WOM Marketing Secrets of the Carnies

May 17, 2009


Here in Pflugerville it’s been Deutschen Pfest weekend. With a five year old daughter, naturally I spent much of my time on the midway, where I realized that carnies are WOM masters. I chatted up a few of them and present three of their secrets below.

Give your customer something others will ask about. “Make sure people win some of the big stuffed animals early,” said the guy running the darts booth. “They carry ’em around and other folks ask where they got ’em. And it lets everybody know that you’re running a booth where people can win.” Sure, you give your customers value worth talking about and add forward-to-a-friend buttons to your email newsletters. But what do you give that makes prospective customers ask them about you?

Tailor your pitch and your product to your customer. “Think you can throw hard enough? Betcha can’t”, yelled the man with the milk bottle game to a 20-something guy and his friends. The 20-something tried to walk past but his friends wouldn’t let him – he had to try (and fail) several times. A few minutes later a mom with a seven-year-old walked by, and the pitch was completely different. “Let her step up and try,” the carnie encouraged. “She’s a guaranteed winner.” He scaled the game down to three milk bottles (instead of four), coached her on the right toss, and sent her on her way with a prize. We’ll all happily refer a friend to someone who’s shown they treat each customer as an individual, because we know they’ll have a better experience.

Make your customer a co-conspirator. The woman running the hoops game spent time teaching my daughter the trick: throw underhand so that it comes down vertically into the hoop. “It’s smaller than a regulation hoop, honey,” she said. “The boys always throw free-throw style because they think they’ll look silly throwing underhand, and it’ll never go in that way. But now you know the secret. Don’t tell the boys, y’hear?” My daughter’s only five so she never got one in, but she enjoyed laughing at the teenage boys trying their best free throws.

Photo by minvervah


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