October 11, 2012 by Dave Lutz
Every year you have to figure out how to fill the chairs at your annual event.
It’s Déjà vu all over again.
The minute the conference is finished, you have to start again, figuring out new ways to get your audience to return the following year. It’s a never-ending cycle where you’re in constant search of new ways to inspire people to register.
Your conference marketing goal remains the same from year to year: get as many paying registrants as possible. But that doesn’t mean the marketing method should be duplicated every year. Actually, if you keep repeating what you’ve always done with marketing, you are doomed to get the same results or even worse consequences.
Here are three suggestions to help guide your future conference marketing campaigns, some of which were adapted from the Rottman Creative Group’s Manifesto.
Conferences are about people. There I said it! Conferences are about people. Not stuff. Not tradition. Not technology. Not trends. The best way to market to people is focusing on purpose driven design of the conference that deeply impacts people. Your attendees can see through all the conference hype, spin and posturing. They care about the conference’s value over venue. Market how the conference is purposely designed to help an attendee improve and progress
Nothing is like the way it used to be. People used to go to conferences to get information, knowledge and find the latest and greatest things. Now they can use a search engine on their smartphone to find that information. Potential customers care more about the experience they are going to have at your conference than the information you’re going to share. People don’t just drop a grand $1,500 to see the conference venue and a lecture. They drop a grand want to have an experience they have not had in the past. They collect experiences like people collect coins or stamps. They compare experiences with each other. And they will compare your conference experience to last year’s, a friend’s and their coworker’s conference of choice. Market the experience that they will have with your conference, the experience that they will have with your content and the experience that they will have with your stakeholders.
Assuming that your conference alumni had a good conference experience, their connection to you is emotional, based on memories. Their conference experience and memories are connected to who they were as a person at that time.Conference alumni connections are frozen in time. Instead of chest-thumping about how great your conference is now, remind them of what they loved about their previous experiences. Remind them of how much fun they had. Remind them of how they grew and learned. Tell other alumni stories about how the conference prepared them to grow as professionals. Tell them that the next generation of attendees are walking the same conference hallways and experiencing similar things that they did. Recruit them to help you share their experiences and reach new prospective members or other alumni that came once or twice and never returned.
Marketing with and not at your prospective conference attendees is imperative today. Owned media marketing, when your conference brand owns the marketing channel, is also often well received. Earned media, like when your alumni become your marketing evangelists, is the crème de la crème of marketing strategies. Paid media, when your organization pays for ads, has less credibility, often seen as clutter and spam.
Take a look at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), a great resource about marketing in today’s new media world. Their post, Push vs. Pull Marketing describes the difference between interruption marketing and pull marketing strategies.
Rottman Creative Group Manifesto is a short read, insightful and helpful for your marketing strategy.
What do you see are the differences between marketing with purpose versus conference self-promotion? What are you doing to market the unique conference experience?
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2012.
Filed Under: Attendance Marketing
Great post Dave. Smart distinction between owned and earned marketing channels vs. paid. Requires more work, but much more effective. Long-term strategies build relationship equity. Thanks for sharing.
Great post, Dave. We live in a fast-moving world so event marketers have to make sure they’re keeping up. In addition, we have several generations now in the workforce, and what appeals to one may not appeal to the others. Relying on the “tried and true” isn’t going to cut it – especially if attendees have to spend more time and effort justifying the cost to the CFO in order to gain that conference experience you describe in your second point.
Of course, one of the challenges with that is keeping those conference experiences fresh in the long period between conferences. Attendees met new people, made some valuable contacts, enjoyed the company of their peers from other areas, and then what? It goes a little cold after a few weeks and then the effort begins to get them back again.
One way to keep the experience “warm” is by adding a virtual event to the live one. It’s a great way to extend the conversations that were started at the live event, and allow attendees to keep each other excited about attending the next one. Having a virtual event also helps you maintain a presence among attendees so they’re evaluating their conference experience off more current information instead of distant memories. When it’s time for the next live conference you’re not starting from scratch. It’s definitely worth considering.
‘@Ian, glad you enjoyed the post! Some conferences have way to high of an attendance acquisition expense because their loyalty is low.
@Eric, thanks for adding the virtual element to this conversation. We couldn’t agree more. We like to recommend that conference organizers view their virtual strategy as a campaign for future attendance vs. a product that is designed to be monetized on it’s own.
A drip campaign that offers the best from an annual conference can be very powerful. Scheduling replays of individual sessions where the speaker participates in live chat or q&a is a good practice for organizers wishing to earn more loyalty. I’m getting less bullish on hybrid and more on the drip approach.
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