Augmenting Your Online Efforts with Real-World Events

I recently came across an article from Penn’s Wharton school of business wherein they discuss several aspects of marketing via social media that we’ve been practicing for some time; namely, holding real-world events to augment your online efforts, focusing on engagement vs. merely on driving likes (akin to driving page views), promoting consumer-generated content, and working with your best customers to gain insight on the market, competition and how your offerings stack up.  In all, there’s a lot to process, but my thinking is that while the folks at Wharton surely understand the implications in the admittedly short article, many of them could be lost on the more casual reader.  Therefore, I want to treat each one individually, sharing with you our vantage point and best practices, and hopefully in the process creating more light than heat.

First off, real-world events
Everyone knows that face-to-face meetings with your customers can be extremely valuable as they pierce the “marketing veil,” as it were, and allow people to be people, communicating in a common space.  In other words, it’s very hard to launch into your standard marketing pitch or to hide behind slogans and benefit statements when you are being peppered with questions in turn.  This real-time interaction forces us as marketers to view our products and our customers’ issues from their standpoints.   This partially removes us from our usual role and instead expands our sense of perspective to include the individuals with whom we’re interacting.  Depending on your level of preparation, it can be energizing or unnerving, , but there’s no denying that it’s a rare chance to get the straight scoop from customers while also attempting to persuade them to change their point of view – NOT for the faint of heart. 🙂

Some of the most important things we’ve learned in carrying off real-world, customer-facing events is that planning and organization are critical – things have a tendency to go sideways in some large or small fashion, and your level of preparation will determine how much you do or don’t minimize the impact of snafus.  Similarly, having the right people “in the room,” both in terms of representing your company as well as your customers, is also of vital import.  Essentially, we see events as a chance for our clients to make huge strides with their customer community, but only if you are adequately prepared to show them why.

One aspect of the event not overtly mentioned in the article (aside from their stating they created “a giant friendly hangout”) is the fact that the business in question established an environment in which they engaged their customers on those customers’ terms rather than their own.  By this I mean that they invited potential customers into their eyeglasses shop and offered them an activity that would interest and benefit them, irrespective of the business’ obvious goal of converting the visitors into buyers.  They engaged people via a photo walk giving them something to do that was entertaining and allowed them to express themselves.  They didn’t lead with a sales pitch. In fact, no mention of overt pitching of visitors is made at all. This leads me to believe that conversations took their natural course, and when it was appropriate, broached the topic of the company’s products.  As a consequence, the business had a ready-made audience of potential customers who were doing something they liked to do – they’d opted into the event of their own accord, after all – and thus had prepared fertile ground for a soft-sell of their products.  The key was to allow conversations to naturally make their way to the topic of the company’s eyeglasses on offer.  Surely, in some cases conversations probably never entirely got there, but by engaging customers on their own terms and not asserting their agenda in an over-the-top manner, the shop made it far more likely for that conversation to take place.  In a sense, they had created an environment where people were “in the flow” of doing things that already interested them and that also happened to intersect topically with the company’s objectives.  Therefore they were in the right place at the right time, and with the right people.  That sort of situation doesn’t happen by accident or serendipity, but rather by being keenly aware of the target customers’ needs and desires, then going about meeting those customers in a way that puts a communal, rather than commercial, experience at the center.

There’s certainly more that can be said about executing successful events as well as driving engagement, promoting content generation, and gaining key insights via your customers … but I’ll leave that for a later post. 

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