A public relations consultant who built his reputation by creating electronic products delivered to remodelers today four rules for creating "zombie loyalists" that together sounded a lot like new ways to build word-of-mouth marketing.

"Advertising and marketing are secondary to recommendation and trusted sources," Peter Shankman told attendees in Austin, Texas, at NARI's Spring Business Meeting. What he calls zombie loyalists are the clients who like you so much they tell others freely and enthusiastically about you. That's better than self-promotion, he said, because "no one believes how awesome you are if you have to tell them."

In creating those zombies, Shankman said you need to be aware of four things:

  1. The ability to lie has gone away. The Internet is too pervasive and transparent for you to fool people and expect them to never share what they know about you.
  2. "Having customers and clients is a privilege, not a right," and thus you need to serve them by asking them regularly what they want. The mere act of asking makes clients feel better about you and more likely to tout you to others.
  3. Brevity rules. Today a potential customer will give you just 2.7 seconds of attention before moving on, Shankman said. That's about how much time it takes to read a 140-character Tweet. So you'd better maximize that moment by havig good writing and good graphic design in your communication. "If you only have 2.7 seconds, bad writing or a spelling error will kill you," he said.
  4. Strive to always be top of mind. Reach out even when you have nothing to sell, Shankman advised. Ask constantly what you can do for that person.

Along with writing the book on "zombie loyalists" as well as three others, Shankman created one of the leading services for journalists to find sources online. He also advises a number of Fortune 500 companies on public relations and communications strategies, and is the driving force behind a group that aims to change attitudes about people--like him--who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Aside from his four rules, Shankman opened his NARI presentation with two basic principles. First, "Be brilliant at the basics," he said, "because all the technology in the world can't help you if you can't be trusted." And his second thought? "Brand everything you do. If someone else has a bigger audience and they steal it, so long for you."