The City of Unsolicited Advice

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared here.

Like most American cities, Portland, Oregon has its fair share of nicknames: PDX, Beervana or Brewvana, Rose City, Bridgetown, Rip City, etc. So you’ll have to forgive me for suggesting one more: the “City of Unsolicited Advice.” It’s not quite as good as Bellingham’s “City of Subdued Excitement,” but it’s catchy, right? Okay, maybe not, but at least it’s accurate. Portlanders are not shy about sharing their opinions. And it’s more than just politics and poppycock; it’s anything from bike maintenance to outerwear to organic chicken feed.

“Hey, man, you should really think about feeding your chickens something that’s corn free and soy free with a lot of high-quality fish protein.” (Did I mention there are a relatively large number of backyard chicken farmers here?)

Anyway… I don’t mean this as a rant or a dig at my city. Nor do I believe Portlanders would take much offense. I’m sure when George H.W. Bush staffers referred to Portland as “Little Beirut” they didn’t expect the city to embrace the title with pride. But, we did. And, we do.

So why bring this up if not to take a swipe at Stumptown?

Well, all this unsolicited advice floating around got me thinking about recommendations—how  much weight they carry, who they come from, how they’re received, etc. I would postulate that even unsolicited advice from non-credible strangers holds some weight. It’s hard not to think, “Gee, maybe I should get different tires for my bike? Thank you, random hipster.” Or, “You know, I will look into some BOGS versatile all-weather slip-ons for that perfect mixture of comfort, durability and style. Thank you, incredibly detailed and persuasive stranger.”

So it’s no wonder that many firms rely heavily on Net Promoter® Score (NPS) programs. Recommendation just seems to make sense. That’s not to say that it’s the perfect metric to predict company growth. Quite frankly, I don’t really want to get into that argument. I’d rather think a little harder about a question that so many of us ask and try to understand its value.

Recommendation for the sake of recommendation

“Likelihood to recommend” can be woefully under-appreciated or dangerously over-utilized.  It can be reported in tables or your standard red-yellow-green stacked bar. It’s often lost in the mix or rolled into an index. But, what I really want to know is:

  • Who are you, and why are you recommending this thing?
  • Are you sincere? Or a terrible sales person?
  • Do you recommend everything you use? Or only the things that you care about deeply?

Because at the end of the day, I want to know how much your recommendation is worth. And, if I’m a marketer, how can I create more recommenders and increase the value of each person’s recommendation?

Personal curiosity makes me wonder why a person would preach the benefits of certain brand or product to perfect strangers. It could be that Portlanders are genuinely concerned for my welfare (and the welfare of my chickens, of course). While I think that’s true to a certain extent, I also have a hunch that we love showing off how smart we are. And that’s okay. A know-it-all’s endorsement is still an endorsement and still has the power to push a potential consumer to the point of purchase. As researchers and marketers, we have to find a way to guide the recommendation to be informed and specific.

So I urge researchers to, please, think deeply about how we ask and what we ask. Do not neglect such a simple, beautiful and powerful question. Dig deep. Help your clients make confident business decisions. And, seriously, you should look into some new tires.

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