth consumer reviews and referrals can be as sweet as pie and the right product and/or service can have your customers singing your company’s praises.