In the olden days it was called word of mouth. You built a better mousetrap, people talked about it, and those with rat-infested dwellings beat a path to your door.
Over the centuries, word of mouth was supplanted by mass media advertising. And you had to spend a fortune to publicise your product.
So, if you weren't flush with moolah, you couldn't afford to be in the game. The good news is that old-fashioned word of mouth is back.
With a difference: It ain't old-fashioned no more! It's even got a fancy new name social networking which, for most of us, boils down to Facebook.
And it's given creative entrepreneurs with big ideas but not-so-big pockets unprecedented opportunity.
I spoke to three bright young folks: Charu Anand, couturier, who has the label Labada, Salonee Gadgil, beach-inspired jewelry designer who has created the brand She Sells and Apurva Kothari who has established No Nasties 'guilt-free green tees'. They started off with three things in common a creative vision, a limited budget and a Facebook page.
When Gadgil began, all she had were '15 neck pieces ready for sale and a bunch of photographs of them'.
Without really knowing the implications, she created a Facebook page 'She Sells' (a play on sea shells the primary ingredient of her creations) and uploaded the images.
Instantly, her friends started 'liking' her page. Then a blogger friend featured her work, driving more traffic to her page. "After that," says Salonee, "it just snowballed."
A plethora of press write-ups and business enquires from retailers followed. And so she continues to sell.
For Anand, it's all about exclusivity. Her high-end couture is not something that people would buy on the net, she says.
They would want to "see, touch and try on" the one-of-a-kind ensembles in a boutique environment. Nevertheless, her Labada page on Facebook does give potential clientele a taste of what is in store propelling them to experience the real thing at, say, a Kimaya.
Kothari, along with partner Deeti Kotecha, launched No Nasties in April this year. They have been more ambitious with their use of social networking.
Going beyond just the Facebook page, they have gone in for Facebook advertising too. So if you 'like' their page, all your friends get to know about it and the word of mouth goes into overdrive. Blogging is another important aspect of the online communication mix.
But, instead of creating a separate blog, No Nasties use Facebook Notes so they and their customers can dialogue within the comfort zone of the social networking platform.
Kothari has tracked traffic into their website and found that 40 per cent of it comes out of Facebook.
The product pages on their site allow you to use the FB 'like' button as well as send messages to your friends' inboxes, thus looping the conversation right back into FB.
Kothari expects that Facebook will soon introduce a payment mechanism allowing customers to order his T-shirts directly from the social networking site. That would keep the entire cycle from communication to sale to feedback on a single platform.
'I would not have been able to afford magazine advertising,' Kothari confesses. But with Facebook, the effectiveness of the ads, coupled with their low cost, means that they pay for themselves.
Given that there are a mind-boggling 800 million people on Facebook and more than half get on to it every day, you have a rough idea of the potential number of prospective clients you can tap.
And because you reach out to someone who 'likes' you and through him to his likeminded friends, the conversation becomes sharply targeted.
Socialbakers a web portal that specialises in social media statistics informs us that more Indians 'like' brands on Facebook than people of any other nationality!
So, all you would-be entrepreneurs, what are you waiting for? Got an idea for a better mousetrap, accessory or what-have-you?
Forget unaffordable conventional advertising. Go for the new-age word of bionic mouth. You might just start thinking of the 'like' button as something more akin to 'love'.
Sumanto Chattopadhyay is the Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Mumbai