Although it’s true that most brand chatter happens face-to-face the person on the receiving end of the recommendation is likely getting brand new information. So what do they do next? Go online of course to check it out for themselves. And who is generating that online brand content that shoots to the top of the Google search pile? Here’s a hint: it’s not always you. “Your brand equals what consumers search on ” says Sam Decker cmo for Austin-based social commerce firm Bazaarvoice. “The push-pull paradigm has made a tectonic shift under our feet.” You can’t control what consumers are saying about your brand online but you can leverage the good stuff in ways that tie seamlessly to your event strategies. Check out these online methods for driving feeding seeding and fueling word of mouth throughout your experiential programs.
Online ratings and reviews
People love to help other people make good decisions. Incorporating online product ratings and reviews into your corporate or product-specific website gives you the tools not only to aggregate and speak directly to existing brand fans but to redeploy authentic consumer-generated content to attract new customers. Mega retailers Cabela’s and Staples for example both recently started pulling online customer-generated product endorsements offline and into their in-store product displays. Canada’s largest grocery retailer Loblaw also uses its online reviews to boost interest in the chain’s marquee brand President’s Choice at its 1 000 stores. But it’s Loblaw’s clever leveraging of online and offline experiences that gives the program legs.
“It’s a virtuous circle of customer-centric marketing ” says Decker of the strategy. (Bazaarvoice implemented Loblaw’s ratings and review technology.) “The whole point is to facilitate a way to bring consumers out and have them contribute alongside the brand. Once you start this circle that brand becomes a culture changer.”
In November 2006 Loblaw launched a customer ratings and reviews tool on its website to coincide with the release of its signature Holiday Insiders Report mailer. Employees wore “rate our products at pc.ca” t-shirts and as a result the reviews started coming in. The 4.5 out of 5-star-rated vegetable lasagna was the first item to be featured on a three-foot-by-five-foot sign in the stores. It featured positive consumer-created comments like “Even my vegetable-hating 17-year-old son enjoyed it.”
“It draws attention and it definitely adds credibility to the marketing message of that product ” says Jim Osborne vp-ecommerce and online marketing at Loblaw. “It challenges the consumer to say ‘If this is five out of five I have to try it.’ Or ‘I don’t like veggies either but based on this type of quote I’ll try it.’”
In November 2007 Loblaw selected 50 active online reviewers and invited them to a sneak peek tasting event in a historic farmer’s market in Toronto. Chefs and product developers were on hand to talk about the products that would be introduced two weeks later in the holiday mailer and customers were given a menu to fill in tasting scores so when they went home they could log on and fill out more online ratings and reviews. At the intimate event staffers also solicited feedback and advice from the invitees. “They felt like valued members of the President’s Choice community ” says Osborne. “They couldn’t believe such a big brand would do such great things. They’re talking about us to all their friends and families.” On average 60 percent of all online reviewers have told friends or family about their product experience according to a Bazaarvoice-Keller Fay Group study.
Decker says events like the tasting which empower best customers to become brand advocates are a powerful way to build word of mouth. “They’ve bridged that experience from offline onto the website and they have their own name on that brand’s website and they feel part of it ” he says.
Social networking sites like MySpace Facebook and YouTube aren’t just for kids anymore. (And no we’re not talking about your mom’s new MySpace page. Gross!) We’re talking about businesses using the power of social networking to turn a one-time b-to-b event into a months or year-long experience.
“Social media enables us to reach a larger pool of participants and people than what you have at the particular event ” says Ric Peeler director-corporate event marketing at Intel. “Events are wonderful at moving brand engagement and they help develop the purchase cycle. The downside is that they’re inherently limited to the number of participants at the physical location. [Social networking] allows us to have a relatively rich brand experience not like face-to-face but still a personal and emotional experience. We can take it and extend it to people not at the event.”
In 2007 consumers that stopped by the Intel booth at CES had a chance to dance in front of a green screen and walk away with a fully edited Intel commercial on their USB drive. They could also jump online in the booth and upload their videos to YouTube a tactic that earned the brand 190 attendee-generated videos and 20 000 views within four weeks after CES. At the 2007 Intel Developer Forum the brand built on the success of the CES activation by pre-populating its own branded YouTube channel. IDF attracts hard-core tech industry types as well as an active press and blogger audience so Intel leveraged its online presence pre-show with exclusive videos of execs coming to the conference. The brand supported the channel with media buys that linked IDF searches online with the YouTube content. In the week and a half leading up to the event Intel got 100 000 views on its IDF channel. At the event the channel became even more active; Intel created an upload lounge where attendees could blog live and shoot and upload video. “It was their live pulpit or soap box ” says Peeler. “It was an opportunity to give their personal testimonies. We let them do their thing” (Agency: Jack Morton Worldwide New York City).
