Are You Attracting Your Best Attendees Or Are You Repelling Them?

Why are conference organizers doing so many things that repel their best customers?

Instead of bombarding paying attendees with marketing messages, how about just making good on your promise to deliver education and networking opportunities?

Missed Opportunities To Grow Attendee Loyalty

This summer, I attended three large conferences – one in our industry and two outside. All three were premium conferences, yet all three missed out on opportunities to grow attendee loyalty.

Here are three examples of what I mean:

1. The Self-Promoting Welcome Reception

The first conference I attended started off with an awesome welcome reception. The venue included a number of flagship restaurants. Food, drinks and entertainment were top notch and plentiful. The venue offered 50 or so plasma screens where the conference host could stream content. What did this association choose to broadcast on these screens? A continuous loop of PowerPoint slides highlighting the benefits of membership.

What a missed opportunity! This self-promoting content was largely ignored. If the association chose to stream photos and videos that showcased their attendees, they would have gotten so much more mileage out of this.

2. Exhibitors in the Inbox

For all three conferences, I chose not to opt out of exhibitor promotion. (I know, I’m a glutton for punishment, but I learn from these choices.) Once I paid my $945 registration fee for the industry conference, I was bombarded with email solicitations. Nearly every one of these emails were untargeted, impersonal pleas to get me to stop by booth #xyz and qualify to win an iPad or some other incentive. What they failed to offer were any compelling reasons why working with them might improve my business.

This is a predicament for many conferences. What if you charged two separate registration fees? One at a higher price that is free of solicitation and one that saves the attendee $100 or $200, but includes marketing. Freemium mobile apps are using this model. Why not conferences?

3. Ineffective Sponsorship

At one conference, they managed to persuade a significant sponsor to ante up for the general session speaker. One of the sponsorship benefits was five minutes of stage time before introducing the speaker. We’ve all seen this movie before. The attendees ultimately feel like they’re paying a registration fee for the privilege of being marketed to.

Speaker and session sponsorship should grow for most organizers in the future, but the sponsor benefit package is in serious need of a makeover. In this case, the sponsor would have received far more bang for their buck by arranging a private reception, photo opportunity or book signing with the speaker and their best customers. An exclusive opportunity like this makes customers feel like VIPs and helps grow allegiance for the sponsor’s brand.

In each of these conference experiences, if the host organization delivered consistently on their conference promise — education and networking — and approached marketing in a more thoughtful way, they would have had a much better shot at earning attendee loyalty.

Without a loyal attendee base of 50 percent or more, your conference is unhealthy. When you deliver on your conference promise, referrals through word of mouth follow and multiply. This Duct Tape Marketing blog post by John Jantsch shares more food for thought about earning word of mouth referrals.

Be an Attendee Advocate

Push or interruption marketing no longer works and can really irritate your best customers. When you promise premium education and networking at your conference, be sure to keep the experience free from undesired promotions.

Best-in-class conference organizers often appoint someone to look out for the attendee experience. This person evaluates everything that is happening through the lens of the attendee — the promises made in marketing, the actions of partners, and the loyalty that is earned through a quality offering.

What other marketing tactics have you observed that repel conference attendees? What steps are you taking to protect your audience, enhance their conference experience and draw them closer?

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  1. Ann-Marie Coombes says:

    Hi there, the John Jantsch blog doesn’t link through, on my computer anyway. Could you please let me know if all is running as it should be.

    Thank so much, hear soon

    1. Dave Lutz says:

      Anne-Marie, thanks for the heads up on the link to the John Jantsch’s post! We’ve corrected the link and all appears to navigate as intended now.

      Dave Lutz

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