Thought Leadership

Conference Recap: Jay Baer on the Power of Customer Experience

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According to author and digital marketing expert Jay Baer, the key to business success is word-of-mouth communication.

Toward the beginning of his Tuesday morning General Session at PRSA’s 2017 International Conference in Boston, Baer unpacked the marketing formula for the Cheesecake Factory.

Despite spending five times less on advertising than competitors, the chain maintains its status as an institution in American dining. How? The portion sizes are enormous, the menus are 5,490 words long, and the restaurant offers 43 different types of cheesecake.

Because eating at the Cheesecake Factory makes for an unparalleled experience that people can tell their friends about, there’s no need for the brand to have an extensive marketing and outreach plan — the customers will naturally spread the word themselves.

“We trust real people so much more than we trust companies,” said Baer. “People have the power, and PR professionals have to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Creating ‘talk triggers’

According to Baer, the best way for businesses to harness the power of word-of-mouth communication is through “talk triggers” — special experiences, services or amenities that compel people to tell others.

A talk trigger must have the following four requirements:

  1. It must be memorable.
  2. It must be repeatable.
  3. It must be realistic.
  4. It must be relevant.

To prove how impactful these can be, Baer shared an anecdote about a small amusement park near his home.

On the surface, a place in Santa Claus, Ind., called Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari doesn’t seem remarkable. However, according to Baer, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari happens to boast the best rating per visit ratio on TripAdvisor of any amusement park in the country, thanks in part to a simple yet special offer: complimentary sunscreen and soda.

“Every single one of their five-star reviews mentions free sunscreen and free soda,” said Baer. “They can’t help themselves; they must tell their friends about free soda and free sunscreen.”

Involving PR professionals

While most companies claim to understand the importance of customer to prospective-customer communication, only 1 percent of all businesses have a real strategy in place to help foster it, said Baer.

Therefore, he said, it’s important for PR professionals to take the lead and create strategic differentiators that compel word-of-mouth.

This process starts with deciding which kind of talk trigger works best for your business. The five different types are:

  1. Talkable empathy
  2. Talkable usefulness
  3. Talkable generosity
  4. Talkable attitude
  5. Talkable speed

Making an impact

As a communicator and self-promoter, Baer even infuses talk triggers into his everyday interactions. For instance, he often wears suits with eye-catching patterns — during his presentation he sported a purple checked jacket and light purple button-down — and his business card also doubles as a bottle-opener.

“If you’re going to make something, [make sure that it has] disproportionate usefulness,” said Baer. “People tell me: ‘Your card is in my golf bag, your card is in my boat.'”

For Baer, the loud suits and multipurpose business cards function like ample cheesecake choices and free sunscreen: They make people talk about you and your brand.

“I dare you to be different,” said Baer, at the close of his presentation. “Being different is the secret recipe that will get you new clients.”

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. 

About the author

Dean Essner


  • This was a wonderful session that I plan to share with my students. I look forward to reading the book on Talk Triggers when it is released.

  • What an informative piece on the difference word-of-mouth reviews can have on a business! It’s interesting to me that many companies recognize the importance of word-of-mouth but only a few have a strategy to get customers talking. As a senior studying PR, it was really helpful for me to learn some ways PR practitioners can help trigger word-of-mouth experiences. – Lexi McKenzie, Platform Magazine Writer/Editor

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