Public Relations Tactics

Jay Baer on the Power of Customer Experience

November 1, 2017

Jay Baer [albert chau]
Jay Baer [albert chau]

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

Toward the beginning of his Oct. 10 General Session, 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.”

Backstage Q-and-A With Jay Baer


How can "talk triggers" be powerful in PR campaigns?

In a PR context, there are so many circumstances [where] we’re trying to take something that is not necessarily noteworthy and convince people that it is. A talk trigger is a strategic operational difference that is inherently worthy of conversation, which makes public relations a heck of a lot easier.

What’s an example of a famous talk trigger?

There are around a dozen car rental companies in the U.S., [but only] one has a talk trigger: It’s Enterprise, because they’ll pick you up.

How do you come up with a talk trigger for a PR campaign?

The best way to start is to observe your customers using your product or service. This is something that has gotten a lot more difficult over time. When I started in this business 25–30 years ago, we spent a lot more time interacting with customers. Now, because we have everything on a computer, we’re pressing a button and spitting out a report and saying, “Well, here’s what customers are doing based on web traffic or some other kind of big-data enterprise.”

If you want to make a great talk trigger, then it is important that you either spend time observing customers in the field, or spend a lot of time with the sales and customer service departments in organizations that have more of a sense of what customers want.

Why do so many PR professionals overlook the power of word-of-mouth?

What’s amazing to me is that public relations, by definition, is about word-of-mouth. We just don’t think about it that way. The whole concept of public relations is: “Let’s get somebody talking about something, whether that’s a journalist, an influencer or some other kind of public that we’re trying to influence.”

Somehow we’ve put word-of-mouth in one camp and public relations in another camp, but especially today, with everything hybridizing online, they are becoming two sides of the same coin.

As a communicator, how do you use talk triggers to elevate your own brand?

I discovered that when I started wearing crazy suits, 10–20 people a day [comment on them]. When I talk to my tailor, I say: “Show me your craziest patterns. The crazier, the better.” We live in an environment where we’re all besieged by this sea of sameness, and anything different stands out. So, if you’re going to do anything, you may as well do something different and actually get noticed.

Dean Essner

Dean Essner is the editorial assistant for PRSA’s publications. A former resident of Washington, D.C., he holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Maryland. Email:



John T. Matthias says:

I agree with your statement getting the (consumers) to talk about an product or service is the best experience for any business. Referrals are the only way a business can survive now days, because the internet gives businesses a false security to growing a business.

Nov. 20, 2017

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