The Registration Brochure is Back-With a New Mission

Isn’t it lovely that we live in a society where no one judges anything by appearance? Where things like book covers and brand name labels don’t even matter anymore? Isn’t it fantastic that we’ve evolved beyond how things look?

Isn’t it so refreshing that . . . Hold on, what’s that you’re saying? You don’t live in that society?

No kidding. Neither do we. And neither does your conference. Its appearance gets judged just as harshly as the sad-looking books in 90 percent off bin. Don’t get us wrong. We’d love for you to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the intrinsic beauty of life. But wouldn’t you rather gather ye rosebuds after you achieve record attendance at your conference this year?

If you’ve thrown out the registration brochure along with your Y2K survival kits and banana-sized mobile phones, you are missing a real opportunity to light up your people. You’re missing the chance to create the excitement and inertia your people need to make their way to that “register now” button on your website. So right now, get out a Sharpie and last year’s budget, and in bold, black letters, add the line item: “registration brochure that rocks.”

But The Web Can Handle It, Right?

Before the web, the registration brochure had a pretty clear-cut mission: get people to register. It was one glossy booklet. The preliminary program that tried to do it all.

With the web, associations saw the chance to save precious marketing dollars. Why print and send out something when all of the info is on the Internet? With the paperless movement, it made good sense. Just let people go online. Upload a few pictures of a casino, a beach sunset, or some identifiable urban landmark, and you were golden. That worked great.

Until it didn’t work anymore.

The reality is that a conference without a smartly designed registration brochure is missing something. Poetically, we’d say it’s missing a soul. But practically, we’d say it’s missing inspiration.

However, let’s get something straight: in 2012, the registration brochure doesn’t need to do it all. In fact, it can’t. You’ll dilute its value if you try to make it be both a marketing piece and an information piece. Information (like logistics, registration, and FAQs) is what the web is for. Let your site do the heavy lifting of informing. It’s where your people are going to go for that stuff anyway. But a brochure that glides across their desk, full of headlines, images, and story vignettes that create a real longing to be there in person? Well, that’s the kind of piece that will make a real difference.

The Story is What Sells

Your registration brochure isn’t just a marketing piece. It’s the face of your conference. A face can launch a thousand ships. Or it can make everyone pack up and go home. To make it a face that inspires action, your brochure has to engage your people. It’s got to do the old W&W: woo and wow. The most effective way to do that isn’t to promote the venue.

Rather, the most effective W&W strategy is to create a story around the number one reason people attend your conference: person-to-person interaction.

Our research has confirmed that in-person networking is the number one reason people step out of the virtual world and the LinkedIn discussion groups. Hence, your registration brochure needs to upsell the networking opportunities with both copy and visuals, and really tell the story.

If you’re not telling that story, don’t even bother putting a brochure out there. Because if you thought the recession was bad for conference attendance, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The world of information is downloadable—and it will continue to be even more downloadable. Social networking facilitates connections almost instantaneously.

However, you do have something in your corner. The virtual world isn’t the same as the real one. Slap a camera on your computer, but it doesn’t matter. Virtual experiences can’t match the human experience of standing in a circle of your colleagues, chatting and laughing as you generate ideas and sparks and connections. The experience of all of your neurons firing because you are breathing the same air, in the same moment, at the same place, at the same time as a bunch of other interesting people. The fact that virtual can’t match human is the meat of your story, and you better tell it in a compelling way.

A Solution to the Retention Issue

So, you’re ready to craft a killer story with this registration brochure. Next question: What form should it take? You’re probably not going to like this answer. First, yes, you should design an electronic version in PDF. But you also need to do a print piece (yes, with actual ink on actual paper). You have to do both. A PDF can be easily shared, but a printed page has more impact because you touch it.

We already know the number one argument against doing both: it costs too much. We counter it with a very simple ROI equation: the more attendees you have at your conference, the more money your association makes. The less attendees you have, the less you make.

Let’s think of it another way. What are your association’s biggest challenges? Recruitment and retention, right? The minute someone joins, there’s a whole army of people and marketing dedicated to making sure they renew next year. Here’s a thought: ditch the army, and instead pour the money into making your conference great—and the marketing for your conference great. What percentage of your members attend your annual event? Fifteen to 20 percent? (You can fib if you want, but we’ve seen the numbers.) A rock star conference can double that—and there is where your retention can come from. If more came, wouldn’t they re-up for next year? And wouldn’t they re-tell the story of how amazing the conference was over and over again?

Great conference marketing IS recruitment and retention.

If you want our opinion: fire anyone who doesn’t get that immediately—they’re just wasting your association’s time and money. And the ones who do get it? Put them in charge of the registration brochure. And create a piece that changes the game.

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