March 7, 2013 by Jeff Hurt
It seems to be a regular part of our normal life today — the personalization of content, programs, products and services.
Yet, our conferences still serve up generic content for the masses.
Recently I observed an annual conference committee meeting of a major association. Staff and volunteer leaders were present. Graying male baby boomer veterans made up the majority of the committee. Three millennials (two males and one female) also served on the committee.
The three millennials asked some very tough and insightful questions. They wanted to know why the conference content offerings were not more like Amazon, Facebook and Netflix. When they purchase products on Amazon or Netflix they begin to receive recommendations of similar products based past behaviors. Advertising on Facebook is based on their likes, dislikes and personal data that they have freely given to Facebook. They didn’t understand how computer programming that makes recommendations based on past behaviors, likes, dislikes and data could be so prevalent in the corporate world yet so absent in the nonprofit association world.
They asked how long it would take for this association to catch up with the rest of the real world. Then the veterans chimed in and 100% agreed with the millennials. They said they didn’t understand how a large association could be lacking in this area. They wanted to know how long it would take for the association to be able to make their conference content offerings personalized.
The association’s IT department spoke up and said it would take two years before personalized conference content could happen.
The millennials scoffed at the association’s IT response and said it would be too late by then. They continued to beat up on the organization’s leaders as did the veterans. Some said they felt they could hire their own friends to create this programming and have it up and running in a couple of weeks. Then they could compete with the association and kill it in a matter of a year or two.
It’s time for our organization’s leaders to demand that associations and conferences catch up with the corporate world. In the day of everything being available at thumb-swiping speed on our personal digital devices, we can’t wait two years for our nonprofit associations and conferences to catch up. I’m tired of association and conference staff saying it just can’t happen.
So what will it take to make this personalization happen?
We have to change the dialogue from “It can’t” to “What will it take to make this happen?”
We have to collect different data than what we are currently collecting.
We should consider hiring young programmers to help us create recommendation and personalization systems that link our association management data bases, our conference mobile app itinerary planners and our systems of record.
We have to hire “can-do” staff that understands today’s digital systems and not “can’t do” staff that say it will take too long to create and implement.
We have to stop scheduling generic conference content for mass consumption and start creating personalized content for advanced, veteran target groups. (As you program for veterans, the novices follow their lead.) Yes, that means we have to get involved in programming and instructional design!
If I can walk into Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, purchase something and then get personal phone calls from sales staff about other similar things that might interest me, why can’t conference hosts and associations do the same?
Let’s face it. We have a consumer audience that has higher expectations today for our conferences and events. The days of one-size-fits all is over, done and gone. Personalization is demanded. Competing on low-cost registration won’t work.
We have to get better at personalizing our conference content, products and services for all of our stakeholders. If not, we can quickly become outdated and irrelevant to our customers. We have to stop putting lipstick on our old conference solutions and calling it current. It needs more than just a facelift!
What are the true barriers to creating personalized conference content experiences? Why can’t the traditional meeting planner who is only concerned with logistics afford to ignore the changing demands of today’s conference attendees that are more strategic in nature?
Filed Under: Event Planning, Experience Design
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