These Barriers Keep You From Conference Innovation

Bokeh’d Barrier Warheads

Things are changing faster than ever before.

Conference owners used to get dominance through scale.

That scale came from securing the most industry-related exhibitors, sponsors and attendees as possible for your event. Then, the conference became the industry’s go-to-place for new product announcements from exhibitors, breaking industry research, the industry’s experts and the latest, greatest information. The goal was to lock in as many stakeholders (attendees, experts, exhibitors, and sponsors) as possible.

Old Strategies Don’t Work Today

In the 21st Century, none of these sources of scale matter anymore. Only customers matter as this is the age of the customer.

Today, most conference stakeholders are more finicky. The stakeholder’s conference experience matters more than being at the sole-source of industry dominance.

Now, the primary source of competitive advantage is a focus on delivering experiences that helps the customer understand how to apply knowledge that is shared, engagement with customers and the customer experience.

Simultaneously, a new breed of competitors has arrived, the digital disruptor. Don’t let the term digital distract you. It’s not necessarily about digital. Instead, it’s about a different mindset that turns the world and your industry upside down.

Adopt The Digital Disruptor Mindset

Digital disruptors focus on giving customers what they want and need in the moment they want it. Their mindset leads to different behaviors. It bypasses traditional barriers and eliminates gaps and borders that prevent organizations from giving customers what they want and need when they need it.

As Clayton Christensen says, disruptive innovation is an advance that creates new market value. This process disrupts and replaces existing market.

Avoid Traditional Barrier-Based Mindsets

Most conference organizers have faced the following questions: How can we innovate and create a better conference that we can successfully sell to more attendees, exhibitors and sponsors? How can we increase our conference revenue?

When faced with this challenge, most people respond with a traditional make, product and sell barrier-based mindset:

  • Make:

    What is our capacity for creating an innovative conference that we already know how to make?

  • Product:

    What is the market for an innovative conference that we already know how to make?

  • Sell:

    How will we position this conference in the market to win customers we already know?

Any conference owner that starts with, “What can we do next?” will fail to understand what their customers need to do next. Too often, conference owners don’t focus on generating value for their customers. Instead they are looking to salvage internal processes and the limits of their own organization’s capacity. Their focus is playing with the tools they have instead of looking outside of their organization for new tools.

Flip The Old Mindset

Instead of the barrier-based mindset, flip that model and see the challenge the way a digital disruptor would. As an alternative to asking how we can create a better conference that we can successfully sell, ask:

  • How can we give people something that they really want and need in our conference experience?

  • From Make to Give:

    Instead of focusing on the limits of our capacity to make, focus on the ability to give our customers what they want and need, even if it lies outside of our organization’s capacity.

  • From Product to People:

    Instead of focusing on the conference as a product itself, turn our attention to the needs of our customers and let that drive our decision-making.

  • From Sell to Want:

    Instead of focusing on how to sell to current customers, concentrate on aligning the entire conference experience with targeted customers’ desires and needs, giving them what they want, when and where they want it.

Adopted and applied to conference planning from Forrester Researcher James McQuivey’s Digital Disruption: Unleashing The Next Wave Of Innovation.

How can conference organizers adopt this new mindset and behaviors that create a perpetual customer connection and embrace disruption? How can conference owners prepare themselves for disruption and competition?

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  1. Kevin Dunn says:

    Perhaps the establishment of an attendee Advisory Committee (per event) could be beneficial. It would bestow recognition on those invited to contribute recurring feedback AND provide Planner’s with a true “Voice of the People” mechanism they could mine again and again.

  2. Cheryl Kranz says:

    A good point. The case study accompanying the MPI release of their MEETING DESIGN initiative had both leadership and attendee advisory groups. It took some extra time, but helped steer us to be point-on in our design solution…and, indeed, was more valuable as we went into planning for the second meeting.

    Unfortunately, I just extracted myself from a project for a non-profit group (a little different than corporate of course) where the citizens group is led by those with feet (and brain) firmly rooted in 1980/90s….and in that case, a small part of the attendee group becomes a MAJOR DETRIMENT to moving forward.

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