Event Marketing

Generating Attendance with Word-of-Mouth Marketing

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

I recently heard Daniel Lemin, co-author of Talk Triggers, discuss how and why businesses should create conversation-worthy differentiators as pathways to growth. Cheesecake Factory with its enormous menu, DoubleTree Hotels with its warm chocolate chip cookies upon check-in, and Five Guys with its generous helping of fries are all great examples. But much of the advice Lemin gives is also applicable to event organizers who want to generate more attendance through word-of-mouth marketing.

Why Talk Triggers Matter

Right now, word of mouth is more important than ever for a few reasons. First, it’s pin-pointedly relevant. The recommender customizes the recommendation to fit the receiver’s perceived needs. And, as most marketers are now aware, this personalized approach is often the only way to break through clutter and noise. Second, positive word of mouth saves the recipient time (a precious commodity in today’s world), by sparing him/her extensive research into a product (or event). Finally, it’s independent, as the recommender has no financial interest in the organization. Fundamentally, people are trusting businesses and organizations less than ever, but are trusting people more than ever.

Talk Trigger vs. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

To understand how to create a Talk Trigger, it’s important to understand what it is – and what it isn’t. A Talk Trigger is not a USP, which is a feature that differentiates a product from its competitors. Many event organizers craft their USPs around their size, comprehensiveness and the fact that ideas and products are launched at their conference or trade show. And while these are important, these points will be discussed in a conference room. A Talk Trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that will be discussed at a cocktail party.

Talk Triggers Are Created with Intent

While most event organizers hope that word-of-mouth marketing just happens, the businesses profiled by Lemin take the exact opposite approach. They have a plan and a purpose for their word-of-mouth marketing. Word of mouth is just talk. Word-of-mouth marketing is the organization of that talk and driving it in a particular way. It’s done with intention. 

Four Requirements of a Talk Trigger

First, a Talk Trigger must be remarkable. After all, when is the last time you told a friend about an adequate dining experience or so-so keynote speaker you heard at a conference? Additionally, it must be relevant, supporting your broader positioning and objectives. It has to make sense within the context of what you do, who you are and what you stand for. A Talk Trigger must also be reasonable. If you overpromise, or if your audience perceives you are doing so, it actually diminishes brand trust. So, while it has to be big enough to be noticeable, it also has to be small enough to be trusted. Finally, a Talk Trigger must be repeatable so that it’s offered to every member of your audience, every time. Any differentiator that happens circumstantially is a publicity stunt, not a word-of-mouth strategy.

Creating Talk Triggers

The first step toward creating effective word of mouth in an organization is to unlock everything already known about your audience – what they want from your event, how they behave onsite, etc. Think of it as internal anthropology. It’s important that you don’t wait for inspiration, rather that you have a team of skilled people who are delving into data, interpreting it and then drawing outside the lines. It’s also important that this team of people includes employees from all departments; it shouldn’t just be a function of marketing.

For too long, event organizers have been creating the same events year over year, giving their audiences relatively little to “write home about.” In today’s new reality, however, being exceedingly competent at producing an event isn’t enough. Bringing buyers and sellers together isn’t enough. Good is a four-letter word that doesn’t catalyze conversation. As such, a Talk Trigger may be just the impetus needed for past attendees to tell the story of your event persuasively and with passion to future ones.

A version of this content originally appeared in PCMA Convene February 2019.