Offline WOM » Archive

Last night, my girlfriend and I decided to go to Sauce, the great informal pizza place from Fox Restaurant Concepts with a handful of locations around Phoenix. The closest one is about 15 minutes away at 7th Street and Glendale (Hey, Fox RC, Central Phoenix needs a Sauce!), so we headed over ready to eat. When we arrived, I looked in the storefront and found all the furniture moved to one side and the restaurant looking empty of all but a smattering of employees working to finish a remodel. A couple of them noticed our sad and hungry faces as they were walking back in.

They stopped and chatted with us and explained that they had been closed a few days to polish the space a bit, and reminded us of some of the other locations we could go to. All of them were in another direction from home, so we were still undecided and disappointed. “I’ll tell you what,” one said. “Head over to the Scottsdale Waterfront location, I’ll call and tell them you’re coming, and I’ll buy your dinner.” He handed me his card, and then Mike G., Vice President of Operations – Fast Casual for Fox Restaurant Concepts, took us in to show off all of the changes they made in the remodel. When we got to Scottsdale, they were expecting us, and our dinner was on the house.

Now, there are reasons that Fox Restaurant Concepts seems to be the only Arizona business to grow in the last few years. I’m sure one of the biggest is that they have fostered a corporate culture that values the customer, and whether it’s their intention or not, that mentality is the single best tool for generating positive word of mouth. Their food, of course, is top notch, and their array of restaurant concepts is diverse and always appealing, which are both good reasons to tell your friends. But, give a customer a good experience, and he or she will almost always tell their friends.

Of course, it’s unlikely that Mike was instructed by his marketing department to offer visitors to the closed store a free meal in the event that they would post a blog about the experience. He just did it because he and his employer value their customers and instinctively operate in their best interest (which, in turn, is in the best interest of the company).

Before you head to 7th Street & Glendale with your best sad face, hoping for a free meal: the remodeled Sauce opens for lunch today. But, head up there anyway, knowing that you’ll get great food at a great price, prepared and served by people who really value you as a customer. And, while you’re there, think about your own business. Do you do instinctively show your customers or constituents how much you appreciate them? How do you do it, and what can you do better?

Show Fox Restaurant Concepts some love… follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s probably a golden rule for marketers to not choose favorites, but, if you know me, it’s no secret that Expect More Arizona is easily my favorite client. It’s not just the amazing people I get to work with (from the Board on down to my colleagues I drive all over the state with) or the really cool work I get the freedom to do, but to believe so firmly in the organization’s mission and to get to contribute to its success continues to be rewarding on a daily basis.

This year, we’re taking our message up several notches with a non-partisan campaign designed to make education the top priority in this year’s elections. With that in mind, last week we launched the “Vote 4 Education” campaign. You should start to see the signs and other materials pop up in communities across Arizona any day now. And, definitely, visit the Expect More Arizona web site to read the 4 questions and 4 actions to help you Vote 4 Education.

But, one part of the campaign that I’m really excited about is the Voter Resource Center. Here, we’re trying to make it really easy for people to share the campaign materials, both online and off. We’ve included all the campaign materials that you can download and print, and we’ve supplied widgets and images so anyone can embed campaign images on their web site or blog (as seen in this post). We also provide images that we’re encouraging friends to use as their social media profile pictures

Expect More Arizona and the “Vote 4 Education” have the potential to make a significant change in a struggling Arizona. Education must be a priority now. We can’t wait to fix education until after we fix our economy. Education – building a stronger workforce, creating an education system that will attract new businesses and top talent, instead of deterring them – is the key to restoring our economy. So, join me in voting 4 education, beginning by voting Yes on 100 on May 18.

Sign up at ExpectMoreArizona.org and connect with the organization on Facebook and Twitter.

Jewish Olympics

Here’s a crazy story from my experience today at LA Fitness. I won’t even go into the convoluted reason they had me cancel my membership and sign up again (annoying), but this led to meeting Sales Manager and Sales Guy (we’ll call them that the purpose of this post).

