Putting the power of word of mouth marketing to work

Word of mouth marketing is the best way to promote your organization and its programs and services. It’s a traditional promotional tool that has stood the test of time because people value what they learn from others. The stronger the relationship, the greater the value they place in word of mouth–for better or worse.

That’s part of the reason why social media is so powerful since it is word of mouth on steroids. But social media has not replaced the importance of word of mouth marketing. I’m not sure if it ever will.

Centre in the Square: The context

On the weekend, I witnessed a brilliant execution of word of mouth marketing by Kitchener’s Centre in the Square

Over the past 30 years, Waterloo Region’s premier performing arts venue had lost much of its sizzle. At the same time, attracting new–especially younger audiences–became more challenging. Renowned for its acoustics, too few local people entered the building and witnessed what a gem of a facility they had.

A change in leadership provided an opportunity to breath new life into the facility. CEO Sandra Bender led the creation of a new strategic plan and new branding for the Centre that give it a fresh face and new energy.

Centre in the Square puts word of mouth marketing in action

The Centre’s season typically starts without any fanfare. The first performance is promoted like any other; People buy tickets and come and go like any other event.

Not this year.

The Centre in the Square wanted to get people talking and so set out to put the power of word of mouth marketing to work.

Bandaloop at Centre In The Square opening party

They organized an opening party designed to attract crowds and make them happy. On both Friday and Saturday night, the Centre held four free outdoor shows. Two featured an amazing show by Bandaloop which literally danced on the buildings massive walls (see above). Each night also had two musical performances on an outdoor festival stage and three food trucks.

Lesson 1: Repetition is good

My family went Saturday. While I understand there was a good crowd on Friday night, I’m sure that word of mouth (including on social media) and warmer weather contributed to a bigger crowd on Saturday. Repeating the event was a good thing. It not only got more people out to have a first hand taste of what the Centre offers, the first night contributed to the second night’s success.

Lesson 2: Give people something to talk about

The Centre in the Square delivered a festive atmosphere. The scale and quality of the events and performances not only attracted people, it gave them something to talk about. I’m sure that we weren’t the only ones sharing our experience on Sunday. I also expect it’s the topic of much water cooler talk at work today.

They took a big risk but by doing so they are now enjoying a big return because they gave people something to talk about.

Lesson 3: Keep the buzz going

What I loved the most was that the event was more than just a big bang to attract short-term attraction. People could spin a wheel and had a chance to win prizes. Most of the prizes were tickets to high profile acts such as Martin Short and Whoopi Goldberg who both appear this week.

I’ve always believed a good marketing strategy for arts organizations is to use tickets you wouldn’t sell to get people talking. In this case, it means getting people into Centre’s seats and experiencing first hand its new programming.

My wife won tickets to Whoopi Goldberg and immediately posted it to Facebook. She’ll tell more people today. We’ll get in free but many people will learn about the performance from my wife. I’m sure some will at least consider going themselves.

The same thing will happen after the show. People may not be able to see another Whoopi show this season but it the buzz is good, I expect they’ll take a closer look at what else is coming.

Lesson 4: Give value. Make it easy to stay in touch

I really like the concept that an e-mail address should be someone’s price of admission to an event. The Centre built it’s e-marketing list by asking for an e-mail address from everyone who spun the prize wheel. Word spread through the audience about the prizes so people knew there was value in giving this piece of information.

By doing so, they can now regularly be in touch with many new people they could not have reached directly before. They and their friends and family (plus their extended social media networks) will have greater exposure to the Centre’s programming. They will be more likely to go and therefore more likely to talk about their experience.

The ballot to participate was quick and easy to complete but it obtained three key pieces of information. In addition to e-mail addresses, it got the person’s name which allows for personalization of e-marketing messages. It also requested postal codes that help the Centre to target its marketing efforts to areas of strength or perhaps even areas of weakness that offer attractive demographics. There are many uses for this information but one of the first that jumps to mind is direct mail marketing.

By making the information requested quick and easy to provide, I’m sure they had a higher participation and completion rate. If they started to ask for more information such as addresses or phone numbers, I’m confident those rates would be lower. Their priority was obviously to have enough contact to have as many people talking about the Centre over its season.

The result

There’s already more buzz about the Centre in the Square by mid-September than I can remember in many years. They’ve also made smart moves to keep people talking and get new people to attend their performances.

Will this word of mouth marketing effort result in greater sales? I predict it will be a factor in that result though time will tell.

What I know for sure is that people are talking about a performance arts space that had blended into the community fabric in a way they haven’t been recently. That can only be a good thing.

And as a proponent of getting the biggest bang for your buck, I’m confident that the money spent this past weekend and the tickets given away provide a much greater bang than the same money spent on print materials or broadcasting-style promotional options like billboards.

Want more proof it worked?

I just blogged about it!

Can you share any great word of mouth marketing efforts?