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Talk Triggers: Make Your Small Business Different

December 1, 2020 | Small Business Marketing

Talk Triggers is a 2018 business book written by Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin

 Link to the podcast on Social Media Examiner with author Jay Baer here.

Small business owners who rely on word of mouth marketing in 2021 to advertise to potential new customers should read this book.

Table of Contents

  • Definition of a Talk Trigger
  • The Four Criteria for a Talk Trigger
  • The Five Types of Talk Triggers
  • How a Business Creates Talk Triggers
  • How do Testimonial Videos Work with Talk Triggers?
  • Summary
  • Gather more Google Reviews with new technology

Definition of a Talk Trigger

A talk trigger is a strategic, operational differentiator that makes word-of-mouth marketing, on the part of the customer, involuntary.

A couple of examples might be helpful:

  • The Cheesecake Factory is an upscale restaurant who’s talk trigger is it’s 5,940-word menu with 85 different chicken dishes.
  • Doubletree by Hilton hotel’s talk trigger is it’s a homemade, hot chocolate chip cookie every guest checking-in receives.
  • Southwest Airlines talk trigger is the fact that the first two pieces of luggage checked are free.

Customers talk about these experiences with their friends, they share them on social media, they upload photos to Facebook and tweet on Twitter.

Their happiness with the experience is authentic because it is unexpected. 

Word-of-mouth is perhaps the oldest most cost-effective way to grow any company. Yet, word-of-mouth advertising can be idiosyncratic and unpredictable.

An operational talk trigger, on the other hand, is a standardized set of behaviors that cuts across company silos and is part of every customer experience.

According to Neilson research 83% of Americans trust recommendations from friends and family and 60% trust online reviews. 

Yet, 80% of businesses have no defined system for generating referrals or reviews.  

Why?  Well, according to the book’s introduction:

 “The core of the problem is that most marketers are simply more comfortable dealing with media buyers than they are talking to consumers (you know, people).”

Decades of disintermediation have left them ill-prepared for the untidiness of Word of Mouth marketing, which is – at base – the art of talking to people.”

– Ted Wright

The Four Criteria for a Talk Trigger

Section 2 of the book describes four criteria that every differentiator needs to qualify as a talk trigger.

Section 2 is perhaps the most interesting and exciting section of Talk Triggers for entrepreneurs since Jay Baer anchors each of the criteria with relevant, real-life examples that give clarity to the concept of a talk trigger.

Each of these 4 criteria must be met, every time:

  1. Be Remarkable – Umpqua Bank in Portland, Oregon has a hotline in it’s branches ANY customer can use that connects directly to the President.
  2. Be Relevant – Holiday World & Spashin’ Safari in Indiana gave up its 100% profit margin on soft drink refills for hot and thirsty guests who, often, are in the park 6+ hours with kids and family.
  3. Be Reasonable – Five Guys Hamburgers adds a heaping helping of ‘bonus fries’ to each order of regular fries.
  4. Be Repeatable – Las Vegas illusionists Penn & Teller have an all-access, no-charge meet & greet after every show they’ve done at the Rio Hotel & Casino. They’ve done this over 6,000 times since 1993.

The Five Types of Talk Triggers

Section 3 of the book describes five different types of talk triggers and gives several more concrete examples of each one of these types.

Section 3 is also interesting and exciting as an entrepreneur since the examples given in the book set my mind to thinking, “Why couldn’t we do something like that in our small businesses? “.

  1. Talkable empathy – Oral surgeon Dr. Glenn Gorab of Clinton, New Jersey connects with patients by personally calling each patient before their scheduled surgery.
  2. Talkable usefulness – New Zealand Air in-flight safety videos featuring actors from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies.
  3. Talkable generosity – Skip’s Kitchen in Sacremento, California gives every customer the opportunity to pull a card from a 52-card deck. People who pull the Joker get their meal for free.
  4. Talkable speed – Paragon Direct in Manhattan, New York is the number-one seller of Honda and Acura cars in the USA. Their service center offers 24-hour pickup, service and delivery of customer car repairs. Since most people work, Paragon does most of it’s service work at night, returning the customers’ cars by 7am, in time for the customer to get to work the next day.
  5. Talkable attitude – UberConference on-hold music is something you simply must hear to understand:

Jay Baer emphasizes that a true talk trigger must be operationalized to distinguish it from a sales gimmick or a one-off attempt to manipulate the customers’ experience simply to create temporary word-of-mouth advertising.

How a Business Creates Talk Triggers

Section 4 of the book tells entrepreneurs and business operators how to lead their teams to create talk triggers in 6 steps:

  1. Gather internal insights
  2. Get close to your customers
  3. Create candidate talk triggers
  4. Test and measure your talk triggers
  5. Expand and turn on your talk triggers
  6. Amplify your talk trigger and create your next talk trigger

Section 4 is perhaps the most challenging, operationally, for small business owners since Jay Baer approaches the section from the mindset of a full-time marketer with a full-time marketing team.

He also uses several marketing concepts in section 4 such as “brand positioning“ and “competitive positioning“ that may be unfamiliar to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

How do Testimonial Videos Work with Talk Triggers?

The interesting thing about talk triggers is that you depend almost entirely on your customer for spontaneous word of mouth (that’s the actual definition).

There are very precise ways to ask for a video testimonial – but to try to ‘shoehorn’ your potential talk trigger into a client testimonial video risks destroying the very spontaneity that creates a talk trigger in the first place.

I would love some smarter people than me to chime in and offer your thoughts on how business owners can promote their own talk triggers on social media.


In summary, I would highly recommend Talk Triggers for every small businesses owner since it will open your mind to the possibilities for creating word-of-mouth talk triggers in your own business.

The challenge for most small businesses will be to create or discover and then operationalize positive customer experiences, on a daily basis, and communicate them to the marketplace using modern technology.

The two-way, reality TV style of social media presents a unique opportunity for small businesses…

…in the words of social media pioneer Gary Vaynerchuk,“The business closest to the customer will win the future”.

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