Crafting Unforgettable Experiences: The 3 M’s of Event Success written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing
The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with John Janstch
Questions I ask Phil Mershon:[00:57] What makes an event unforgettable? [02:50] Describe the 3 M method? [05:22] How can you utilize social media marketing to convey the purpose of an event? [07:52] How can you serve both audience and community ? [09:45] What are some of the ways to make both customer and employee experiences unforgettable? [12:29] What are some of the best practices for virtual event planning? [15:17] How do you measure the success of an event? [17:54] What are some of the ways to get people engaged before, during and after an event? [20:39] Where can people connect with you and grab a copy of Unforgettable?
More About Phil Mershon:
- Phil’s book: Unforgettable: The Art and Science of Creating Memorable Experiences
- Visit his website
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Duct Tape Transcript
John (00:08): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Phil Mershon. He’s the Director of Experience for Social Media Examiner. It’s been designing the social media marketing world experience for over a decade, drawing from over 25 years in creating customized events. Phil loves to create memorable moments and transformational experiences. In addition, Phil is a jazz saxophone, so I didn’t know that. And a pickleball enthusiast who isn’t, and the author of Unforgettable, the Art and Science of Creating Memorable Experiences. So Phil, welcome to the show.
Phil (00:47): Thank you, John. It’s great to be here.
John (00:48): So I guess a lot of times I pick on titles. I don’t pick on ’em, I just want to pick ’em apart a little bit. So the first obvious question is what makes an event unforgettable?
Phil (01:00): So I just find it this way. There’s three M’S that go into it. So you make this easy, like the company three M. So it’s memorable, it’s meaningful, and it’s momentous. So let me break those down for you. It’s memorable. So it’s got to do something that stands out, something that’s going to get your attention, something that maybe you’re not expecting. It’s a surprise, it’s unusual, it stands out, but it’s also memorable in the sense that it’s engaging as many of your senses as it can. Even virtual events can do this, but live events, especially if you tap into all five senses, then it will become memorable, meaningful, it’s significant. It’s something that you personally are getting value out of. It’s going to stand the test of time for you. And momentous is leading on the work of Chip and Dan Heath. I don’t know if you’ve read that book, the Power of Moments, but it’s knowing that some moments are more meaningful than others. It’s Andy Stanley’s quote, you do for one, what you wish you could do for everyone. So you’re trying to do things that you’re leaning into those moments that really matter, and you’re causing those to stand out. And when you’ve got a bunch of meaningful moments, it’s been designed for you. So it’s like a customized, personalized event, and it’s memorable. Now all of a sudden we’re leaning into something that’s become unforgettable. You’ll be talking about it for years, hopefully decades, maybe the rest of your life.
John (02:26): Alright, so I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit because I know you’ve designed or been very instrumental in designing a certain experience that’s quite large. I’ve attended, I don’t know, you said a decade. I’ve been there at least six years, maybe seven years. I’ll be back this year to social media marketing world. Obviously I have a lot of context. Maybe listeners don’t kind of frame how you think about that experience based on what you just described, the three M method.
Phil (02:53): Yeah, so some of it comes down to looking at the customer journey. A lot of your audience are in marketing, so you’re used to looking at customer journeys. Well, the customer journey for an event believe starts the minute they buy a ticket and it’s all the way up until the event. So you’re looking at the phases of someone’s experience and saying, how can we make this more meaningful? What are they looking for right now? And three months before an event, people aren’t looking for a lot. About six weeks out, they’re starting to think about what’s the agenda? Who am I going to meet up with? What am I going to do before and after and during the event? So you’re trying to anticipate that journey. You want to make people feel as comfortable as you can. You want to understand what their goals are so meaningful.
(03:34): I’m trying to understand who are these people? What are their goals? How do I create experiences for them that they care about? Momentous. I’m looking at what are those key moments that are going to make the event better or worse. Again, you can’t pay attention to every single moment within an event. If you did that, then you would go crazy. So what are those moments that I can make a big impact that will become memorable? And then I’m looking at what are those opportunities to do something that is maybe unexpected? So you’ve been there for six or seven years. You’ll remember probably one of the years at least, where we had a musical that was on stage and people were not expecting that, especially the first year we did it. Mike finished his keynote and instead of getting up and making announcements, we broke into a 10 minute parody on Wizard of Oz.
