Marketers today have a diverse tool box at their disposal, and thanks to email, text messages and social media the flow of information among trading partners moves faster than ever.

Yet when asked how their equipment and supplies vendors can improve service, operators' top responses include making more product information not only available but easier to find, responding to problems in a more timely manner and providing insights into their markets, according to FE&S' 2014 Operator Purchasing Study (page 30).

Further, 75 percent of operators do their own research when deciding what brand or model of equipment to purchase. Secondary resources when making purchasing decisions include recommendations from their peers and from dealers and other distributors.

So what's the message operators are sending? There's no substitute for making your company easy to work with and word of mouth advertising remains a potent marketing tool. That was one of the messages conveyed by Jonah Berger during NAFEM's annual meeting and management workshop. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who authored the best-selling business book Contagious, Berger pointed out that 91 percent of all new business leads come from existing customers.

Why is word of mouth so effective? The short answer is trust. Everyone has someone in their social or business network whose opinion they trust inherently. Word of mouth also targets customers very well, Berger added. That's because the referral often comes from someone who runs in the same business or social circle.

To get your customers to help spread the word about your business and the products and services it offers, you need to provide them with social currency. And, no, I am not talking about bitcoin. "You give people social currency by making them look good when talking about you and appear like insiders," Berger said. "The more special you make them feel the more they are going to talk about it and bring your product along for the ride."

One key to doing this is making sure information about your products and services are easily accessible. Further, it's important to make it easy for customers to see your offerings in action. "How do you make it easier for people who are not using your product to see it in action?" Berger asked.

"Built to show means built to grow" is a concept operators from all segments continue to embrace, as evidenced by the proliferation of expo kitchens (page 16). Operators now realize it's often not enough to let their food speak for itself. For today's consumer, the experience is just as important and expo kitchens make them feel like they are getting an insider's look at the action.

"Good stories are like Trojan horses that carry information for the ride," Berger said. "Build a carrier that takes your story along for the ride."

So if you want to take your business for a ride, start with the customer experience and build from there.