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Tipping points, evangelists, sneezers, mavens, etc.

I started to add my 2 cents to Jason's excellent post below as a comment, but it got too involved.

I put myself in Jason's camp: I'm not such a big believer in associations and traditional marketing. I've often wondered what would happen if the 50-gazillion dollar flashy 500-page annual meeting brochure were replaced with three reminder postcards? Could you take the money saved and plow it into other efforts, efforts that would build WOM marketing?

One of the first articles I researched and wrote when I came to GWSAE (that's premerger, folks) was on Seth Godin's Ideavirus. I liked that article a lot, I think as much because I got to use the word phlegmatic, and it had always been an ambition of mine to use the word phlegm in my professional writing without it being a huge stretch. (Tee hee, see how I did it again?)

One of my line of questions to Godin was going to be on how associations as a perfect for cultivating what he called the sneezers (those early adopters that spread the ideavirus—McConnell and Huba called them evangelists; Gladwell called them mavens). I mean, unlike for-profit businesses in a sea of marketing chatter, association members chose to be members. They chose to associate. Shouldn't ideas spread fast in such an environment. No, not really, he said. He didn't think associations had much of an advantage.

He killed my line of questioning. To this day I disagree with him—mostly. Associations should have an advantage. (Here's where you can groan appropriately) but because we're busy measuring the number of members and the number of butts in seats, we don't try to develop measures that will tell us who our sneezers/mavens/evangelists are. We go by reputation and our own knowledge instead, and subsequently we must miss gobs of potential sneezers who slip through the cracks.

Of course, the next step is figuring out what sorts of things will make these people feel special so that they want to continue to come back again and again. But that's another post for another time. (And apologies for all the Godin from me today.)



Scott, there'll never too much Godin. I agree that associations should spend more time nurturing their sneezers. Heck I just joined an association based on WOM of a trusted colleague (one of their sneezers I'm sure). Now, what will they do to keep me is another question.

Scott…amen! As mentioned in my comment to Jason’s post, WOM is about giving people a reason to talk about you. Without that, no WOM. And yes, I believe that associations do have a built in competitive advantage and that is the desire, and need for humans to associate. The DTJ study demonstrated it and it is what membership professionals have known in our guts for a long time. I recently had the honor of speaking to meeting of chapter leaders (staff and volunteer) of the National Golf Course Owners Association. They asked me to talk about member recruitment and retention. Most of my presentation was around the mechanics and tactics of this issue. But in the end we had a conversation about tapping into the passion that exists around their sport. I have met very few dispassionate golfers. And the course owners are just as passionate about the land they shepard and the lives they touch. Not direct mail campaign, member-get-a-member effort, telemarketing or countless renewal invoices can replace the impact of the passion. The members of the NGCOA, like most of the members of all our organizations, have some fundamental passionate connection to the subject. Where associations have missed the boat, is that we are so busy worrying about the metrics of joining we loss site of why they sign up in the first place. Humans are social and we want to be part of the pack. Or as my father says, “winners want to be with other winners.”

Do you see the sneezers as the "promoters" that are measured in the "Ultimate Question"? I do think we need more research on what makes people promoters - and how to turn the passives into promoters.
I'd love to hear more on how others have done this.

Thanks Mickie -- people who know me know I'm a real Godin fan. It's less heralded than some of the others, but I still like his No Prize Inside best.

Greg -- as always you add some good depth, to this post and Jason's. Thank you.

Roberta -- I confess I've only heard Reichheld speak and read Shiveley's article in the June issue of Associations Now, but I think you're right, sneezers, evangelists, mavens -- they're all roughly the same or at least similar to promoters.

I think there is something to turning passives into promoters -- I think you do it by acknowledging their existence and trying to do unique things for them and with them. (Anybody out there have the ability to write an article on the care and feeding of promoters/sneezers/evangelists/mavens?)

Of course, it starts with spotting them. I wonder how many promoters we have who we don't even know about?

Thanks Scott. Jackie Huba spoke at Annual and talked about promoters, relative to the DTJ. I would encourage everyone to check out her blog "Church of The Customer" She has also co-authored two books on the subject that are recognized in the WOM space as right on target. Full disclosure, I was employed by WOMMA before coming to the Forum.

Cheers! Let's keep talking. That is the power of WOM!

Scott – Thanks for raising this issue. As you have noted, this marketing discussion has been bandied about from blog to blog of late. Here is my concern with your comments. I think that it is incorrect to define marketing as a flashy 500 page brochure. Marketing is much more than that. In fact, good marketing practices would be to design a test of the big brochure against your 3 postcards and monitor the response to determine what statistically generates the best return for the association. Since so much has been said on this topic from blog to blog, I will put together a post on the membership marketing blog with a longer response. Tony

Tony, you're absolutely right that marketing doesn't have to mean a flashy 500 page brochure, and that real marketing analysis where you test different types of approaches to see which brings the greatest pull for the association can have great value.

But I think that Scott's right as well, that it's important to really focus on creating something worth talking about before you start putting significant money into marketing efforts. I've worked with groups before that seemed to think that the right communications and marketing plan would raise awareness and bring in tons of interest from stakeholders ... when the real problem was that they weren't doing anything particularly interesting. Even the best marketing practices can't do much to help when you're not providing a product or service that your constituents care about.

If you're interested in this discussion, be sure to check out some follow up posts from other bloggers:

Membership Marketing Blog, In Defense of Marketing!

Association Inc., If I’m Not Good at It, It Must Be Wrong

Diary of a Reluctant Blogger, Six Degrees of ... Marketing?

Gulo Solutions, WOM Marketing?

Thanks for compiling the responses, Lisa. Since the "500-page brochure" wasn't the main point of my post, I didn't go into very much detail on what I meant -- but that's the part that others seemed to focus on. So, for clarification:

My opinion is that the big annual meeting brochure that describes each of the 200 educational sessions with a paragraph or two, presents the meeting's calendar in 3 or 4 different ways, and has a page on each of the 20 separate trips and evening social activities, is done every year because it was done the year before. You can't take a particular section out because that's what "so-and-so" says motivated her to attend.

The point I was trying to make is that I don't see a lot of creativity in marketing plans. Now, I see plenty of creativity in marketing pieces, but the plans themselves are seem pretty static. Which maybe points to a bigger problem: are the things being marketed pretty static, too?

What makes word-of-mouth most powerful i think is when it occurs organically. You're doing something cool, people start talking about it, and all of a sudden interest grows. It's natural and it is authentic.

Identifying and going after sneezers turns them into tools to be deployed, and that is just a step or two away potentially from companies that pay the cool kids to hang out in bars, engage in company supplied chi-chat with unsuspecting locals, and get them to try the company's branded product.

I drop back to Godin's frequent assertion that being remarkable is what matters when you are competing for people's attention.

Scott -- What you may not be seeing is what is happening behind the scenes in marketing. Virtually every promotion that I work on has a series of tests associated with it. Sometimes I test the value proposition or message, other times I test potential new market segments, or I test different marketing channels like email or the use of variable micro web sites. A vibrant marketing program is continually evolving by eliminating what does not work as well and creating new marketing "species". As the recipient of the marketing pieces, you hopefully do not know that you are part of an experiment with each touch that you recieve. However, I will agree with you that some do not do this work of analysis and instead do static marketing, but sub-optimized marketing should not be viewed as the example. Tony

Another blogger has continued this discussion on his blog: Jeff De Cagna has a post on "Growth, Risk and Ungovernance." If this topic interests you, it's definitely worth a read!

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