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The Power of Buzz

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How did Hotmail gain over 12 million subscribers in 18 months? How did the very low budget movie “The Blair Witch Project” become such an incredibly successful phenomenon? The answer lies in the power of “buzz.”

Buzz or word-of-mouth marketing influences more people to buy, or not to buy products and services, than most other forms of marketing. Why is it so powerful? Basically, we have a need to share information as a means of communication and also as a way of understanding the world around us. Often, we base many of our purchasing decisions on information gleaned from friends and well-respected associates. We tend to listen to them more readily then most mass-media messages.

In his book “The Anatomy of Buzz,” Emanuel Rosen states, “most marketing today ignores the power of buzz and tries to influence each customer individually.” He believes that “buzz travels through invisible networks that link people together. Noise, skepticism and connectivity all influence today’s buzz.”

As exhibitors you need go no further than the tradeshow floor to find a network that creates a real buzz. It starts prior to the show, gathers momentum at the show, and then slowly dissipates after the show ends. Every exhibitor has the power to influence the buzz. It all depends on product/service quality, marketing savvy and the decisions made.

I recall visiting a telecommunications show a couple of years ago when the buzz on the show floor concerned a Fortune 100 company and major player in the industry, (who shall remain nameless). The talk centered around the image of their booth which wasn’t quite up to expectations. The buzz went like this: “The ABC Company has gone cheap. They must be having financial problems.” It’s gossip like this that starts the wheels of the “rumor mill” turning and can even create havoc on the Stock Market. Remarks like this often have very little bearing on reality, but people make assumptions and decisions based on what they see and hear. Obviously, the originating source of the buzz plays a key role in its basis for truth.

I’m sure that you would much prefer any tradeshow buzz to be positive. Since talking about products/services makes economic sense, how can you use the buzz to add to your existing marketing efforts? I’ve put together ten guidelines for you to consider:

  • Brainstorm all possible groups of people who might be interested in your products/services. Consider including the media, opinion leaders, influencers, lead users, politicians, analysts, etc. Don’t forget chat rooms and newsgroups although buzz still spreads primarily by personal interaction.
  • Research how information spreads among your customers. Ask them how they usually learn about new products/services. Who are their major information sources? Who’s information do they value? You’re primarily looking for groups of people rather than individuals. However, don’t discount individuals, as they may well be a powerful opinion leader.
  • Develop a clear and concise message highlighting the product/service benefits you want to filter through these different groups. Zero in on your product’s uniqueness and what it can do, for example, to help save time and money – two basic elements most people seek.
  • Think about ways to tap into these groups to spread the word about your products/services. Use these in addition to your existing marketing efforts. Never rely on just one means of connecting with you target audience. Your credibility is enhanced through different marketing mediums. For example, exhibit marketing could include pre-show advertising, at-show sponsorship and post-show, a trade publication article. The more ways people can hear and see you the better.
  • Offer prospects easy ways to try your product/service. For example, the makers of Pictionary gave demos in parks, shopping centers and other gathering places. The tradeshow floor presents excellent opportunities for this.
  • Come up with other creative ideas to enhance tradeshow show demonstrations. What can you give people to take away to remind them of your company, products and positive show experience. Think about something that will help create the buzz. It’ll have to be more creative than a keychain or stress ball. The more product-related the better. You want people to remember and talk about you – positively!
  • Look at special groups whom you might offer a product discount, a loaner or even for free. You’re looking for groups/individuals where the direct product experience will help spread the word. For example, when FedEx started out, it offered free shipping to show people how their program worked. America Online continuously finds ways to offer hundreds of free hours of trial usage to entice new users. I recently saw a display of free CDs at WalMart.

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Brian Price, executive director of marketing
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