(04:22): Totally memorable, totally unexpected. People who left the room had FOMO because they missed out on it. Not everybody did, but it was unexpected, and so it gave people something to talk about. So we’re trying to look at things like that, but also leaning into what did they really come for? They came to, first of all, learn from people like you, John, right? So how do we make space where you can show your expertise in not only in the classroom, but in the hallways and the conversations that you have. We want you to walk away having had a great experience, not just the people who’ve paid money to be there. We want the vendors that we work with to have a great experience. So the three M’S helped me to work with all those different people and create that experience.
John (05:07): I read in a book somewhere, it was called The Art of Gathering. I can’t remember the author’s name, but pretty big book, and she gets into dinner gatherings even. But one of the things I was struck with is she talks about this idea of before you ever design any thing logistics, it’s like what’s the purpose of the event? Do you feel like social media marketing world starts there?
Phil (05:27): We do start with what is our purpose? What’s our customer? I mean, some of that hasn’t really changed in the 10 years that we’ve put the event on, but we definitely start there. What’s changed in the industry? Who are these people? When we’re designing the content, we’re doing deep analysis on what’s going on in the industry, how do people respond last year? What are they responding to in terms of the things that we published, the research that we do, making sure that we have a lineup that matches the people are coming to the event so that we can put on the best thing. And then we’re doing the same thing with the experiences that we create. How did they respond to that last year? Who are the people that are really coming? We’ve made some mistakes over the years because we didn’t understand who the people were.
(06:11): And this is one of my mistakes, and this is something any marketer can do this. If you start to assume that your audience thinks and responds the same way that you do, you’re probably on a path to trouble. So John, I’m a jazz saxophonist, and so I assumed that people enjoyed jazz and that it would be good background music. That’s really all it was supposed to be is background music for people to network. Well, it turns out not everybody received it that way. They said it’s good, but it actually was taking my energy down. I want something that’s going to build my energy up. So when I started to realize that the average attendee at our conference is a 40 year old woman, not a 58 year old man, which I’ve been doing it for a decade. So I started in my forties, but that’s when I said, oh, they’re probably not listening to the same music that I am. I should probably figure out what they do listen to, and it’s an obvious point, but it’s easily overlooked. When we get busy, we start to think, well, everyone kind of looks at things the way that I do, and that’s not the case.
John (07:17): Well, I love jazz, but I am reminded of the joke. Country music is three chords played to thousands of people, and jazz is a thousand chords played to three people. That’s
Phil (07:25): About right. Yeah, there’s a thousand starving jazz musicians in New York, but they’re really good.
John (07:31): Oh, that’s every town. I mean, I live in this little rural town of Colorado, and they’re incredible bluegrass musicians just hanging out in bars. It’s amazing. So audience is a big part of an event or really of any marketing. Talk a little bit about, because I think, and I hate to keep leading on social media marketing world, but that’s certainly something we have in common. How do you view audience versus community? I know that the social media marketing world community is something that you talk a lot about as well. So how do you differentiate those? How do you serve both of those?
Phil (08:04): So yeah, that’s a really good point. We are trying to build community and certainly social media Examiner itself has a community. People who follow us, whether they’re getting emails from us, whether they’re reading our content, whether they’re following us on any of the social channels, I would say there’s that broad sense of community, but they’re really more consumers, the things. So people who come to the event now, they have the chance to become a community, and we are intentional. Usually about 60 days prior we launch. Right now it’s a Facebook group. In prior years, it was a LinkedIn group, and we’ve done other various ways to bring community together, but we try to get people together, meeting each other, knowing each other, making plans, supporting one another. That community ends up being something that people take part in all year long. And obviously there are deeper forms of community.
(08:57): So when I say audience, that’s, I’m a performer. And so when I look out from a stage out at a group of people, it’s an audience, but we want them to support each other as if they’re community, they know each other, and there’s clearly different levels of that emerge based on people’s own behavior, but also by our intention. We get a group of people that their whole job is to help people make connections before the event and while they’re on site, and it’s actually two different teams of people, and that’s what they do. Make connections with people and help them meet other people like themselves or that would be supportive of them.
John (09:35): So we focus primarily on a physical event, which obviously is an experience, but we have customer experience and we have employee experiences. What are some ways that that unforgettable should, could be applied to those environments?
