co If You Build It, Will They Come? |

There is a deceptive slogan floating around our culture–one that says, “If you build it, they will come.” This movie misquote leaves out an important factor: If they don’t know it exists, why would they come anywhere near it? How would they find it?

A Case Study in Word of Mouth

I thought of this when reading How a Simple Online Marketing Strategy Resurrected Molem Kgomo’s African Doll Business on Destiny. Kgomo created Ntomb’entle Dolls almost ten years ago. These dolls are carefully designed to be African, from the skin color and body build to the carefully crafted costumes using local fabrics and beadwork. They are beautiful, but major retailers didn’t see a demand for such a small niche.

So the dolls sat in Kgomo’s garage, being marketed by word of mouth and door-to-door sales. How many sales? About 10-15 a month. This went on for almost a decade, until Mpumi Motsabi called with a proposition. She loved the idea of counteracting the skewed perceptions African children had about themselves based on the dolls that were available. She asked if she could partner with Kgomo and handle the operational/sales side of the business.

Traditional Word-of-Mouth Goes Digital

The first thing Motsabi did was give Ntomb’entle Dolls a digital footprint by building social media presence on sites like Facebook. The traditional word-of-mouth went digital, and things began to change. Why did things change? Because the word-of-mouth spread easily among those who were interested and it was not limited by geography.

Technology makes it easy to spread the news you are excited about, so people who found the dolls shared the news.

Since going digital in the last three months, sales have more than doubled and there’s a new concern — having enough time to manufacture and ship the dolls to meet the growing demand.

They Only Come If They Can Find It

Social media is a great marketing platform if it is used with care. It’s tricky because it is basically the old word-of-mouth amplified exponentially by the technology of today. When the news about Ntomb’entle Dolls was limited to the local neighborhood, there was a limited number of sales. When news about the dolls was spread online, people from around the world got excited.

Major retailers had turned down the chance to market these dolls because they saw limited sales, but online marketing is proving them wrong. Lots of people want the dolls. They just needed to know they existed and how to get them.