word of mouth

I love ‘word of mouth’ marketing. Or I did right up until it died. I loved it because it provoked a wonderful sense of privilege to be ‘in the know.’ You couldn’t look word of mouth recommendations up in the Yellow Pages because they weren’t there. You couldn’t find them in the newspaper, on the telly, the wireless, amongst your letters on the doormat or peeling off a lamp post because they weren’t there.

So where were they?

They were going about their business, that’s what they were doing. Simple as that. They did what they did. We, their customers, did their marketing. We chose them purely on recommendations from our trusted close circle of friends, family and people richer than us. If they did a good job for us, we did a bit more marketing for them. In many ways, it worked rather well.

Along came the internet and changed all that.

Suddenly ‘word of mouth’ speaks of inefficiency. At best it narrows our Google search typing. Instead of ‘garden service cape town’ we might now type in ‘wouter’s garden service cape town’, but would we dare go further with Wouter if he was too busy gardening to bother with organic listings rather than organic plants? Increasingly, and rather sadly, I doubt it. I still hang onto most friends’ wise recommendations but I ask them to ‘spell the name’ rather than ‘give me the number’ because I’m not going to call the business before I’ve checked them out online.

So I search for ‘wouter’s garden service, cape town’. Nothing. What now?

He doesn’t have a website, I tell myself that’s fine, but then my eye is inevitably drawn to the other ‘wannabe wouters’ who pop up as his substitutes and several seem to be more in bloom than he.

Clinging onto old world skepticism, I skip the one listed first because it couldn’t have got there through fair play. Number two gives me more comfort because its contact page has an address which I recognize and is real and not too far away from my house. But how established is the second one because I’ve never heard of it before?

To number three I go with a pang of recognition. In the old days when I still went outside, I once bought some proteas from the third one which looked great before they came to my garden to die. There was a Mr Hargreaves who was prematurely bald, happily fat and always smiling but I think he’s gone now because he’s not listed in ‘about us’, he’s not on Facebook unless he’s moved to Melbourne, lost weight and become a Health & Safety expert and nobody with his name has tweeted anything about gardens. So he must be dead. I can’t buy from him.

On I go, I’m insatiable now because I need to check every one in case Google is cheating me.

And then I get to the edge of a cliff but I dare not jump. I’m not going to page two of Google because nobody has ever done that and come back. If it’s not on page one, it ain’t gonna be on page two, but now you’re looking and you just can’t stop. Page by page, the clever people who pay to be at the top gradually disappear and are replaced by the promise of things you never knew you wanted.

Back you go to Page one, guilty that you should have mistrusted Google, and go to the top even though you know damn well that all the ones in the shaded bit are dodgy because it’s advertising and that’s bad, you never trusted advertising even in your teenage days, when you thought you were a bit of a rebel in your Levi’s, smoking a Marlboro and sipping a Coke.

You click on the top of the top of the top of the page, expecting to be expunged. But voila, there it is! Suddenly you’re on a site which can smell you, it knows you so well it throws images at you which are so you, plants you absolutely need to have. You look behind you to check that nobody can see that far into your soul. All clear, you’re ready to go in. This is so me, this is so me, why haven’t I found it before? After a quick live chat, the Gardening Gloves team is popping around tomorrow to give me a quote and a free protea.

They’re probably no better than Wouter, and if they’re not I can only moan on a forum rather that at a dinner party, but that doesn’t really matter since my dining room table is now home to more screens and keyboards than cutlery and crockery.

Our beautiful internet. Early days.