Why Your Event Marketing Strategy Needs To Include WOM And Individuals

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Traditional marketing broadcasts messages to the masses via print, radio and TV.

Broadcast marketing is also considered interruption marketing. Commercials interrupt TV or radio shows. Ads interrupt articles. Spam interrupts our daily work flow. Online popup ads interrupt or web experience.

Marketers count the number of impressions (interruptions?) that people see or hear and identify reach and effectiveness. The goal is to repeat the message enough times so that the audience will remember it and act on it.

Typically, the same principle is applied to conference and event marketing. A major message is broadcast and distributed to past and potential attendees in emails, newsletter and magazines. Social networks are seen as additional channels to post the primary conference message.

But does that work? Is that really using WOM (Word Of Mouth) and social networking in the best way possible?

Impressions: From Advertisers And From People We Know

Forrester’s Q4 2009 research found that consumers create 256 billion impressions within social networks by talking with one another about products and services each year. Customers create 1.64 billion posts in blogs, discussion forums and online review and rating sites. Those posts create at least another 250 billion impressions per year.

That’s more than half a trillion impressions created by consumers in the U.S. alone. An average of eight impressions every day for every person online.

By comparison, Nielsen Online research shows that advertisers delivered 1.974 trillion online ad impressions during the same time as the Forrester survey.

People receive about one-fourth as many impressions from each other as they do from online advertisers. 

So which impressions do you think most people paid attention to? Does your conference or event marketing strategy reflect the reach of WOM? Is your event marketing strategy working for or against you when it comes to empowering your customers?

Three Reasons Why Event Marketers Have Not Harnessed WOM

Most conference and event marketers understand concepts like reach, positioning and key performance indicators. So why don’t more conference marketers understand WOM concepts and strategies?

1. Lack of WOM strategy, vocabulary and experience.

Unfortunately, most event marketers do not have a strategy for word of mouth. Nor do they have the vocabulary or experience with it. Monitoring and measuring WOM are foreign concepts.

2. Most marketers are used to working with masses, not individuals.

Marketers work with masses, not individuals. That’s the customer service department’s job. Marketers need to begin to address individuals and see their marketing as part of the customer service opportunity.

3. One-size-fits-all cookie-cutter marketing strategies are used.

Advertising and marketing is created for a large audience, at the head of the long tail. Reaching smaller niche groups as part of the long-tail is overlooked.

Conference And Event Marketers Must Think About Individuals As A Marketing Channel

Event marketers must begin to think about individuals as potential sources of marketing influence. Your past and potential conference attendees are a marketing channel.

In his book Groundswell, Josh Bernoff called this concept, “Energizing Your Customers.” It’s a new way to think about marketing, service and your conference attendees.

Forcing traditional marketing strategies through your social channels will not work. Conference marketing must begin to identify the connectors and mavens, as Malcolm Gladwell calls them, which will help you spread WOM.

What specific WOM of strategies have been successful for your conferences and events? What have you seen that worked?

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  1. Sam Smith says:

    Hi Jeff,

    WOM requires a different mentality and approach. It is much easier to send out an e-blast to 85,000 people that has a good headline and a great call to action.

    We relied heavily on WOM with Event Camp Twin Cities. Our event was a continuation of the first Event Camp NYC (which VelvetChainsaw Consulting sponsored). We immediately received digital WOM support from people that participated face-to-face or virtually in that NYC event.

    We created content driven blog posts (not advertisements) on our website that were easily sharable on social media. Think about it as a digital WOM. Then, we dropped those content posts into Linkedin and other online groups where our target market “hung out” online. These new readers read, commented and then shared that content with others.

    Then, we crafted a short story of our vision for the event, what we were trying to achieve and why it was important. We went out and told anyone that would listen. Some people thought we were crazy. Others told their colleagues who signed up.

    While I outline this process, I can tell you that it wasn’t easy. It was time consuming and a real pain to execute. Also, it is hard to measure and would be hard to measure and assess for large events. For example, we received much more website traffic from traditional marketing means: e-blasts and press releases. BUT – since our event was small, I can tell you that digital WOM and real life WOM was the single biggest driver of face-to-face registrants to our event.

    Now that we had a successful event, our Post-Event WOM is working for us on Blogs, in the industry trade press, and in hallways of local organizations (companies and networking groups).