When I met Sales Manager a couple of days ago with my girlfriend, he informed me that I have a Jewish last name and then proceeded to bid me “Shalom.”

They couldn’t sign me up that day (again, annoying), so I returned today to meet with Sales Guy. As we’re sitting there, Sales Manager sits down next to me, and begins to unload more crazy.

Sales Manager: Hey, Sales Guy, did you know that Jeff is Jewish?
Sales Guy
: (Blank stare)
Jeff
: Um…. Okay.
Sales Manager
: That means we need to pick his brain on how to make money.
Sales Guy
: (Panic stare)
Jeff
: Ummmm… that’s a little offensive.
Sales Manager
: No, it’s okay. I’m Dominican. People call me Mexican all the time.
Jeff & Sales Guy
: (Confused and awkward silence).
Sales Manager
: I’m Christian. But, at my church we believe in Israel. (Pause) Are you militant?
Jeff
: Ummmmmm…. No, not really.

This small snippet of a larger exchange begs a couple of questions. First, are there Christians who don’t believe in Israel? Great! First Santa, then the Jewish OlympicsEaster Bunny, now this? Where do they believe Natalie Portman is really from?

But, the bigger question is: How does a business combat stories like this that will lead to negative word of mouth? (The obvious answer is prevention, but, hey, things happen).

Do I think Sales Manager meant to be offensive? No. (As Sales Guy explained when he took me aside and apologized, “That’s just how he is.”)

Will this prevent me from remaining a member? No. (But only because I play racquetball with friends there).

But, here’s the big thing: Will I tell this story EVERY TIME someone mentions LA Fitness in my presence? Absolutely! Will many of the people who hear it retell it to their friends? You bet.

So, here’s what LA Fitness should do to try to fix it.

First, publicly make it right.
This is 2010, when most of us have a story to tell, we tell it online where countless of our friends and their friends can read it (or watch it or listen to it). Hopefully, a large brand like LA Fitness monitors online mentions of their brand (via Google, Twitter search, or pay for a social media listening service like Radian6). Once aware of this blog post or Tweets about it, they should use those venues to comment, apologize (if that’s what they feel this merits), and find a way to make it right. (LA Fitness, please don’t do anything drastic like fire Sales Manager. The guy means well. You just haven’t trained him on how to behave in the workplace).

Next, give me a better story to tell.
This is huge. Like I said, I will tell this story every time I hear of LA Fitness.  Why not give me a better story to tell? Give me something else positive to say whenever I hear the name… or, at the very least, give me an ending for this story that will put a positive spin on it.

I guess I am militant after all. Not about Israel (whatever that means), but about word of mouth. Your employees are your brand. Like it or not, Sales Manager defined what LA Fitness means today. So, LA Fitness, it’s your move.

My first encounter with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) was in June of 2006 in San Francisco. I was working at an ad agency in Phoenix in the PR department, frustrated with the model of traditional marketing. Writing press releases and pitching journalists on stories they rightly had no interest in didn’t feel like relating to the public to me. I wanted to connect the public to my clients, and trying to convince a reporter for the LA Times that she should write a story about a tiny spa in Bullhead City, AZ just wasn’t cutting it.

Fortunately, the agency sent me to the WOMMA conference in San Francisco, and my life changed. Finding WOMMA was like finding professional religion to me; I was quickly converted and devoted to finding a way to practice word of mouth marketing. That conference, led by then CEO Andy Sernovitz, was full of enthusiasm and passion. It was a group people trying to build a marketing movement; it felt like the Obama campaign trying to win the Iowa caucus. The highlight of the conference was Jackie Huba’s compelling keynote address, where she opened our eyes to the power of enabling customers to become evangelists (that speech is still the best marketing presentation I have ever seen). Sernovitz and crew were creating more than an association; they were creating a discipline and wanted me on board along with anyone else with the passion and skill to move this thing forward.

