Once again, I was thrilled at the collection of speakers, thinkers and industry at the CMA From Mass to Grass conference this year. Whereas lululemon, One Red Paper Clip and Jackie Huba starred last year - Westjet, David Usher and Douglas Rushkoff may have outdid them this year.
Having identified my speaker wishlist months in advance, I was still surprised by what I learned or gleaned as insight. here is my quick and dirty summary:
- the sophistication level of the audience was noticeably higher at this years conference - whereas last year - the question was "should we do it" - this year - the question was "how should we do it" and I'll anticipate a year from now, the question will be "how should we do it better"
- Richard Bartrem, VP of Culture & Communications from Westjet gave an enthusisatic endorsement of word of mouth as "culture" its application in a large company like Westjet to empower the employee to do the right thing - it shows up in their nomenclature (guest vs. passengers and owners vs. employees), in their practices (they have 250 programs to celebrate internal stories/successes), in customer affection (they have had 432 marriage proposals made onboard), practices (preferring promises over policies), core philosophy (Westjet's driving objective CARE - creating a remarkable experience) and results (89% recommend Wesjet to others vs. 32% for Air Canada)
- My panel of 5 experts "In the Rainmaker's Studio" landed on the notion that word of mouth can be treated as a strategy, medium or outcome and effectively debunked myths that it couldn't be measured, didn't have value or couldn't be added to
- Scott Brooks from ConceptShare (who I found out has David Armano-like paper napkin illustrative abilities) and Mike McDerment from FreshBooks (who has J. Peterman wardrobe stylings - with a tip of the hat of buzz maestro Saul Colt - the sign man) reinforced the need for B-to-B word of mouth to start with culture and the simple things on how companies act
- Jim Button from Big Rock Brewery and Anita Steele from TD Bank approached WOM from two opposite B-to-C poles, but agreed that tone of voice needed to be consistent with your audience and that one-to-one engagement was essential whether needing to overcome negativity or launch in a new market. Some riveting Eddies videos of naked men not qualified enough to be in other beer ads.
- Tricia Mumby from Mabel's Labels performed an improv on how one can never underestimate the power of word of mom and its influence can launch and ignite a startup business overnight and to treat every customer like Oprah
- Chris Matthews from Specialized Bikes showed how brand awesomeness can be achieved by doing stuff that made sense, took chances and constantly changed
- musician and luncheon keynote David Usher gave one of the clearest views I've heard on how social media, word of mouth and the idea of "free" has affected his industry and translated some remarkably perceptive insights for the marketing biz
- let your passion show and stop selling
- accept that media is free, learn to monetize it through other channels
- know that user choice will be coming to an industry near you, what are you doing now to prepare for the future
- it takes only 3 people to start and/or change a ripple
Malcolm Roberts from Smith Roberts and Ross Buchanan from Molson played down some of the ethical issues surfaced at last year's conference - yes, the space has risk but a lot of it is self-regulating - the bigger fear in some cases is now not getting noticed - the audience gave the industry a "B"in its practice of social media
Although I missed a good chunk of the not-for-profit session, William Azaroff from VanCity and Ron Dembo from Zerofootprint likely confirmed the importance of an objective and cause to rally activism and word of mouth advocacy for the cause itself and the cause's sponsors
In the research section, Dan Hunter from IMI and Malcolm Faulds from BzzAgent supported the notion that there are simple methods to research word of mouth as a medium - some good questions were posed about the life cycle and multiplicity of benefits provided by word of mouth and Malcolm referenced some of Walter Karl's recent work on generational word of mouth spread that bears some follow up review
Our afternoon keynote Douglas Rushkoff gave a rousing and provocative view on the status of mass marketing. His passionate commmentary and historical perspective viewed the end of advertising as the result of simple evolution, not judging it as evil, although he did go on to mention that mass production dehumanized workers, mass marketing devalued customers and mass media debased connections between people. He believed social media represented an opportunity fro companies to build social currency among and between their customers and smart marketers were planting the flag for the culture they represent and starting the conversation. His book "Get Back in the Box" is my next read.
Hopefully "FROM MASS TO GRASS" developed a few more word of mouth evangelists and created some important new connections that might lead to collaboration among speakers and audience (I noticed a lot of business cards and a few tweets being passed around).
If I don't say so in person or via email, thank you once again to the CMA who sponsored this, the staff members who always seemed happy to roll up their sleeves, my committee who gave of their own free time, the moderators who could easily double as talk show hosts, the range of speakers who exhibited extraordinary talent and candour and the audience, whose passion, knowledge and involvement bodes well for the future of our industry.
Let's get those zebra's moving across that river...