Phil (09:51): So I think again, this principle of doing something that is unexpected or beyond expectations might be a better way to say it. I heard someone say creating little moments of wow, I think that’s in customer experiences. That’s what you can do when someone clearly goes above and beyond. I had this happen with an insurance company yesterday, John, where I was trying to get some information, and a lady literally spent an hour on the phone with me while she made all the phone calls for me to all the places and just let me stay on hold so that I didn’t have to go chase this information down myself. To me, at the end of that hour, I was like, okay, yeah, I spent an hour, but I actually probably only spent 10 minutes talking to her while she did all the work. I was wowed by that.
(10:36): So she went above and beyond my expectations. So I think that’s one of those things we can do in customer experiences, even in employee engagement. I think if we get to know who the people are and listen to them instead of assume we can start to create unique experiences. If I knew when your birthday was, and I happen to know that you’re a Chiefs fan living in Bronco country, I think we did this for you one year, didn’t we, John? Didn’t I buy you a hat, a chiefs hat or something like that when I know I’ve done that? You did.
John (11:07): You did. You did.
Phil (11:07): Yes. Yeah. So I think when you get to know people and you buy things for them, they don’t have to be expensive, but you do something special for a birthday or for a celebration. Those are things that when they’re not expecting it is when it’s the best.
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Phil (12:37): Well, number one, I think when you’re doing things virtually, we know that people’s attention is very short. So you’ve got to keep things moving. You’ve got to have some things that you’re interrupting patterns that keep their engagement. The same is true for you, John, when you’re speaking on a stage, I’m sure you probably are having to design your talks in a different way than you did 20 years ago because people are not sticking with you. But I think in virtual environments it’s even more so because before this call, I had 20 tab jumping. You told me to shut them all down through the app that you sent me, so I did, but I could have 20 tabs open and then I’m tempted to go look at one of them when a notification shows up. That’s what’s happening in virtual events. People are being tugged by things on their screen as well as in real life, most of us are working remotely anymore, and so there’s things happening in our real life that the dog’s barking the cat, the kids are crying, the other phone’s ringing.
(13:33): So I think that’s one of them is looking for ways to keep the content engaging. That can be the visuals that you’re using. That could be you’re interrupting patterns by telling a story. Stories are awesome, but it could also be just the way that you present something. One of the things I did, the core analogy in the book, John, is about baking bread. So in one of the talks that I did, I actually had a table set up on the stage and I had all the ingredients for baking bread laid out there, and I mixed it together on the stage while I talked about the importance of each one of these ingredients. And then we had some real life lessons where I didn’t have enough water. I had misdiagnosed how much I needed because the recipe I used was not fully accurate, which was a great learning because if you don’t have enough water flour or the dough becomes very lumpy, and some of it just the dough or the flour never gets folded in. Well, water is communication. So if you don’t have enough communication, people are getting left out, people aren’t getting folded in. The whole experience is going to have clumps of good stuff and bad stuff. And so it was just like this great visual learning that we had right there on the stage, on the screen. It was on video too, where people got to experience, huh. That’s real life right there,
John (14:55): Especially events. I mean, you can plan all you want, but something’s going to happen, right?
Phil (14:59): Something’s going to happen.
John (15:00): So I’m sure, well, I don’t know if you get this question all the time, but I’m going to ask this question. A lot of folks are cutting back on budgets and things and easy place to cut sometimes or frills at events, but a lot of that goes because we’re not measuring the success. So talk a little bit about how you measure success. I mean, let’s say our goal is we want people to be engaged and energized and happy. I mean, how do you measure stuff like that?
Phil (15:26): Funny enough, I was on a call yesterday with some people at Google xxi, and their whole goal is try to improve engagement at events. Like Google is putting aside a lot of money to help events get better at what they do, and particularly serving the neurodivergent communities. But there’s a company out there that can measure people’s delight through their face at an event. So if you’re online or even in person, they had cameras set up and they determined that eight out of 17 sessions that we did had above expectations in terms of people’s delight in what was happening. And that’s based on smiles in their eyes and who knows what, all kinds of things. So there’s that level of measurement that can be done. That’s next level, and that’s probably something that’s coming where all of us can do it. But I do think it’s the surveys that you do and what questions you ask, obviously will need to be things that you’re going to act upon, but they’ll tell you, did they really enjoy the way you did this or that?