Fast forward to last week in Vegas. I have my own word of mouth marketing business and some really great clients. I went to the conference looking to gain new, fresh insights on how to harness the power of word of mouth for my clients and my business. I returned poorer and frustrated, but with as much passion as ever for the discipline of word of mouth marketing; unfortunately, now I feel like my passion is not shared by the association that holds the discipline’s name.

When I registered and at the conference, WOMMA staff tried to convince me (with an albeit soft sell) to become a paying member. That’s not going to happen any time soon. Here’s why:

WOM is not all about social media. At the very beginning of this conference, social media was introduced as a “subset” of word of mouth marketing. What other subsets did they mention? None. This was not a word of mouth conference; it was a social media conference. I mean, the tagline of the conference was: “Beyond Social Media.”

WOMMA Summit Banner

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG believer in the power of social media. I use it for my business, my clients, and myself all the time. But, social media is a tactic that helps generate and amplify word of mouth. It is not the whole of the discipline. Read Sernovitz’s book. No, seriously, READ SERNOVITZ’S BOOK! It’s about people, ideas, and conversation. He writes about word of mouth marketing, and yes, social media is in there as a tool for enabling the conversations. WOMMA is now solely about social media, mostly Twitter. This conference didn’t teach me a thing I don’t get in my inbox everyday from a surplus of “social media experts.” Andy Sernovitz was nowhere to be found at the WOMMA conference; I don’t know him, and I don’t know why he wasn’t there, but I’m guessing his vision doesn’t exactly jibe with WOMMA’s so much anymore.

What’s the benefit to me exactly? Each time I’ve been approached to become a member, I ask what the benefit will be to my company. Other than being able to say I’m a member and get a discount on the conference (which doesn’t make up for the $1,000 membership fee for a small business), I’ve been unable to determine a benefit. In fact…

I shouldn’t have to compete with my own trade association. WOMMA was very excited to sell us on their new Learn It, Do It! series that is “offering Brands, Agencies, and Non-Profits on-site education about Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing” for the low, low price of $1250. Well, that’s one way a lot of word of mouth marketing consultants, like myself, make a living. Sometimes we’ll have to compete with each other for jobs, but we shouldn’t have to compete with WOMMA for work. I thought they were supposed to help us succeed, not take away opportunities from their members. If an actor has to compete with his agent for jobs, it’s times for the actor to fire the agent.

Costs too much for a very small business like mine. Like I said.

So, I’ve whined and griped (without even mentioning how amazing and right-on Emanuel Rosen was), but now I’ll tell you a bit of my vision for a better WOMMA. I’m not sure if WOMMA is interested and I’m not even sure that a better WOMMA for me is better for most its members, but for what it’s worth:

“Beyond Social Media”: Social media could – and should – be the biggest focus, but let’s look at the other subsets, and how to start offline conversations before we amplify them with social media. Let’s look at how to create the big ideas, the experiences, the products and services that get people talking, and then let’s give them a place to shout about it. And then, when we do talk about social media…

Look to the future. Jackie Huba talked about Shakira’s use of fan-generated video in 2006. In fact, it’s all in her last book. SERIOUSLY, READ BOTH OF HER BOOKS! Most of us know how to use YouTube and Twitter; we need to know what we’re going to use in the near future before it happens. I didn’t hear any content about Google Wave or Foursquare, much less whatever 3D-hologram-virtual-reality-social-community-marketplace is coming after them (hopefully including a jet pack).

A little humility, please. You don’t get credit for the popularity of social media. If I had seen Mark Zuckerberg or Biz Stone on the board or even a panel, it might’ve merited the amount of backslapping. We’re an industry about building relationships; being a little more approachable will go a long way. I will admit a lot of you have amazing hair, though.

On that note. I know you’re proud of the FTC thing, but now what’s next? Other “marketers” are abusing our channels in many ways. Most of my Twitter friends have let me know how to “make money online with Google.” Daily, hackers, spammers, and phishers are negating efforts of true relationship building. I have always respected how early WOMMA came out with its code of ethics. How can you help enforce more than just full disclosure on blogs?

