Benefits That Have Helped Associations Meet Conference Attendance Goals

Our most recent edition of White Space covered positioning annual conferences for greater attendance. One of the topics we touched on was the importance of identifying your niche market, what they desire and then showing them how you can meet their needs. Association executives have tried various creative ways to promote benefits, some have worked, and others didn’t produce a satisfying ROI.

Here’s a list of pricing tactics that have been working for associations so far this year:
  1. Offering quarterly dues payment
  2. Promoting a “dues relief” program
  3. Discounting registration rates to their annual meeting
  4. “Two for one” dues payments
  5. Local resident discounts to the annual meeting
  6. Increasing travel grants for members to attend conferences
  7. Providing free conference registration when attendees pay travel expenses and stay at HQ hotels
  8. Offering conference attendees a payment plan

Each of these benefits will appeal to a specific group of potential attendees, and of course, when it comes to pricing you are appealing to something that they care about.

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Tag! You're it, Facebook!
For some time now Facebook users have been able to tag each other in photos, videos and notes. Well, now they can tag each other in their “What’s on your mind?” status updates.

“Um, so?” may be what’s on your mind right now, but status tagging is a great feature that can help your fans promote your Facebook Fan page. Facebook users update their status to let friends know all sorts of things about how they are doing, what they are doing, and things they like. Now, with status tagging they can reference who or what they are talking about.

For instance, when a Facebook user says they are going to volunteer with their favorite nonprofit, they can use the “@” symbol to reference that nonprofit’s Fan Page. Or, when a Facebook user just registered for an upcoming conference they can reference the association’s page or event. Those updates will show up in the news feeds of all their friends, and on the pages of the organizations they referenced.

Facebook posted instructions on how to tag friends and fan pages in status updates on their blog:

“Now, when you are writing a status update and want to add a friend’s name to something you are posting, just include the “@” symbol beforehand. As you type the name of what you would like to reference, a drop-down menu will appear that allows you to choose from your list of friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications and Pages. Soon, you’ll be able to tag friends from applications as well. The “@” symbol will not be displayed in the published status update or post after you’ve added your tags.”

Start testing the status tagging and see how it can enhance the connections with your friends and fans. It can be a useful tool for referencing other organizations or businesses you want to help promote on Facebook, as well.

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What's in a name?

Recently, we came across an article about how La Plata, MD, the location of Rottman Creative Group, got its name. La Plata Maryland is situated in Southern Maryland and is the county seat of Charles County. The name La Plata was derived by Colonel Samuel Chapman through his efforts to find a cure for his son who was battling tuberculosis. In his endeavor to find a cure, he traveled to Central and South America where he became intrigued by the La Plata River in Argentina. The Chapman family owned approximately 6,000 acres of land in Southern Maryland. Colonel Chapman named a segment of his land after the river.

Do you have or know of any interesting stories about how certain names came about?

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Positioning Your Annual Conference for Greater Attendance

What exactly are you promoting?

Let’s pretend that you are promoting a conference in Washington DC for middle-school teachers about using online curriculum. After going through your typical strategy and marketing plans, you end up with some great collateral pieces. The campaign begins and your first direct mail piece lands in the hands of a busy, first-year, middle-school science teacher. She glances at your shiny postcard for only a few seconds before going back to class. What will she walk away thinking about your event?

A) This is a conference for teachers.
B) This is a conference in DC.
C) This is a conference about teaching using technology.

The answer to that question is key.

Even if the economy was great. Even if all school teachers received a raise this year, and airfare was the lowest it’s been in years, and your conference was in the perfect location. The answer to that question will determine your conference’s attendance.

The answer you want in our little scenario is C, and the way you get it is by positioning your conference as a unique offering. If you fail to do so, then you are simply selling a conference. The young teacher in our example receives direct mail, emails and invitations from other professional organizations each week. You have joined the rest of them in reinforcing her thoughts of joining a professional group, or maybe attending a conference some day. But, without correct positioning you failed to tell her about your conference. Without correct positioning you are wasting a lot of time and money on marketing.

Beating out the competition.

You are correct in saying that the recession has affected your conference attendance numbers, but solely chalking it up to small budgets is a shortsighted conclusion. Other factors have created a tougher, more competitive environment. Consolidation has happened in many industries, plus other organizations and for-profit shows are looking to survive by expanding their audiences to include your niche markets. A lack of positioning, will result in a continued drop in attendance. And as your share of the market slips away it will be your fault, not the economy’s.

We’re changing the way organizations market their conference – one conference at a time.

We perceive that conference marketing is one arm of an organization’s holistic messaging for fulfilling their mission. We embrace conference marketing efforts that will enhance an organization’s strategic messaging and fit within the organization’s overall goals.

Let’s step away from the marketing talk, speak human, and get down to do some practical tips.

Tips on successfully positioning a conference.

1. Be unique.

You must differentiate or take the chance of becoming irrelevant. An effective brand has separated itself from its competitors by finding a unique selling position in the marketplace. If you position yourself without differentiation, you’re selling a category; you are simply selling another conference, and you will not be remembered or recognized. One of the biggest mistakes we see associations make is promoting their conference based on the venue location, which says nothing unique about the organization or the conference.

Questions to ask:
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What unique attributes of your products or services distinguish your conference from those of your competitors?
  • How do you view your association–if your conference was a car brand what would it be? Why?

2. Stay focused on the association’s brand strategy.

Before you tell the world about your brand, you should have buy-in within your organization. You should have champions of the brand in your organization. (If you don’t, well…Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And, use your one phone call to call us.)

Questions to ask:
  • How do you see your brand (conference) in 5 years?
  • How does your conference fit into the over all brand strategy of the association?
  • How do you want your members to feel, think and act?

3. Talk about the benefits.

In our niche-oriented society, brands are successful when they are created for the consumer. Identify what your niche market desires and show them how your conference meets their needs.

Questions to ask:
  • How does your conference solve a problem or meet a need for your target audience?
  • Why is your conference the best solution for them?

4. Identify the purpose of the conference.

Before any work can be done in marketing your event, you have to discover the true purpose of the conference. Think about what it brings to your attendees and to the association.

Questions to ask:
  • Is the purpose to increase attendance or revenue?
  • Is your main goal to recruit new members, new sponsors and new exhibitors?
  • Are you launching a new product?
  • Are you motivating, collaborating, educating or training?

5. Push the right information.

Your conference’s positioning will inform potential members about the most important and valuable information. You can not tell potential attendees everything about your association conference in one direct mail piece, instead pick out the most important information for them. Sometimes this may mean leaving out details that you think they need to have, but the goal is to position the conference so that they will be enticed to discover those details.

Questions to ask:
  • What is non-negotiable about your conference, and must happen at all costs?
  • If you had to change one thing from your conference what would it be?
  • If you had to trash one thing from your conference what would it be?

Think about all the sales pitches, emails, and phone calls you receive each day. Which ones stick with you? The ones that were unique and made an impression on you – whether good or bad. A lack of positioning for your conference means that for the potential attendees reviewing your postcards, brochures and websites, your association will not make an impression on them.

This is not the time to practice The Three Musketeers style of conference marketing that promotes the category of professional conferences instead of your conference. We are not all for one, or one for all. Your association has a distinct identity. Your annual conference is a unique experience. Tell that story, instead of the story about how DC is a lovely city.

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