Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nice Party, But It Could Have Been Better

Well, I did it again: I hosted another House Party. This time, a “Celebrate Life at 50” party for AARP. (My previous one was for wine and cheese on behalf of the French government. Here's my post about that.) 

A confluence of factors led to my repeat engagement as a House Party hostess. First, I wanted to show clients the power of word of mouth marketing. Second, my best friend has a business relationship with AARP and was curious about the House Party experience. 

AARP definitely benefited from my party. One guest had been interested in joining, but thought she had to wait till age 55. Another claims to not have received any AARP mailings. If any one of them ends up enrolling by calling the special 800 number provided to the partygoers, then it may well yield a positive return on the $200 per party cost for AARP (my estimate). However, House Party could have been a far more powerful tool for AARP if a few more marketing basics were followed. Here are a few of my suggestions:
  • Single-minded focus: The party theme was too general and the suggested activities ranged from tips for staying physically fit to a quiz on party etiquette around the world. (Did you know that in the Middle East you should leave a little food on your plate or else it will be refilled immediately?)

AARP would have done better to have focused on a single benefit area. For example,  building a compelling party around a travel theme. This would have naturally raised curiosity about AARP travel benefits. I ended up featuring food and cocktails from the '50’s as the hook for my party. (French onion dip and a Tom Collins anybody?) Fun for my guests, but not really “on message” for AARP.
  • Clear consumer benefit: Hostesses are looking for some “social currency,” being the first on their block to know something. The AARP site features a travel section with a well-known travel expert, Peter Greenberg. On the site, Peter offers insider travel tips. For example, a list of small cruise lines with interesting destinations. This is the type of information hostesses could have internalized and actively shared with their guests  

From the guest standpoint, the party goody bag was very generous, but what 50 year-old really needs another water bottle? Most of us have too much stuff already. (Vintage Advil mini-marathon tee shirt anyone?) If the 50-55 age group is the target for membership growth, what about an activity helping us with our particular sandwich generation stresses?
  • An organizational face and voice: Social media has raised customer expectations around engagement. They don’t want a nameless customer service representative, they want Comcast Frank! Staying with the travel theme, AARP could have leveraged Peter Greenberg. One way would be similar to the French Wine & Cheese party concierge who dispensed valuable tidbits and answered questions on the House Party Hostess site. Peter could have had a similar column and answered questions, leading hostesses to having a more meaningful engagement with AARP.
  • Branding Assets: Beyond the AARP logo on party bag items, the branding was largely left up to chance. Hostesses were expected to print out the AARP brochure and list of AARP links. Being a marketing nerd, I did it, but I wonder how many others would have made the same investment of time and money. 

And where was AARP's magazine? One of my guests said she loved the magazine because all the famous over 50 celebrities made her feel more “on trend” about being over 50 herself. If the magazines were lying around the party, they would have been picked up and discussed. Better yet, what about a special issue devoted to travel? Part of me wonders if it wasn’t organizational silos getting in the way of providing customer value. I would bet that the magazine and customer acquisition teams are separate profit centers.

Net-net, I am still a big House Party fan and believe with the right attention to marketing basics and a little creativity, it can be a terrific business building and brand engagement tool.


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