Every Friday morning, something special happens at a North Carolina museum. Yes, up to 30 toddlers are learning, playing, and having a great time at the Children's Museum of Wilmington. But Toddler Time is also parent time, as up to 30 parents are also interacting with their kids and each other. These parents are supporting and learning from each other, as staff member Mary Ellen Boylan notes, but they are also undoubtedly participating in word-of-mouth marketing by talking about this great place, as well as other great places and products. They also represent a huge opportunity for the museum to start a campaign each and every Friday. But how?
In recent surveys of museums in New York, North Carolina, and Ohio by Reach Advisors, it is clear that word-of-mouth marketing is important to museums; the vast majority of museums surveyed engage in word-of-mouth marketing. Few realize, however, that it is something that you can orchestrate and control, creating a big impact at relatively low cost. How do you make that happen? Here are five tips:
1. Determine who are your "Sneezers." Just as in any other aspect of life, certain people are more inclined than others to vocalize their thoughts. You probably already know which of your members and visitors are well-connected in your community and have credibility. They are not just your trustees and volunteers, but they are also the leaders of the local mom groups, civic organizations, and others that can influence the audiences that you do not know . . . but want. You can determine your sneezers through market research or, if on a smaller budget, carefully monitoring how people hear about you - exactly who is most moved by word-of-mouth, what's the common message communicated, who spreads the word, and what attitudes and behaviors change. Regardless of how you find your sneezers, the payout can be high.
2. Find out how your museum is different -- and whether it matters. You may not have the biggest children's play area or the most priceless art, but your museum is unique. Your task is to determine how you can differentiate your museum from a hundred other Saturday-afternoon options in the minds of your potential visitors, and then to make sure your programming fits their needs. Once you do this, make sure your delivery exceeds their expectations -- and in a big way. People do not rave about the average or expected, but they do talk about the unexpected and remarkable. Give them that hook to use to talk to their peers. Key point: You have to deliver real and noticeable differentiation in the minds of your customers, and make it important enough for them to sell it to their friends.
3. Create a "sneeze-worthy" brand message. Not only must a museum give visitors something to talk about, but you also must provide the words with which to talk about it. Author Seth Godin says that the right words are: "A script for the sneezer to use when she talks to her friends. The script reminds the customer, 'Here's why it's worth recommending us; here's why your friends will be glad you told them about us.' And, best of all, the script guarantees that the word-of-mouth is passed along properly." Make that message easy to pass on, whether by phone, face-to-face contact, or through e-mail.
4. Perhaps the best examples of effective scripting can be found in the discount airline business. When asked about JetBlue Airlines, most customers would answer with some variation of: "It's cheap, cool and, hey, they have TV too." The consistency of these customer comments isn't accidental; companies like JetBlue reinforce these "unofficial" scripts in their marketing communications and service delivery.
5. Sometimes it takes blowing it. No museum likes to hear that a visitor has had a negative experience. But it is important to note that while in most cases a museum will never hear when a visitor or a member is dissatisfied, in our research we often find that 90% of respondents who had a disappointing experience at an attraction tell others. And, on average, they told nine people! It is virtually guaranteed that a visitor who has a bad experience with your museum will also spread the word. Train your staff to make sure that every problem is handled so that the visitor feels special and taken care of, and you can turn that into nine people told about a remarkable service recovery experience.
What is the bottom line? Getting included in the personal interactions of your visitors and members is one of the most important hooks for getting someone to your museum. Word-of-mouth marketing gives you the credibility that advertising cannot buy, the market penetration that you might not be able to afford, and the inclusion in conversations that cannot be missed. It is up to museums, however, to figure out how to make it worthwhile for visitors to put their personal reputation at stake and spread the word.
Have questions about orchestrating your own word-of-mouth campaign? Have you had great success utilizing word of mouth? Please share your thoughts and questions with us! Either post your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below, or send Susie Wilkening an e-mail at susie at reachadvisors dot com. We would love to hear from you.