Look, I’m not saying that other people or businesses shouldn’t join WOMMA. In fact, if you look at the Twitter stream from the conference (of which I was an active part) you’ll find that most commenters found value and show a lot more enthusiasm for the event. If you are a large brand with a big budget and a traditional marketing team that doesn’t already use social media, WOMMA may be exactly what you need. I’m saying that it isn’t what I need. And that sucks. I’d love to have the old WOMMA back to support and inspire me. I’d love to join 2006 WOMMA, but at least for now, that doesn’t seem like a possibility.

Im a member of the Hanacore!

I'm a member of the "Hanacore!"

My favorite local sushi joint – Hana Japanese Eatery – understands that it has a league of loyal customers who rave about their food to friends, family, colleagues, and, probably, complete strangers. In the marketing world, we call those people evangelists. At Hana, they call them “Hardcore Hanacore”.

From Hana’s Blog:

Our fans are… special.  They wait for our tweets each day and then flock for the sushi. They start fan groups. When one of them spies us bringing in a full size bluefin tuna to butcher on the sushi counter, cell phones all over town light up until there’s a crowd here like a circus.

Like I said, special. So we’d like to acknowledge that kind of crazy by branding you a Hanacore.  Feel free to post this sucker to your blog or site- paint it on the side of your car, or hey- see what your tattoo artist can do with it.

We’ll be paying special attention to these suckers, and we’ll be watching our Hanacores. Who knows what surprises may come their way?

They have embraced social media as a tool to amplify their Word of Mouth, but they are doing it right (mostly). Hana begins – as all good Word of Mouth stories do – with an amazing product. Chef Koji-san selects only the best fish, and takes pride in what he serves. Plus, they take great care of their customers, often serving a complementary appetizer and a dish of pickled wasabi. I don’t want to turn this post into a restaurant review, but, the other night, Koji-san served me a perfect plate of tuna sashimi and some uni that was buttery and subtle. The star dish, however, came from the hot kitchen; when you go, if they have a special called “scallop edamame,” don’t miss it.

A great product and great customer service then turns to relationships. If you’ve heard me talk about social media before, you know that building relationships – on- and offline – is the key to successful Word of Mouth. Your loyalists gain a vested interest in your success when they have a relationship with you. Customers at Hana are treated like family, and, in turn, are even more driven to help the restaurant succeed.

They also embrace their customers’ evangelism by offering tools on their blog to help their customers share, like the “Hardcore Hanacore” logo and even linking to a customer created Facebook group. This is a wonderful way to reinforce the passion of their Hanacore. However, Facebook is the one area I’d like to see them improve. A group is not the best way to use the most effective communication tool on the web. They should start (or ask their loyal customer to start) a Facebook fan page. The fan page will push their posts out to fans’ news streams and also allow fans to tag them in a status post (creating a hyperlink to their fan page). It’s a great way to stay connected with customers, whereas a group page usually sits there unnoticed.

Hana’s Word of Mouth – both online and off – has been a success story for the restaurant and the neigborhood. I’m definitely a member of The Hanacore, and I urge all of you to rush to Hana to give it a try. The only downside of their Word of Mouth success is that I can’t get a seat there anytime I want anymore.

Continentals Ads boast the newest planes in the sky, but theyve been around long enough to gather some dust. This is a shot of the panel above my seat. Yuck.

Continental's Ads boast the newest planes in the sky, but they've been around long enough to gather some dust. This is a shot of the panel above my seat. Yuck.

When passengers on Captain Denny Flanagan’s United Airlines flights encounter an unexpected delay, they have an experience they are sure to tell all of their friends and families. But, these passengers aren’t talking about the delay, they’re raving about how Capt. Flanagan left the plane to find a McDonald’s in the terminal and returned with a bag of 200 hamburgers to pass out on the plane. Last week, when my Continental Airlines flight was diverted from Newark to Pittsburgh, we sat on the plane hungry for 9 hours total without being allowed to deplane. Now, I know Continental can’t control the weather, and I’m grateful they aren’t allowed to try to land the plane in a lightning storm, but they can learn from the experiences Capt. Flanagan provides his passengers that turn bad experiences into Word of Mouth opportunities.

