For Event Marketing That Moves People, Start With Inspiration!

Step one in conference marketing is to create an inspired state for your members.

Inspiration is not as mysterious as you might think. That’s excellent news, because if you are going to attract millennials to your events, focus on stabilizing your organization’s lifecycle, and move your event marketing from reactive to proactive, you’re going to need inspiration! In fact, make good friends with it now.

As we wrote about in the last newsletter, we’ve done the research on inspiration. The heavy lifting through the fields of psychology, business, and organizational leadership. We have some key findings to share with you—both from this research, as well as from our own learnings as an event branding agency in this business for the long haul.

Inspiration is the first part of the buying cycle.

You’ve built a product for a target audience . . . or, to frame it so it’s more relevant for associations: you’ve built a conference for your members. Great! Except, who cares? Literally, who will care? You have to inform the unaware. Any association with an email list has that task mastered. How do you move members (particularly those elusive millennials) from “I know about this event,” to “I want to attend this event?”

That is where the buying cycle gets exciting, because it’s the point at which you have to inspire the interested. And by “exciting,” we mean, if you don’t do it, forget all of it. It’s do or die. If you don’t inspire your members about your event, why will they care? And if they don’t care, why will they come? And if they don’t come, they miss out and you miss out. No one connects, and no loyalty or affinity is built. No joy. No lives changed. And then it’s back to the drawing board for the next event.

So yeah, inspiration is pretty damn important.

Inspiration is a process (which means it can be replicated).

As a brand, as an organization with a life-changing product, you have to deliberately encourage inspiration. Yes, deliberately. There’s nothing in the definition of inspiration that suggests it need be haphazard. To inspire someone is to mentally stimulate them to do something. What’s magical about that? Everything and nothing.

What’s not magical is the work you have to put into your marketing to make it inspiring. It’s like the oft-quoted line from writer Peter De Vries: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” Your association needs to approach inspiration as a discipline, as a best practice, as a habit.

We’re going to explain some of that best practice in a moment. But first, let us tell you what is magical: the effect that inspiration has upon people. Inspiration awakens people to new possibilities, and it diminishes their worry over the more practical concerns that tend to bog them down (like registration fees and travel costs). It pulls them forward to something better.

Inspiration is not the same thing as motivation.

Before we go on, there is one thing to clear up (because it has tripped us up in the past, too). “Motivation,” as a concept, is often about the things you should do. You should eat more leafy green vegetables. You should shop local. You should like us on Facebook. Nothing kills that awesome moment of inspiration like a list of the things you should do. Something may be of a motivational nature—like a terrific attendee story. But if you set out with this idea that your members just need to be motivated, all you will wind up doing is giving them a list of shoulds. You’re pushing them, rather than pulling them in. Push millennials, and they’re on to the next thing.

To inspire members, your event marketing needs three key things.

Research from the University of Rochester found that inspiration has three overarching qualities, which we have translated into the three elements of an inspired state: clarity, energy, and spark. These three elements correlate directly to marketing.

Clarity comes from your MISSION.
Focus on the one thing with the most value.
Energy comes from your STRATEGY.
Your strategy outlines how you will fulfill your mission.
Spark comes from the EXPERIENCE.
The experience brings your mission and strategy to life in your content, so it becomes real.

Start with CLARITY

When the founders of your association first came together, they had a clear purpose, whether it was five years ago or 105 years ago. Assuming your association has grown (if it’s large enough to be hosting a conference, then it must have grown), and new people and ideas have come on board, you’ve had to add on a lot of “stuff.” That means speaker series and webinars and luncheons and certifications and any number of other things—things that are VERY important. But they are WHAT you do, not WHY you do it.

WHY your event exists—or, the ONE thing with the most value to your members, attendees, and supporters—is driven by your mission. And most of the time, that mission gets diluted in the marketing, overshadowed by all of the WHAT stuff.

Let’s put it this way: does Cheerios really need 13 different types of Cheerios to reach consumers? (Check the cereal aisle; we’re not making it up!) Does that much brand dilution help them? Similarly, do you need 13 busy, overdesigned callout boxes and bullet points? Or, do you need a clear understanding of exactly what your mission is and why potential attendees would care—and a marketing campaign built around that? We’re banking everything on the latter approach being the one that works.

Is your mission 13 different types of Cheerios, or is it ONE thing? People can’t be inspired when there is nothing but noise, “WHAT” stuff, and options coming at them. Has anyone ever been inspired in the cereal aisle? Clarity is what causes people to feel the transcendence associated with inspiration—and to make clarity bloom, you need smart, curated, concise, well-edited marketing pieces, that are beautifully minimal in all the right places.

Build the ENERGY

Inspiration moves people toward a vision or idea. If your mission is the thing that gets their attention and helps your members feel that moment of transcendence, your strategy is like the engine that moves them. You build the energy of inspiration through the ways in which you communicate to your members and articulate your mission.

