In evaluating your information sources, you should always look at the motivation behind the information. So I read with interest the Hinge Research Institute‘s Referral Marketing Study and discovered the non-surprise: “Visible Expertise” proves to be the highest source of referral business, and the biggest killer of referrals is, well, lack of “Visible Expertise”.
Hinge, of course, sells services to generate Visible Expertise — the package of social media, website and content marketing to portray your business as a thought leader. And there is nothing wrong with that. The organization is using its own marketing techniques to market itself. (If Hinge didn’t do that, I think we would not grant the organization much credibility.)
That said, what doesn’t work, in the Hinge survey: Sponsorships, social responsibility and asking for referrals have little value, and “attending networking events” is only slightly more effective. On the positive side, beneath Visible Expertise, you would benefit from professional and social relationships and reciprocity (if you hand out referrals, you’ll receive them in return.)
The “killer” for referrals — Again, lack of Visible Expertise, followed by no social or professional relationships, and (quite a bit lower), “Not leveraging traditional networking”. You however, it seems, don’t need to worry about attending networking events, asking for referrals or behaving in a socially responsible manner.
Reading between the lines, it seems (if you believe Hinge’s survey — again conducted from its own frame of reference), you should put your sponsorship dollars back in your pocket and avoid networking events, and you can be as evil as you want (support tobacco, junk foods, environmental destruction and unworthy political causes) and you’ll pick up all the referrals you need simply by being a Visible Expert.
Do I buy this? In part, yes. There needs to be substance behind the story and steak beneath the sizzle, or all the good marketing, networking and social responsibility won’t carry you very far. Visible Expertise, ultimately, needs genuine expertise beneath the surface; the Hinge marketing model undoubtedly helps to capture this reputational and referral-generating power.
However, I’m not sure if “asking for referrals” is as ineffective as Hinge suggests in the survey and there are certainly ways you can profit by attending networking events, if you go beyond pushing business cards on people who don’t really need your services and you focus instead on how you can support, help and enhance others’ experiences. Of course, when you achieve genuine visible expertise you won’t need to ask for referrals or attend networking events — you’ll be the keynote speaker and sit at the VIP table. There’s power in recognized, real achievement.