I am a fan of Jane Austen. I don’t have to extol the virtues of the Regency-era authoress to you–you work in a library. But I do want to share an experience I had this weekend and the marketing lessons I learned from it.
For the fourth year, my daughter and I attended the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the largest Jane Austen festival in North America and it is amazing for many reasons. The dresses, the food, and the vendors are all amazing and period-authentic. But this year, I found that I was hyper-aware of the marketing aspects of the festival. This is the 9th year for the festival and they are doing everything right, in my opinion. Here are the three big marketing lessons I learned.
Build your fan base over time and don’t discount the wonderful ways they can market for you. They might not be “influencers” in the traditional marketing sense, but your loyal, adamant, and devoted fans are a powerful marketing tool. A group of people who love you and your products will do more free marketing for you than any ad you can ever buy.
The Jane Austen festival boasts thousands of attendees every year and although they do some promotional media on local newspapers, TV, and radio stations, I haven’t ever seen a single ad buy. They don’t need to. The event grew quickly through word-of-mouth. Jane fans tell other Jane fans, in person and online. At the afternoon tea, I spent half an hour giving a new attendee from Indiana the lowdown on what to see, which vendor tents to visit, and where to get a Regency-style outfit for next year. No one paid me! There’s just an excitement that’s contagious and that loyal fans want to share.
The Jane Austen Society of Louisville has a Facebook page with more than 1200 members, including myself. Only about 10 percent of those members belong to the society but everyone who likes the page will share news about the festival with friends across the world. And fans will share recommendations for costumers, tea merchants, and other vendors, providing business even after the three-day festival has ended.
In addition, festival organizers give a place online for fans to talk and post photos and videos after the event. The festival organizers and the smart vendors like and comment on those photos, making festival goers feel valued and special.
Creating an immersive experience leaves a lasting impression. From the moment you step onto the grounds of Locust Grove, you feel like you’ve been transported to Jane’s era. Many attendees dress in authentic Regency wear. People bring picnic baskets and full tea sets and eat on the lawn using authentic place settings and utensils–no plastic sandwich bags or paper napkins here. In a sea of brightly colored frocks, parasols, fichus, and top hats, you can’t help but feel like you’re part of Jane’s world and that leaves a lasting impression.
The festival organizers go out of their way to complete the immersive experience by handing out programs and putting up signs in hand drawn authentic regency font. I know it’s just a font but it sure does a lot to capture the mood! All the vendors set up their wares inside beautiful white tents and many will use signs that say “Bills of Credit Accepted” instead of the more modern credit card signs. It may sound insignificant but it’s those little touches that extend the mood of the festival and make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.
Content marketing works. The entire customer journey for the Jane Austen festival only lasts a month. Tickets don’t go on sale until about 45 days before the event. But the society spends the whole of the year prepping Jane fans by posting articles about Jane, talking about Austen spin-off books, sharing photos and videos about Jane Austen and the Regency era, and holding smaller events with the Jane Austen theme. All this Jane talk serves to educate potential festival goers about the era and the author and builds excitement for the main event.
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