(16:30): And so to me, very important, we send out several surveys after the event to understand the quality of the content. That’s obviously what people paid for. So we measure that. We want to know every single session, how did they do? Is there any feedback that we want to give the speaker so that they can get better at their craft? I think every speaker should want to get better. If they don’t, then maybe they ought to stop. You bet. But we’re also looking at all the other things, the intangibles, what did they care about? I had this suspicion that people really cared about the quality of the video on a camera in the recordings. Then I went and looked at the data of what people told us and like, well, nobody mentioned that. Maybe they don’t care about it as much as I thought they do. I mean, we do expect to see faces, but what we’re really there for is the learning. Maybe we don’t care to see what the speaker looks like when they’re saying, here’s how to do a Facebook ad.
John (17:28): So you started to go there, and I was going to ask you about, I think a real opportunity for a lot of people. I think a lot of people put a lot of energy into the actual event or the actual experience, but I know that you’ve hinted a little bit at some things you do to get people fired up ahead of time, and then some things that you do to keep them. Now, in your particular case, you want them coming back next year. You’re probably going to do it. You’ve probably signed a contract for three or four years on that convention center. So what are some things you do to get people fired up before they come, and then what do you get them to do to stay engaged with the experience they had? So it wasn’t just a Oh, that was nice.
Phil (18:03): Yeah, so I learned this from Aaron King who used to do social media for the Oscars, and she came up with a 90 day social media plan, which I don’t mimic perfectly, but I mimic to the way that works for us, and that looks like this 60 days before. You’re doing a lot of content that’s slowly building the engagement and the enthusiasm and getting people talking to each other, making plans, suggesting plans, giving guidance to the newcomers. We do a newcomers orientation so that they can come and learn, here’s the things that you want to make sure that you take advantage of. Then there’s the actual event itself, and so that’s also got this slow burn, and it’s kind of like yeast. You want it to slowly rise. So we’re trying to get it to slowly rise to this place where everyone’s really excited and happy to be at the event when they leave.
(18:59): Then there’s another 30 days. So we spend 30 days after the event, and most events I’ve noticed, and ours is included, after about a week or two, the attention drops off dramatically. I’ve tried to do a 21 day challenge to get people practicing the things that they learned at the conference, and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t happen. So this year, we’re actually going to make it seven days. Let’s make it realistic, something that people can actually do. Just say for the next seven days, here’s a prompt and we’re going to do this together, and we’re going to have some prizes. We continue to correspond with them, but eventually they become part of the broader social media examiner community. Again, that group, that Facebook group does stay open all year long, but we don’t keep pumping it with content after 30 days. 30 days, we do.
(19:46): We’re actively managing it, promoting it. We’ll even do some follow-up meetups after the event. But those are mostly just for networking and encouraging people that I’ve found that the majority of people, once that one week after Mark hits, they’ve moved on to the next thing. So we do everything we can during the event to help them make plans for how they’re going to follow through on this, and then they’ll get the videos, they get the recordings. We remind them of those things for a couple of months, and that’s pretty much where we are. It’s not a year long community for us. I know it could be, but that’s just a business decision we’re making of saying, you know what? We’ve got another paid all year long community that’s called a social media marketing society. So for us, that’s where we want people to be engaged all year long, the conference is more of a seasonal but annual event.
John (20:36): Yeah. Well, Phil, this was great. I appreciate you stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. You want to invite people to where they might connect with you, and then obviously check out a copy of Unforgettable.
Phil (20:46): Absolutely. So philmershon.com is probably the best place to go. There’s a way to get on email list with me. All of my social handles are there on the top. If you want to buy a signed copy of my book, there’s a way to do that directly there, or there’s a page slash purchase that will give you all the links to most of the places in the United States where you can buy books and you can support local bookstores or go to the big boys, Amazon, target, any of those that sell books, they’re all there.
John (21:15): And you’ve got a podcast as well, right?
Phil (21:18): Well, my podcast is currently doing it, so I would say I plan to start one related to events and experiences, but that’s going to be a next year project.
John (21:27): Well, for people who haven’t done a podcast are not a simple thing, let’s put it that way. They take a fair amount of work to get right. So again, I appreciate you stopping by and we’re going to run into you soon out there in San Diego.
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