    Yesterday, we launched a two month post event multi-media content sharing strategy. Each week, we will be sharing content from the event (video, articles and slides) through various social media distribution channels. The idea is to (A) make sure that the thought leadership from our event keeps being shared and discussed (our mission is to get people to find one idea and go try it) and (B) to experiment and see if staging and sharing this content is REALLY WORTH THE EFFORT.

    I am not sure what will happen with the Post Event stuff – but we will be sure to share the details – one way or another.

  2. Hey Jeff,

    I’m really encouraged to see this post as I’m talking about Social Influence Marketing at The Special Event Show 2011 🙂

    You’ve done a great recap on the topic.

    I would add that a major reason why many marketers have not shifted to WOM / Individual Marketing is that organization are not set up to nurture one-on-one marketing. Using mass advertising to speak to customers requires significantly less time & resources (and works well for outsourcing) as compared to the model we are referring to.

    I’ve seen this issue time and time again with regards to social media marketing. It’s not just a shift in mind set, but a total shift in the way a business operates and allocates resources, time and money.

  3. Michelle Harman (aka: eXpoQueenUSA) says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I think if you keep it fun and invite people to engage…word gets around quick! Why not playing a fun game that gets people to take action in a way that benefits your event.

    Game of CLUE
    How it works: For the final two weeks leading up to your show you post a clue each day about one of your sponsor, featured, or new exhibitors or a clue about one of your sessions. Your twitter friends search through your exhibitor booth profiles and session descriptions to find the answer and respond to the clue using a designated #hashtag with their guesses. First one to guess the right answer is the Event VIP of the Day!

    Goals: To help engage people in visiting your website, searching exhibitors and sessions, use your category and keyword searches, etc. To help them learn how to find information on your website quickly. To promote a specific exhibitor or session. To announce winners each day who will brag that they are now the Event VIP of the Day!

    Reward: Invite all Event VIP winners to meet a special guest entertainer behind stage or some other special treatment that they can brag about to create more buzz.

    Sample Post: “Todays ASAE CLUE: I dream of ________. Tweet Booth# and companies product name to #asae10”

    Sample Answer: “Booth #536 – a2z,Inc has a new product called Floorplan Genie.”

    Promote it for a couple weeks online to let people know that the game is coming and where to see the rules & disclaimers to build up peoples interest through WOM before it starts.

    WOM can be the most powerful form of advertising and takes a creative mind to do it well!

    ~Michelle Harman (aka: eXpoQueenUSA)

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for clearly articulating some tactile ways to engage others in WOM marketing. Great points. Anyone else have some examples that they would like to share?

      Thanks for reading and commenting. You’ve identified a major reason why many have not shifted to WOM–time and resources. Thanks for adding that important point. Any suggestions on how we transition to marketing to individuals? Do you have some tips for success?

      Wow, what a great idea – playing a game of CLUE. Thanks for adding that insightful response and giving us the steps on how to using gaming for WOM. Love it. Anyone else have ideas to share?

  4. Lindy Dreyer says:

    A couple days ago while speaking to some association marketing folks, I realized that there’s still a stigma around WOM in the association community. I suspect the same is true in the event community. Everyone knows it’s important. But folks think it’s something that just happens, and they think you can’t really force it, or measure it, and it’s a “nice-to-have” but really we need to focus on tactics we can affect.

    The logic is shocking, because when you really look at surveys for why people attend, join, buy…so often it’s directly related to WOM. WOM is the one thing we know works for certain. But it’s tricky and scary, so folks make excuses.

    I think WOM needs to be woven into every layer of marketing–is this remarkable? Is it worth talking about? How can we measure pass-along? How can we empower talkers to talk more? Events offer a thousand possibilities for intentionally building WOM into the fabric of the experience. Every event professional should be a WOM master–it only takes a little training and a lot of planning.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      That’s some very sound advice and thanks for adding it. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations of where event professionals could find training or resources on WOM strategies?

  5. […] Why Your Event Marketing Strategy Needs To Include WOM And … […]

  6. barry says:

    Thank you for the interesting article. However, I had to go back and re-read and re-read until I got to the middle of reason #1 to see the definition of WOM. I generally consider myself marketing savvy, but shouldn’t we identify the words in the acronym first, formally?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      You are correct. I made the assumption that many people would know that WOM (Word of Mouth) means. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Hmmm…I wonder….

