Improving Your Conference Operational Effectiveness Is Not Strategic Positioning

Strategy Fish illustration

It’s one of the biggest confusions in the meetings industry today.

That improving your conference operations—registration, food and beverage counts, room capacities, room sets, project management, vendor practices, partnering, benchmarking, following industry best practices, conference management tools—improves your strategy. It doesn’t!

Improving your conference operations is not strategic positioning! Sure improving your conference operations improves your efficiency and operations effectiveness. But it does not increase your conference profits or growth!

Distinguishing Between Conference Operations Effectiveness And Strategy

We have got to start distinguishing between conference operations effectiveness and strategy.

Operations effectiveness and strategy are both important to successful conferences. They are critical to superior performance.

Yet they operate in very different ways.

Note: Hat tips to strategy guru Michael E Porter has written a lot about operational effectiveness and strategy.

Conference Operations Effectiveness

Operational effectiveness is about the management tools we use to plan and implement conferences.

In short, conference operations effectiveness is performing very similar actions better than your competitors. It’s the practice where an organization uses its inputs better and more efficiently.

While operational effectiveness is critical, it is not sufficient. It fails to provide financial sustainability. It does not give any conference an upper hand.

Why doesn’t conference operational effectiveness give an organization the competitive edge?

Well, no one has ever said they are going to a conference because it ran smoothly. No one has ever said, “I’m committing three days to this event because registration was just amazing last year!”

Competitors can quickly copy and match your conference operations effectiveness. It raises the bar for everyone involved. And every conference starts to look the same.

Conference Strategic Positioning

Conference strategy is very different than operational effectiveness. It’s about planning and implementing different activities than your conference rivals. Or it’s about planning and implementing similar activities of your rivals in different ways.

You can outperform your conference competitors only when you establish a difference that you can preserve.

In short having a conference competitive strategy is about being different! Your conference stands out as totally unique and distinctive from others.

It’s about intentionally choosing a different set of conference attendee activities to plan and implement. It’s about offering a unique conference mix of options. Then and only then, does the paying registrant have an unusual and compelling conference experience.

To offer a conference strategic position, you must deliver a greater value and different experience to your paying attendee than your competitors. Or you create comparable value at a lower cost. Or you do both of those things.

However, most conferences today try to compete on operational effectiveness. And it just doesn’t work.

Don’t Confuse SMMP With Strategic Positioning

The Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP) is misnamed. It should be called Operations Effectiveness Meetings Management Program. It has very little to do with strategy.

SMMP is the management of organization-wide meeting related processes, spend, standards and suppliers to achieve quantitative cost-savings, risk mitigation and superior service. It is not about being different.

SMMP is about helping your company reduce meeting costs, reduce contractual risks and improve service. It is not about creating different attendee experiences and being different than your conference competitor.

Don’t let the strategic in SMMP confuse you with the true definition of conference competitive strategy!

What are some questions conference organizers should ask that lead to strategic positioning of their event? Why do meeting professionals think their conference can compete with others just based on operations effectiveness?

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