The next leg of the trip saw another 4-hour delay, where I sat in the hot terminal with no seats, no free wi-fi, and nowhere to plug in my fading iPhone. Again, I don’t expect you to take off with no co-pilot or flight attendant (who were delayed out of Michigan), but throw us a bone here.

In bad times, invest a small amount of time and money in making your passengers happy. The return on your investment can be a fleet of shiny brand loyalists who will evangelize their experience to friends and families. Here are some ways an Airline can turn a bad experience into a bearable one and get people talking:

  • WWDD (What Would Denny Do?): Read the WSJ article on how Captain Flanagan treats his passengers. Create a corporate culture that inspires similar behavior. Make sure pilots know they can expense 200 cheeseburgers and empower them with the tools to treat passengers like valued customers.
  • Information: Look, the FAA is in charge here, most of us know that. But, let us know what’s going on. If we understand the situation, we can deal with it better. In Newark, there were very few seats in the terminal, and you had to find one even if it meant going to a different gate. Information at the gate was sparse, but if you weren’t there you got nothing. How can you keep us better informed?
  • Connectivity: In Newark, you had to pay for wireless internet service (some airports offer this free). If I were running Continental Airlines, I’d make an arrangement with Boingo (Newark’s wi-fi provider) to buy wi-fi passes in bulk. It’s a small investment for a large return… Time passes much faster when we are playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.
  • Buy Some Power Strips and Extension Cords: We hate being stuck in an airport because we feel cut off. Our phones and laptops help alleviate that feeling (see Connectivity above), but there are about 12 outlets in the whole terminal. If I were you, I’d buy a bunch of extension cords and power strips, providing more outlets and locations to plug in. It’s a low-tech solution, but, trust me, we’ll REALLY appreciate it.
  • Liquor? I Barely Know Her: Sorry, but free headphones for the remake of Escape from Witch Mountain only makes matters worse. Offer to buy us a drink. We won’t all accept it, but it’s the thought that counts. I’m not suggesting turning the airplane into a keg party. One drink – it will take the edge off for a few people, and the gesture will be appreciated.

I should mention that Continental isn’t the only offender. I mean, look at US Airways… When the best PR you’ve had in a decade is crashing a plane in the Hudson, you’re not doing it right. Even Captain Flanagan’s airline got in major social media trouble for breaking guitars:

Airlines, you’re in a tough situation. We hate to travel, and it’s only become more annoying in the last 8 years. We’re tired, we’re cranky, and we just want to get to where we’re going. But, creating a corporate culture that encourages your staff to make it just a little better will do wonders for your positive Word of Mouth. McDonald’s doesn’t even make a great burger, but if you buy us one, we’ll talk about how much we enjoyed it.

Sometimes it’s nice to hear your favorite band stripped down of all of the production and amplification often heard on recordings and in concert. This is how you really get to know their talent; it’s the most authentic performance.

We’re always searching for authenticity in marketing. Sometimes the best way to find it is to pull the plug on your marketing efforts as well. Finding the ways to generate offline word of mouth can be the trickiest, but also the most valuable. It starts, of course, with offering an amazing product (or service). It continues with high quality customer service. And, it all comes together by being different than the rest. If you can offer your customers a unique, easy, exceptional customer experience, they will talk.

Last week, I began to talk about a company that didn’t even finish the job. Efficient Attic Systems provided me an estimate for adding much needed insulation to my hot Phoenix home. The installers showed up the next morning ready to tackle my historic home. After spending some time in my attic, they came down and explained that due to the old design of my home – particularly the low pitch of the roof – they didn’t believe they would be able to properly install the insulation in a way that would offer me a reasonable benefit for the cost. They sent a manager out to inspect and confirm, apologized profusely, and left.