    I’m not the marketer as those posting comments before me but allow me to share my 1 1/2 cents on why WOM isn’t more accepted.

    I think it’s about scale, numbers and it does seems like a lot of work (confirmed by Sam) (“tricky and scary” also apply Lindy).   The evidence is there that WOM is effective…most likely the most effective way to get people to buy.    But it does seems slow, time consuming, and really…I’m going to pay someone just to talk to people?
    When your marketing expert comes to you and says “I need $XX,XXX because I have this really cool email that I want to send to 100,000 people and I expect X% to respond and of that Y% are likely to buy…I can make that investment decision.

    While the evidence is there, I’ve seen it work myself, within the Association community by vendors and Associations.   

    How do we measure our WOM process effectiveness?   How do we get scale, impact 100’s or 1,000’s of people by talking…quickly.    Is the “investment” hiring strong communicators, developing a clear message, believing it works and patience?  
    My sense is we need to break down the WOM process into bit size measurable activities to demonstrate we are on the right path.

    So many questions…this is why I hire people smarter than me!

    Thank Jeff for the hmmmm.



    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and for the h-m-m-m thinking. I like those moments that make me go h-m-m-m.

      Forrester Research, and specifically researchers Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, have analyzed how to reach the influencers. They provide some steps and examples for reaching them and how to measure ROI from them as well in their book Empowered, just released by Harvard Business. Forrester actually has data from Q2009 on percentages of influencers based on product types. They’ve narrowed it down to a science.

      In the events world, it’s can be as easy as giving some of the influencers special discount registration codes that they can share with their friends and followers. The registration system can then track who are the people with more influence in the industry based on those that register using an influencer’s discount code. And you have events like BlogWorld that provide affiliate links, banners and badges that individuals can post on their blogs, websites and social networks. Again, those affiliate links provide a discount rate to the user as well as can give a discount to the influencer per completed registration from their links.

      There is a lot to learn in this area for sure, especially for the hospitality, meetings and event industries.

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt, Jeff Hurt, Jeff Hurt, Lindy Dreyer, Kari Rippetoe and others. Kari Rippetoe said: RT @chrisuschan: Chat w/ @jeffhurt at #engage365 FRI 1p ET – WOM Marketing for Events http://ow.ly/2IP16 #eventprofs #asae #mpi #assnchat […]

  9. Dave Lutz says:

    Dave, thanks for the comment! I think an effective word of mouth strategy requires a fan base. Customers or influencers need to believe in your product or service. Organizations that have earned that relationship can better leverage WOM by giving them good messages that are worth passing on to others.

    In ECTC’s case, since Sam and Ray were doing something new…it required them to leverage their personal networks and use WOM even more. In this example, they grew their fan base which will be helpful for future events (even those in other cities).

  10. […] Hurt over at Velvet Chainsaw wrote a great post about WOM Marketing for Event […]

  11. Sam Smith says:

    Hi Dave Lutz – Those are great points about your fan base.

    The other thing that I would add to this conversation is that you need to do more than just give your fans messages to share – digitally. Your fans will have a variety of talents and “willingness to participate”. Think about the sports fans that paint their faces and tailgate at football games. I believe that these same types of passionate people exist everywhere. I think a successful WOM program would embrace all of those talents and levels of passion.

    I would recommend offering a wide range of digital (see Jeff’s list) and non-digital ways for them to get involved in your organization and events.

    @David Mcknight – Try Brains on Fire. They have a ton of strategies for building long term WOM that are more specific than hiring someone to go out and talk to people.

  12. […] Why Your Event Marketing Strategy Needs To Include WOM And … […]

  13. Alessandra says:

    WOM could not be more important to get people to events, especially in this day and age where people are relying less on traditional media and more on the internet and social media in particular. I also agree with Sam Smith’s point that there are many levels of involvement, and you want to make sure that your followers have the passion to spread the word about your events. I recently wrote a blog post about marketing your event via social media channels. Check it out here: http://www.mysmn.com/social-media-for-events-part-1/. Let me know what you think.

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