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Word-of-Mouth Un-Marketing

I bought a copy of ASAE's Decision to Join book back at the annual meeting. It's a worthwhile read and I was happy to listen to Ben Martin's praise of the book in his audio review.

What shocked me was Ben divulging that he's not a big believer in word-of-mouth marketing. This is odd coming from such an advocate for social/participatory media. Hmm...

Conversely, I'm not a big fan of "regular" marketing. In fact, the IGDA hasn't had a marketing budget - ever (we don't even have a line item in the accounting system for it). We haven't put out much in the way of official press releases in the past two years (besides getting tons of media coverage). We've not done any marketing campaigns or membership drives in the traditional sense. We've haven't bought any magazine ads or web banners. Really, nothing.

Yet, the IGDA has enjoyed a massive amount of growth over the years (from less than 500 members in '99 to 13k today (oddly enough, who's average age is 31, but that's a whole other discussion)).

Now, certainly, there are many variables at play, not least of which that we are a relatively new association in the booming video game industry. But, we've been so deliberate about not marketing, that much of our focus has simply been on doing "meaningful stuff" - or rather, facilitating/enabling members to do "meaningful stuff" via the IGDA.

My guess is that the "meaningful stuff" comes with built-in marketing. Admittedly, I've not looked at WOMMA for insight, so perhaps they have some sophisticated models/theories for how "meaningful stuff" = free/word-of-mouth marketing.

Also, to some extent, it means that there's not much for the Bens of the world to do or control from a marketing plan point of view (hmm, do I smell a hint of protecting professional turf). That is to say, the marketing plan is really the overall plan to ensure that your association does "meaningful stuff". (Though, there are probably lots of little tactical things to do like ensure that each web article has an "email this to a friend" type link, etc.)

Decision to Join, word-of-mouth, the Net Promoter Score concept, social media, etc, etc, really do require us to do a complete rethink of what we mean by marketing. I, for one, can vouch for the success of not doing any!



To be clear, over the years I have always felt that WOMM in associations didn't live up to the hype in terms of a tangible ROI. But as I mention in the podcast, I think I am changing my mind.

OK, so I'm a marketing person. Is that so wrong?

Jason, I think you may be selling yourself short by saying you've done NO marketing. You've not budgeted for marketing, but you have budgeted for a comprehensive website that is optimized for search and includes Web 2.0 features that allow your visitors to share your stuff. You've succeeded in implementing an "auto-pilot" approach and letting your members control the information. That sounds like the work of a marketing guru to me...reluctant, though you may be.

I really like your arguments, Jason—I have had the painful experience of trying to write a communications plan for a group that wasn’t doing much worth communicating. What a frustrating experience.

Which actually makes me think of another benefit of doing meaningful stuff—employee retention. I’d argue that the best employees won’t be satisfied doing things that aren’t meaningful and exciting, at least not forever. If you want to attract and retain good people, give them great things to do ...

First, a disclosure: Prior to joining the Forum, I was VP of Membership at WOMMA. The two fundementals of WOM is 1: Give your customers(members) somthing to talk about; and 2: make it easy for them to spread the word. As I was becoming a student of WOM, it became very clear to me that associations have been practicing WOM from our very beginning, and that for-profit companies are trying to copy the relationships we enjoy with our members by using WOM tactics. Word of Mouth is inherit in associations, what is not, is the "marketing" part. Facilitating the conversation and helping it along. WOM is much more than a member get a member campaign and in the end, no WOM campaign will work unless you are remarkable to begin with.

So yes, Jason, you are dead on when you say that the marketing plan is to ensure that the association does meaningful stuff, I would only challenge you to make it more than just meaningful, make it remarkable!

You really should check out WOMMA. They have lots of great, and free stuff.

Hot topic for me too - I'm finding myself having conversations with my various program chairs about whether the traditional marketing we've been doing for their programs is really worth it, and now I'm not so sure.

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?

For more info on Net Promoter, which is reference above, here is a link to the official site: http://www.netpromoter.com. It contains general info, blogs, discussion forums, conferences, a job board, monthly newsletter, and more.

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