Now, I know next to nothing about insulation. They could have spent a couple hours in my attic, sprayed some foam around, collected their money and left. I never would have known the difference. Times are tough, and I know the company lost money spending half a day at my house for no payment. They showed great integrity in their honesty, and although I’m disappointed that the job couldn’t be completed, I find them incredibly worthy of my praise and recommendation.

They earned Word of Mouth simply by offering a unique experience – a home improvement company more concerned about treating their customers fairly than their bottom line.

Here’s the catch, though: If U2 only performed unplugged for small crowds – no albums, no sold-out arenas – they wouldn’t have the success they have today. Bands need to turn up the volume to build support. And so it goes with Word of Mouth marketing.

Using social media shouldn’t be the reason your customers are talking about you. Social media is the amplification that helps them get heard by a broader audience. When combined properly, on- and offline Word of Mouth efforts generate authentic, positive experiences, and expand their reach further and faster than ever before.

What kind of customer experiences do you provide to encourage offline Word of Mouth?

Below, enjoy an “Unplugged” performance, courtesy of The Office’s David Brent:

Have you wondered what generates authentic, quality, off-line Word of Mouth? Here’s an experience that happened to me that highlights what a company can do to encourage customer evangelism. 

After a recent kitchen remodel, I was in the market for a high quality coffeemaker. I became obsessed with the $4000 touch-of-a-button espresso perfection machines, but could never justify that kind of expense on a coffee maker. Nevertheless, I would go into Williams-Sonoma and stare at them longingly on a regular basis.

About 6 months ago, when I made my regular visit to stalk kitchen appliances, I ran into a former client and her friend. When I explained my desperate longing for high quality brew, the two of them turned into a professional coffeemaker sales force. “No. That is not what you want,” my former client declared. “This is what you want…”

 

My Nespresso Le Cube

My Nespresso Le Cube

They escorted me to a different section of the store and introduced me to the Nespresso Le Cube. Instantly, I was turned off, being a coffee snob. Nespresso uses coffee in pods, which I was convinced was going to be merely sugary, syrupy flavored nonsense. They objected. Nespresso sells only high quality, ground espresso beans vacuum-sealed in pods for freshness and convenience, they declared. They flagged an official salesman, who allowed me to brew my own cup. Moments later, I was drinking a near perfect pull of espresso with a glorious crema on top. My former client and her friend watched me make my purchase (for a few hundred, rather than a few thousand dollars), and even followed up with me the next day to make sure I was still satisfied with my selection.

These two women don’t work for Nespresso; they are loyalists and evangelists (as I have also become). But, what makes them so devoted to selling this product if they don’t receive any incentives or compensation? Is quality alone enough to generate sustained Word of Mouth like this? Quality is definitely a good start, but let’s take a closer look at how Nespresso engages their loyalists to encourage such a following.

  • Exclusivity. When you purchase a Nespresso machine and espresso pods, you don’t become a “customer,” but a member of a club. The exclusivity is not gimmicky, because they follow through with opportunity and a modicum of prestige. Placing a phone order from Nespresso feels more like making arrangements with a concierge at a 4 star hotel. They also have boutiques in various cities that offer club members VIP perks, including tastings, but they don’t have one in Phoenix so I can’t give any first-hand details.
  • Customer Collaboration. Yesterday I received an e-mail survey from Nespresso that basically asked what kind of company I wanted them to be and how I would like to be treated as a customer. The company consults their consumers on everything from product design, to which advertisements to air, to which limited edition roasts should become permanent. By giving customers a voice in the product, Nespresso also gives them a vested interest in its success.
  • Promote Quality. I have yet to see Nespresso offer me a “deal.” They never downgrade their brand image by offering sale prices. They do, however, offer promotions featuring limited edition products. I might buy coffee when I don’t need any simply because I’m given the opportunity for a unique experience (I might pay a little extra too).
  • Tools to Blab. This is actually an area where Nespresso has a lot more opportunities to take advantage. They do have a decent Facebook fan page with some resources including online video, polls, and promotions. They have user-participation contests and more, but not enough focused on helping consumers evangelize the products. For example, there’s a ton of Twitter chatter about Nespresso, but the company itself has no presence. Their Web site has no feature to “tell-a-friend” that I could find, and, in fact, the site is really clunky and difficult to use; it’s hard to find a page that I would want to share. The desire to share is there, and if Nespresso helps it along a little more, I think we may see world coffee domination.

