Why Your Conference Needs To Focus On Building A Loyal Proprietary Audience

2014.01.07_FEFF 12 'Golden Slumber' Screening

Quick: What is the most important asset of your conference today?

Sponsors? Exhibitors? Your brand? Your events team? Your history? The venue? Your vendors? The content? Your speakers? Your technology?

Yeah, all of these are likely responses. However, there’s one asset that most conference organizers and hosts constantly miss when responding to this question: audiences.

[Note: Author Jeffrey Rohrs drives home the importance of audiences to any business in his book Audience: Marketing In The Age Of Subscribers, Fans and Followers. I’ve applied some of Rohrs concepts to the conference and meetings business in this post.]

These Groups Understand The Need For An Audience

Those in the entertainment, media and sports industries typically respond to the above question differently. Audiences are in the top of their list. It’s the same if your focus is events, not meetings/conferences.

Why does this group respond differently? They’re in the business of putting butts in seats. They have to build an audience for a living. They completely understand the competitive advantage to having a bigger, better, more passionate and qualified audience than their competitor.

Media companies build readers, listeners and viewers. Sports teams nurture fans. Lady Gaga develops “Little Monsters” and the Grateful Dead has “Deadheads.”

Each of these audiences has monetary value. Loyal fans pay for recordings, merchandise and tickets to live events. It’s simple: the bigger the audience, the more the revenue.

Yet conference organizers rarely focus on their audiences.

Consumers Are In Control

The audience is not brought to you or given to you; it’s something that you fight for. You can forget that, especially if you’ve had some success. Getting an audience is HARD. Sustaining an audience is HARD. It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time. ~ Bruce Springsteen, “Springsteen Speaks,” by Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly.

As a consumer, you determine whether or not to become a part of any audience. You are not owned!

Your attention, your action, and your loyalty have to be earned by those who want it.

Too many conference organizers and hosts think they have cornered their market of customers. They believe their conference attendees will always come to their event because they always have. They think they OWN their audience. They believe that they have a loyal following because of their certification requirements, membership or because they don’t have any competition.

Those conference organizers/hosts that think like this are WRONG!

Their audiences like, follow, subscribe and pay for services anytime they want. The audience is in control!

Proprietary Audience Development A Priority

As a conference organizer, part of your job is to turn an audience into long-term, profitable assets for your organization. Proprietary audience development is now a core priority for you and your organization.

The time has come to stop treating proprietary audiences as an afterthought or a byproduct. Instead we need to embrace them for what they are—a source of critical business energy in need of investment, leadership and support says Rohr.

Your conference needs audiences to survive. If you aren’t building, engaging and activating proprietary audiences of your own, you are falling behind. Audiences are what our customers were before they were customers.

We can no longer afford to have our audience development managed by silos: the education and programs team, the marketing team, the Facebook employee, the Twitter employee, the LinkedIn employee, the YouTube employee, the logistics team. Siloed tactics produce siloed audiences.

We need a new conference discipline focused solely on Proprietary Audience Development. We need to focus on the acquisition, development and performance of the right audiences for our conference. And not all audiences are not the right people to try to acquire and develop. We need to focus on targeted audiences that lead to our target customers.

As Rohr says, we need to “Use our Paid, Owned and Earned Media not only to sell in the short term but also to increase the size, engagement and value of our Proprietary Audiences over the long term.”

It is then that we are able to drive consumers to register for our event with the push of a button.

What are some ways you can develop a proprietary audience for your conference or annual meeting? If you could use only five tactics to grow your conference, what would they be?

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