Changing Conference Metrics To Design For Attendee Loyalty

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Quick, name any business that makes money from one-time customers only.

Can you do it? What business model depends upon a one-time customer purchasing services or products from the company and never returning?

You probably can’t think of a successful business model that works that way.

Repeat Business Is Required For Success

Imagine a restaurant that has six million potential customers within a 30-mile radius. The restaurant provides average food, average service in an average atmosphere. People come once and never return. The owners don’t worry about repeat customers because they believe they have an endless supply of potential customers. Would that restaurant survive? Of course not.

So why do many conference hosts and organizers think the same way? Why do many believe that if they just turn on the lights, they will have a never-ending steady stream of paying customers?

That’s just faulty, ego-driven, prideful thinking. There will come a day when the stream of customers comes to an end. It will happen. It’s just that it may not happen on that conference organizer’s watch.

Responding To Declining Or Plateaued Attendance

So how is your repeat conference attendee business? Do you even know?

Perhaps your conference attendance has plateaued or declined?

If yes, how have you responded?

Even better, what is your conference attendee loyalty? Do you even know how many of your attendees have attended two out of the last three years? That’s your percentage of conference loyalty.

Conference organizers usually react in one of three ways to declining or plateaued conference attendance. Which of these has your organization tried?

1. Create Unique Special Offers

“It’s time to stop the bleeding” is the company logic. Frequently, conference organizers will work with sales retention teams to provide special offers to dissuade customers from not attending. An all-hands-on-deck call-a-thon is created where each team member has to call 10-50 potential customers and make a special deal. The end result: churners hold out each year for that exclusive call and deal.

2. Identify Potential Defectors And Sweeten The Pot

“Identify those who are likely to leave and stop the churn,” is the company logic. These past customers often get a better deal to attend than they had the previous year. Once this strategy is used one time, people get smart and hold off for their exclusive phone call and deal.

3. Investigate And Address Customer Complaints

“Stop the negative experiences,” is the company line. Empower all conference team members to do nothing wrong and mitigate attendee complaints. The result, people have no reason to leave except that the conference might not meet their needs or the experience becomes stale.

The Better Step To Create Conference Attendee Loyalty

While each of the above steps is valiant; they are not enough. They are band-aids on a symptom! They do not fix the underlying root cause of churn: no attendee loyalty.

If you want to return your conference to growth, you must address why people are not returning to your event every year. You have to focus on growing your target market loyalty.

You have to focus on loyalty metrics! That means tracking paid attendee registrations over a minimum of three years. If you have a repeat paid attendance of 50% or higher, you have a financially sustainable conference. If it’s lower than 50%, you have a problem with attendee churn! You will eventually run out of attendees.

In short, you have to find ways some clear and compelling differentiators that create rabid, impassioned loyal advocates that attend every year!

Hat Tips to ATKearnery’s How To Create An Entirely Different(iated) Customer Experience.

What are some tactical ways you can create conference loyalty? Why do most conferences not even track conference loyalty?

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1 comment
  1. Mark Walker says:

    Hi Jeff,

    You make a great point! Building repeat attendance and loyalty is a vital ingredient to success for any company, and conferences are no different!

    I think that these 8 steps can help events do a better job of building their repeat attendance…

    1. Remind delegates why there were there & how the event met their goals
    2. Involve them with planning the next event
    3. Recognise their importance
    4. Reward their loyalty
    5. Communicate with them all year round
    6. Don’t fix things that aren’t broken
    7. Offer something new
    8. Make sure you deliver on expectations

    I’ve gone into more detail on them here if you’re interested?


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