Intel kept the channel lively with snippets of keynotes rather than lengthy 60-minute speeches. The brand’s social media hub by the end of the event had drawn over 250 000 views for an event that draws 4 000 people on site.
Peeler says that the initiative helped increase the event’s reach significantly. As a result he plans to continue incorporating a social media component around Intel’s events. “The viral element really is about providing people there an additional brand experience and secondly to reach out to people who weren’t at the event but could have some brand association.”
Bazaarvoice sets up Facebook accounts for its 20 b-to-b events each year. The agency creates videos and posts them to the page to create buzz and interest before the show and then uses the platform to ask attendees to complete short profiles so that the agency can quickly connect them with other industry folks they’d like to meet at the event.
Decker also uses the site’s email functionality to invite attendees to events. He finds that execs respond to Facebook emails more frequently than corporate emails. (Facebook pages allow you to see who else is attending and execs love to know who’s attending an event before they commit.) Decker says Facebook pages filled with relevant event-exclusive content can become sticky event portals that keep attendees—not to mention prospective clients—coming back long after the show is over.
“After the show we make sure there’s an output from them that’s going to help the other parts of our marketing strategy ” says Decker. “If I’m going to get all these people together I’m going to do videos I’m going to talk to them about case studies I’m going to get content from them I can use on the website—all things that extend impact after the show.” (For tips on how to set up an exclusive YouTube channel or your own page on a social network like Facebook visit eventmarketer.com/socialnetwork.)
In addition to Facebook other service providers like CrowdVine build social networks specifically for conferences and events. (Visit eventmarketer.com/socialmedia for a complete review of six more social networking service providers and see page 35 of this issue for details.)
Bloggers can be an intimidating bunch. They’re opinionated unedited and they wield more and more control over your brand’s reputation both online and off. But marketers who learn how to play nice in the blogosphere (see eventmarketer.com/bloggers for a step-by-step guide) will find that keeping in close touch can drive excitement for live events. We’ve boiled the blogosphere down to three main ways to engage:
Create a proprietary corporate blog. Two years ago Denver-based Flying Dog Brewery discovered that its credibility in the tight-knit craft beer market was being compromised by its boring label art. To turn around its reputation the brand spruced up its image and then embarked on a word-of-mouth marketing plan that leveraged blogs social media and events to reach both the industry’s uber-influencing “beer geeks” as well as their vast circles of friends. In addition to starting its own email newsletter the brand launched six blogs each dedicated to different community-building beer initiatives. At opensourcebeerproject. com for example beer aficionados can trade secrets and recipes for the newest brews. Flying Dog also reached out to existing beer bloggers to start more two-way communication including frequent sample mailings more regular comments on their blogs and invitations to VIP events at beer festivals and events.
“We’re using beer bloggers as the influencers because they have this passion for finding out what kinds of new styles are out there what the breweries are doing what experimental beers are being made ” says Neal Stewart director-marketing at Flying Dog. “They spread it as their hobby not only by drinking it but by talking about it.”
Stewart surmises that the endorsements from the beer geek community sparked word of mouth among their readers and friends which then trickled down to more casual beer drinkers who look to them for advice. Since starting the program sales have continued to increase. “Our trends are about double what the craft beer category is ” says Stewart who credits some of the strategy’s success to understanding what blogs are all about. Stewart not only started his own blog just to get the feel of it he hired one staffer to be specifically responsible for communicating with the bloggers and one person to be responsible for the brand’s own blog content. He says understanding how to communicate with bloggers is critical.
“I know a few beer bloggers that have complemented us as a brewery that has embraced Web 2.0 technology and communications platforms and I think that’s created a respect among these guys ” says Stewart.
This summer Stewart is embarking on a cross-country RV tour to leverage the potential of an event program he started called Beer Dinners. Like food and wine events beer dinners pair creative cuisine with craft beers. Stewart has hosted a handful of dinners and hopes to use the tour to host more. He also plans to make personal visits to retailers distributors and craft brewers along the way mixing a little b-to-b education and outreach with the consumer events. He plans to post content from the events including daily videos and he also hopes to use Twitter and GPS to allow fans to track the tour’s progress and blog with the team in real time.
“For us it’s hard to do on-premise promotions in bars because they’re so costly and time consuming ” Stewart says. “The beer dinner concept works because it’s such an intimate experience. With the buzz that surrounds it even if 50 people come to it many more hear about it. Then we can leverage it with the website.”
