2010's Top Trends in Conference Marketing

East to West, Big and Small – we’ve been watching what’s going on and it’s time to report the facts. Over the past year we’ve been analyzing conferences and annual meetings across the country. Organizations are still struggling to meet attendance goals. We’ve identified four major trends that attribute to low attendance.

1. Informing and assuring, but not inspiring.

Organizations are doing a good job of informing their members about the conference, and their websites and direct mail pieces are great for reassuring the intent. However, the images and wording in the marketing messages lack inspiration. Content and imagery used in marketing materials, including direct mail and websites, must inspire the member to want to register for the conference.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Answer the question “Why should I attend?” with every message and image.
  • Build excitement through imagery and words.

2. Over reliance on email communications.

If we only had a penny for every time we heard an association executive say, “I’ll just email that info to our members.” Email marketing has become a central part of communications for many organizations. However, with an open rate of under 20% and a click thru of 3% – email marketing is not the most effective tool for reaching the membership.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Compare email marketing strategies to current best practices (segmentation, personalization, engaging subject lines, interactive content).

3. Lack of segmentation for marketing.

Most associations have their membership broken down into segments, however unique marketing messages are not created for each segment. Instead, one-size-fits all messaging is created for everyone – but in reality, it doesn’t fit all. It’s more likely not going to fit anyone.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Collaborate with the membership team to identify segments.
  • Play up the differences in each segment to create personalized marketing messages.

4. Poor analysis of conference survey results.

Many associations are missing out on great information, testimonials, marketing messages and ideas for the event because of poor strategies for reviewing attendee surveys.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Surveys need to be analyzed by someone in marketing.
  • There is greater potential for an honest look by having someone outside the organization analyze the results.

Additional trends

Marketing team dropping the ball.

Attendee survey results show that annual meetings provide members with tools and information that assists them with their daily activities and larger challenges. It is the responsibility of the marketing team to create messaging about the conference that informs members of how the content at the event will affect potential attendees.

Missing word of mouth.

Marketing has changed dramatically. Word of mouth and conversations are very important for consumers when making a purchasing decision. Associations are missing out on this opportunity by not using testimonials and social media to the fullest extent.

Late registration.

Attendees do not need to register early for various reasons. Marketing teams need to combat this by having a marketing push towards the end of registration time. Two areas of control for you to leverage: money and availability.

Attempting social media.

Associations of various sizes are tip toeing into social media and attempting to use it to supplement conference marketing. However, few are seeing conference attendance numbers to be affected by social media because the content being shared over social media platforms tends to be very informational. Also, there is a disconnect between the social media strategy, overall marketing messages and the members actual needs and wants.

The Big Picture

Low attendance is a symptom – not the problem. The problem is that organizations have a weak foundation because their three most important elements do not connect:

  1. Brand Guidelines
  2. Strategic Plan
  3. Conference

It’s a constant battle for organizations to ensure they align strategy, identity, and capacity with vision, mission and values. And, members can sense when they fail to do so. Low attendance is simply a symptom of a larger problem – the disconnect between the strategic plan, brand and conference.

The 2011 Solution

Dust off the organization’s strategic plan, create branding guidelines that define what the association stands for, and remember to incorporate the conference into the strategic plan and brand.

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