What can Isadore Sharp teach us about business

Who is Isadore Sharp? He is the founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the largest group of five-star hotels in the world. Sharp started the company in 1961, and has used many innovations to attract employees and customers from around the world.

In his book “Four Seasons – the Story of Business Philosophy,” Sharp shares the story of his astonishing rise out of the Toronto ghettos to founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. (Check it out – it’s an interesting read.) On page 142, Sharp shares with the reader a short story about the best piece of publicity Four Seasons ever received. It happened during an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, when Oprah Winfrey casually asked her guest Julia Roberts about her travel experiences.

“Favorite thing to sleep in for you?” Winfrey asked Roberts.
“A Four Seasons bed,” the movie star replied.
Winfrey went on to say, “Four Seasons’ bed is the only bed better than my own; now that is not an advertisement; that is the truth!”

(Yes, you guessed it right – that was a sneezr.)

Lesson #1:
Word of mouth marketing is the most effective kind of marketing. (Just ask the CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels.) Question: What do you think – was the above referral organic or amplified? In his excellent book titled Word of Mouth Marketing, Andy Sernovitz said that organic word of mouth springs naturally from the positive qualities of your company. The opposite concept according to Sernovitz is amplified word of mouth, which is started by an intentional campaign to get people talking.

In my opinion, this was an example of the organic word of mouth. You see, what millions of people who were watching the show that day probably did not realize is that Sharp started working on cultivating that referral a few decades earlier. On page 47 of his book, while explaining the details about construction phase of his second hotel, Sharp shares with the reader a little insight into his business philosophy: “In building our first hotel, I had been concentrating on customers: What would our customers want most? I had a little hotel experience but enough to know that most people wanted: a quiet room, a good night’s sleep, and invigorating morning shower. Sound was crucial. And knowing what reduces sound, I did what I’d done in my first hotel: ensured that no plumbing in rooms touched concrete and that no two electrical  outlets backed into each other, thus making the room as quiet as possible.”

Sharp talks about this simple recipe again on page 95: “Each room was slightly larger than our competitors’ regular rooms, with quieter plumbing, a better showerhead, and a bed with a comfortable custom-made mattress. We offered all this, plus an abundance of carefully chosen details, from the right pillow to the softest toilet tissue to bouquets of fresh flowers daily.”

Lesson #2: Shrink to grow. The above examples are just a few of many found in Sharp’s book which led me to believe that he was a proponent of the shrink to grow philosophy. The shrink to grow philosophy doesn’t limit you; it focuses you. The real key to cultivating effective word of mouth marketing is selecting just a few simple, effective things to do and then doing those things consistently.

The shrink to grow is about consistently applying a common sense process for listening to, working with and tending to the needs of customers. Because the best promoter of your business is your customer. If you take care of that person, if you delight or fascinate that person, he’ll walk right out of the door and sell for you.

Lesson #3: Effective word of mouth marketing generally stems from something authentic.