Nespresso’s Word of Mouth success starts with a great quality product, but they have also built a business model that encourages their members to Blab. What could your company or your clients do to encourage similar experiences like the one I had to purchase my Nespresso Le Cube? What else could Nespresso do to build on the Blab?

You’ve heard that humans tend to be most attracted to symmetry, right? I was reminded of this last night watching The Office, as Oscar argued his case for why Hilary Swank was, in fact, attractive (but not hot). Oscar presented a segmented diagram of Swank’s symmetrical face, and explained she demonstrated “the scientific standard of koinophilia: features that are a composite average of many features.”

I admit to being attracted to symmetry, and that is exactly why I started Blabbermouth. I’ll explain…

I began my courtship of marketing at an advertising agency, practicing public relations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: traditional marketing can be and often is effective; it just doesn’t turn me on. I’m simply not attracted to it because of its lack of symmetry.

Traditional marketing (take advertising or PR, for example) is asymmetrical: the marketer is marketing AT the consumer. This provides plenty of opportunity to influence and persuade, but no opportunity to listen or adjust.

Word of Mouth marketing, when done right, is symmetry at its best. Instead of marketing AT, we get to market WITH our consumers. This is risky for some, because it means letting go of control of the message. You have to have a lot of confidence in your product or service to do that.  This is also why I can only take clients with products I believe in. I can’t let go of the message if I think it will make you (in turn, me) look bad. So, if you become my client (and I hope there are a few of you), you should know that I’m a big fan of your work. 

If you have the luxury of letting go, the rewards are immeasurable. You get to not only start a dialogue, but to participate in it. You get to listen and respond; you can defend and define your product when it’s misunderstood or improve it when you learn from a consumer how it could be better. That’s symmetrical marketing, a give and a take; and not only is that attractive, it’s hot.

Theatre companies have been harnessing the power of Word of Mouth for centuries. Most theatre-goers are familiar with the curtain speech that sounds a little like, “If you liked what you saw here tonight, please tell your friends… If you didn’t like it, tell them you saw Cats.” See, they get the most basic principal of WOM that a lot of businesses look past: It’s free and easy to ask your loyalists to tell their friends about you.

However, there is a dilemma to posing that ask during the curtain speech of a limited run theatre production – it may be too late to gain any traction. Childsplay, an Arizona theatre company for young audiences, is trying to get a step ahead of the problem.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Childsplay’s “Friends & Family” night for its upcoming production of Busytown. They gathered about thirty Childsplay loyalists to their Tempe rehearsal hall to meet with actors, designers, the choreographer, the music director, and the director. They were given a WAY behind the scenes peek in to the production weeks before opening night. But, most importantly, they were given the opportunity to be a part of Busytown through their early participation.

Childsplay understands that without their audiences there would be no reason to show up for work. So, instead of waiting for the lights to come up to include them, they give them ownership from the start. That’s what Word of Mouth is all about. If you give me a sense of ownership of your product, then I have a vested interest in your success. That gives me extra motivation to spread the word for you.

By giving the audiences a sneak peek of Busytown, Childsplay gave these audience members ownership of the production. They got to ask questions, get to know the play, and are now armed with information to share with their friends with enough time to build some momentum. They even got to learn one of the dance numbers.

And, of course, the curtain speech happened… but long before the curtain went up. Rosemary Walsh, Childsplay’s Marketing Director and all-around wonderful human being, made it very clear that we had invited them there for a reason. She told them that without their help, there is no Childsplay and asked them to spread the word and hand out free passes for the show. These Childsplay evangelists were ready and willing to help. All she had to do was ask.

 If you’re interested in attending a future “Friends & Family” event at Childsplay, let me know and I’ll put Rosemary in touch with you. You can also become a Facebook fan of Childsplay.