Don’t mistake us: the mere sight of a strategic plan is not an inspiring thing (we’ve created enough of them to know)! Rather, the momentum comes from the choices you make in your marketing. It’s the voice you develop to talk to members. It’s being clear on your attendee archetype (read more about our work with archetypes here). It’s the decision to welcome vulnerability and humanness into your marketing, instead of thinking you should stay above it. It’s awfully hard to move people from high above. Get down in the trenches with them and connect with them emotionally.

Create the SPARK

You can’t force someone to be inspired. You have to evoke it. You have to spark it. The spark comes from the way your content marries the strategy and the mission. Said another way, it’s how you bring the experience of the event to life.

Your association’s conference is not merely a set of dates, a venue, and an agenda-at-a-glance. It is about the larger experience, from the smell of breakfast to the sights and sounds of networking spaces to the feelings evoked in the sessions themselves. It’s sensory, to be sure, but it’s also related to the way the event makes them feel about their life. As any savvy brand knows, you are always selling a lifestyle. Hollister is selling the idea of Southern California surf culture (no matter that they’re headquarter in Ohio), Lexus is selling the idea of luxury, and Harley-Davidson is selling the idea of freedom, or as Harley’s CMO Mark-Hans Richer says, “We’re not really about transportation; it’s not about getting from point A to point B. It’s about living life the way you choose.”

What experience are you evoking? What lifestyle are you selling? It’s the job of your content to tell this story in rich visuals and sharp prose. Millennials are especially eager to understand the story behind the experience. The days of the old boys club and the secret handshakes are fading (exponentially more each year). The old loyal guard: by all means, treat them well! But don’t expect them to create sustainability for your organization.

Have clarity around your mission, harness energy in how you talk to your members and potential attendees, and then spark a desire in them to be part of event experience. These are the elements of an inspired state. Will you take the time to harness them in your marketing, so that you can truly inspire your members to action? Your next conference—and the future of your association—depends upon it.

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Create a SPARK to Inspire Members Through Brand Experience

Once you’ve achieved CLARITY in your mission and ENERGY with your strategy, there’s one last element that’s absolutely essential to inspiring your membership: a SPARK that evokes inspiration by providing members with an experience of your brand.

A memorable, positive brand experience inspires people to forge high-quality connections (1), explore new possibilities, and work towards goals. Additionally, it will help break the cycle of acquisition and retention because your members will become loyal advocates for your organization.

Your annual event is your biggest opportunity to create a spark. It’s your strategy coming to life. It’s also your chance to set up optimal conditions for inspiration, engagement, and—ultimately—mission fulfillment. Recent research suggests that the best brand experiences are multisensory.

Engage the 5 Senses

Consider what people will see when they walk through the doors of your exhibit hall. What will they eat and drink that might help them associate your brand with value? What kind of music will you play in the lounge areas—upbeat techno or smooth jazz? Will they connect better sitting in rows or roundtables? Consider whether your crowd is more interested in the smell of flowers or fresh-baked cookies. Do you have an interactive element, such as game playing or team activities? Every detail should be a spark of inspiration that offers value to your audience AND reinforces your mission.

Does this mean you need a sound and light show to attract Millennials, for example? Scented candles in the restrooms? Extra fuzzy couches? That depends on your Millennials. Nonetheless, your event does need to be welcoming, engaging, positive and memorable in order for it to be a spark of inspriation. Some gimmicks might be necessary, but avoid sensory overload. As we’ve mentioned so many times, you have to offer value for inspiration and connection to take place. If not, you’re just part of the babble.

It’s important to note that creating a spark of inspiration is not a passive endeavor. You can’t simply wait for members to show up and have whatever incidental experience with your brand. It’s your job to intentionally and deliberately craft a brand experience that will engage your members and move them to action. It’s within your control to encourage insporation to happen. (Cue Jack London and his inspiration-seeking club).

Use Brain Power

Sensory experience is backed up by some pretty convincing brain research. Science tells us that 90% of decisions are made in the emotional center of the brain. We also know that storytelling will get you farther than language when it comes to engaging people emotionally. Accompanying visuals are better than stories alone. And other sensory items—such as scents, textures, and music—can further enhance your message and create that spark of inspiration your organization can’t live without. What’s more, sensory items are powerful triggers of memories. You can use the same colors, visuals, smells, or textures in your marketing after the event to continue to engage and inspire members throughout the year. (Check out our past work on sensory marketing HERE.)

Learn To Surf

For a lesson in brand experience, take a look at clothing retailer Hollister. Walk into any Hollister store and be instantly transported to a beach in Southern California. Each store looks like a beach shack, complete with palm trees, beach balls, and sections for “Dudes” and “Betties.” Television screens display real-time surf conditions from Huntington Beach pier. The air is scented with the brand’s signature fragrance (available for purchase, of course). A curated collection of beach tunes plays over the speakers (also available for purchase). All indicators suggest to the shopper they have entered an authentic SoCal surf shop.

