Why Your Conference Should be Target-Audience Obsessed

In order to design relevant education and networking experiences at our conferences, we need to be focused to the point of obsession with our target audience. Over the past 18 months, we’ve carefully scrubbed and analyzed the attendance of 20 major conferences. These projects had an aggregate attendance of 110,000-plus participants with registration revenue in excess of $30 million.

Peter Fader, professor of marketing at Wharton, and author of Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage, highlights customer lifetime value as a strategic lens for identifying your best customers. CLV methodologies vary greatly, but are most useful when they are future-focused. For determining your target audience for premium conferences, consider these five lenses:

  1. Who are the economic buyers that your sponsors and exhibitors value most?
  2. Who has the professional development budget to attend every year?
  3. How does conference attendance impact retention and spend for other products and services?
  4. Which segments have the highest influence for referrals?
  5. What segments are tackling the biggest challenges or driving change?

A Road Map

Using the insights of Fader, we’ve come up with a process that yields a clearer understanding of each event’s audience. Here are the steps involved:

True Attendee Definition — Certain attendance categories should be removed from the core audience analysis to get to what we refer to as “true attendees.” Among those to exclude are expo only, staff, exhibitors, sponsors, press, guests, workshop-only, and students. (If student attendance is material, we like to analyze separately.) At times, we also remove speakers and volunteer leaders as they may justify their participation based more on those roles than their education and networking experience.

Attendance Loyalty — We prefer to analyze the most recent three years of attendance, and those who have attended two or more years are flagged as “loyal.” All others are identified as “non-loyal.” Name, email, member ID, and address fields are used to identify possible loyal matches. A healthy conference will have 50 percent or higher attendance loyalty while also having a stable or growing number of loyal participants. The loyal and non-loyal categories are used to compare and contrast demographic info, such as regional attendance, titles, job setting, etc. You’d be amazed by the insights that are gained by comparing the attributes of loyal vs. non-loyal audience segments.

Organizational Roll-up — Company loyalty can provide insight into organizational vs. individual participation. For example, at some conferences, 25–50 companies could represent 20 percent to 50 percent of total attendance. Some companies will rotate the team members they send from year to year. When normalizing organization names, we find that email domain can be very helpful to the process.

Heat Mapping — There are lots of ways to heat-map your audience. We often use a heat map that divides the country into six large regions. The first heat map shows the percent of loyal attendees by region, who tend to go anywhere your meeting is being held. Next, we create three heat maps — one for each year — of the non-loyal attendees. These maps show the regional impact of rotating the conference around the country.

Word Clouds — Depending on the demographics collected, we like to scrub titles and create word clouds using wordle.net, separating them into loyal and non-loyal buckets. We often find that the loyal titles are at a higher level than the non-loyal titles.

Demographic Fields — You don’t want to ask for too much or too little. At a minimum, be sure to collect role/position, work setting, and years in profession. Each of these should be required fields and have a pick list with eight or fewer options to select.

How have you been able to zero in on your target audience? How does your educational content align with targeting that most important segment?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2017

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