Support a brand-dedicated blogger. Ignoring brand-dedicated bloggers can come back to bite you. Consider the cautionary tale of Birdie Jaworski.
Jaworski started her blog Beauty Dish: True Underground Adventures of an Avon Lady in 2004 when she started selling Avon in Santa Fe NM. Within a few months her witty diaries chronicling her door-to-door sales experiences and her candid product reviews (the good the bad and the ugly) earned her thousands of readers including she says about 600 other Avon sales reps that either started selling or sold more because of her blog. Some even went on to the president’s club for selling over $10 000 in one year she says. Jaworski had all the makings of a willing brand advocate. She was authentic. She cared about the brand. And she had developed her own audience that trusted her. But Avon’s refusal to acknowledge her (she never heard a peep from them in three years despite her readers sending letters on her behalf) resulted in her eventually quitting and taking the brand love with her. “It was time for me to find another thing to evangelize ” she says. Moral of the story: Acknowledge and support your existing brand bloggers. You may not like everything they say but hiding out will do more harm than good.
“I’m not blind as to why you wouldn’t want someone talking about your brand saying that your products really suck ” says Jaworski. “But they could have done so many cool things—a million ways to capitalize and make it fun for them and for me. Even something simple just a mention ‘Hey here’s this rep. We don’t agree with everything she says but she’s got some interesting things to say about being a representative.’”
Reach out to target-demo bloggers. Bloggers that fit your brand’s target demographic can also spur voluminous word of mouth. Modern moms for example are a powerful voice in the blogosphere but are increasingly becoming aware of their appeal to mass marketers. To engage them effectively skip the blanket pitches and make more personal outreach based on what they’re writing about. If there’s no obvious match between your brand and the blog move on. And make your corresponding events less work and more play for this busy demographic or risk being shunned by the tight-knit group.
Nintendo Wii famously tapped into 24 bloggers (mostly moms) to pre-seed new non-gamer fan bases prior to the game system’s enormously successful launch (Agency: A Squared Group West Hollywood CA). Dodge’s Caravan program reached out to 50 mommy bloggers in six markets with its one-week trial campaign. To build buzz for its newest baby swing Graco reached out to mommy bloggers and invited them to a series of low-key luxury events. No formal presentations just wine dessert and hand massages to thank the moms for their time.
That lone computer kiosk that comes along for the ride on your mobile tour? It’s about to become the Commodore 64 of the event marketing industry. Today’s event attendees are carrying the Internet in their back pockets. And brands ranging from Dairy Queen to the Air Force are devising clever ways to engage mobile device holders with on-site post-event and standalone SMS campaigns that drive immediate and everyday purchase behaviors and inspire word of mouth along the way.
McDonald’s restaurants in Tulsa OK last year ran a scavenger hunt called Mobile Whoa. To join the hunt consumers texted “hunt 62931” or joined at the website mobilewhoa.com. Clues were sent to participants by text message until the mystery was solved. All participants received late-night snack coupons called mCoups for a free small order of fries or hash browns usable between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. plus free ringtones and wallpapers for those who uploaded personal photos to the Mobile Whoa website.
Dairy Queen ran a mobile coupon campaign in limited test markets. Consumers could text the letters DQ to a short code to opt in then start receiving offers—like a free combo meal—during lunch and mid-day snack times. Coupon holders simply showed their phones to DQ employees to get the goods. Six different coupons were delivered to subscribers’ mobile devices each month during the two-month flight.
The Air Force’s Do Something Amazing mobile tour also uses text messaging plus Bluetooth and 2D-barcodes to drive immediate actions like downloading games videos or wallpapers. The Air Force plans to include even more instant gratification-style interactives at future events like using SMS to text and receive recruitment contacts in the consumer’s area (Agency: U.S. Marketing & Promotions Marina del Rey CA).
Victoria’s Secret Pink not only leveraged the high concentration of camera phone holders at its World’s Largest Pajama Party event last year it tapped into existing behaviors to extend the reach of the event. Girls could take snapshots of themselves and their friends and upload them on the spot. Minutes later the photo would pop up on the giant LED screen that served as the backdrop for the stage. Pink also executed flash mobs texting attendees throughout the event to tell them where they could go on site for free merchandise.
“If you think about who the Pink girl is and the fact that she is perpetually connected to her friends and then you create an event that speaks to her in terms of what she’s interested in and give her a mechanism to actually engage with the event and the brand in a way that’s part of her everyday life you get great buzz and you get that whole viral piece ” says Mila Goodman director-strategy-retail practice at Resource Interactive which handled the online activation.