Hollister’s brand experience not only creates a spark that entices customers to purchase; it inspires them to adopt a lifestyle. In addition to making repeat purchases, loyal customers advocate for the brand through their appearance, behavior, music and even their smell. The interesting part? Hollister is not really a surf shop. It’s a division of Abercrombie & Fitch dreamed up in an office in Cleveland, Ohio.

The secret to success? It comes from a clearly crafted story, a well executed strategy, and an engaging in-store experience. The brand is so successful at moving people to purchase that Hollister’s sales have outplaced those of actual surf companies.

We’re not suggesting you fabricate a story to please your members. Chances are your organization was founded on a pretty incredible authentic story anyway. The key is to bring it to life with clarity, energy, and spark. If Hollister can be so successful with a fabricated brand experience, imagine how you can move and inspire your base with an authentic one.

All 3 Elements of Inspiration

Communications coach Carmine Gallo once said “Steve Jobs does not deliver a presentation. He offers an experience.”

Great brands and business success stories don’t happen by accident. The savviest marketers craft a story around their mission, they know their audience, and they execute a killer strategy that will engage and inspire. Lastely, they carefully and deliberately create a multisensory brand experience in which inspiration can take place. They feed inspiration by engaging all the senses. They fan the spark into flames by delivering value. And they achieve results in the form of loyalty, retention, and advocacy.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Get Energized!

Get off the acquisition and retention roller coaster and learn how to inspire your members with effective strategy.

How many times have you seen membership and engagement spike for your annual event only to drop off soon after? The acquisition and retention roller coaster is not a sustainable way to achieve your organization’s mission. You’ve piqued interest and maybe even moved members to take action, but unless you continue to energize and inspire them your organization can’t be sustainable—and no amount of networking, education, and certification can remedy the situation.

We know inspiration starts with CLARITY to raise awareness and reassure the interested. But you also need ENERGY in the form of strategy that articulates your expertise. Energy can help you break the roller coaster cycle, fuel high-quality connections, drive brand attachment, and improve member engagement.

You Need More Than a Mission

Having a clear mission and being excited about it doesn’t guarantee you’ll inspire people to take action. You also need a strategy that communicates your value and expertise. But before you can effectively communicate with your audience, you have to get their attention. You have to speak their language and connect with them emotionally. You must learn their pain points and offer solutions. You must understand their archetypes and what keeps them up at night. No matter how great your strategy is, if you can’t cut through the babble to reach your intended audience, you’re wasting your time.

Here’s a look at how to create a killer strategy AND how to make sure you communicate it effectively:

Establish Objectives

WHY are you doing what you’re doing? What outcomes do you strive to achieve with your marketing communication? You might have an attendance number in mind or a financial goal you’d like to reach, but set those ideas aside for now. Your objectives should be bigger! First you need to create high-quality connections where members openly express themselves and are also open to new ideas (1). When members forge meaningful connections with other members, engagement and brand attachment increase as a result. By connecting and inspiring people, you move them to action—to work towards your mission—and create a sustainable organization. Aim for high-quality connections and your attendance and financial goals will take care of themselves!

Determine Archetypes

There is simply no substitute for knowing your audience when it comes to good marketing that generates results for your brand. Who exactly are you trying to inspire? You probably have an idea of your organization’s key demographics—age, location, job title, purchase history, etc. While these details can inform your messaging, knowing your audience goes beyond the data. Archetypes are broad categories that help you understand your audience, their concerns, their emotional state, and other key factors on a deep, meaningful level. Chances are your members fit into just one or two archetypes that you can master in order to communicate with them. (Read more on how we examine archetypes for effective marketing).

Brand Voice and Key Messaging

Now that you’re clear on what your objectives are and who you need to reach, it’s time to craft your brand voice and develop key messaging. Your voice is your brand’s personality. It should be human and show some vulnerability to draw people to you in an authentic way. Using the same voice across all marketing platforms assures consistency in your message and helps people get to know the real you—online, offline, or in person. If you don’t maintain a consistent, authentic voice, it’s easy for your messaging to become noise. If that happens, your audience won’t be able to connect with you, no matter how interested they are in your mission.

As we mentioned previously, simplicity is key to clearly stating your mission, and it’s a good bet when it comes to key messaging as well. What is the one thing of most value you want your members to know? (Ok, you can have more than one key message…but let’s not overdo it.) If your key messaging doesn’t tie back to your mission, it’s babble and you’re wasting your efforts.

A Lesson From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs once said “Marketing is about values… It’s a very noisy world and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us.” The way to cut through the noise, said Jobs, is to focus on core values, not products. Apple’s mission is clear—improve the world through technology. Next comes energy and strategy: “Even a great brand needs investment and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality,” said Jobs.

Apple’s success comes from deeply knowing its audience and creating products and messaging that offer value. In fact, Apple knows its audience so well it often releases products in anticipation of demand. Jobs once famously quipped, “ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” You only need to see the line around an Apple Store on the day a new iPhone comes out to know whether this strategy is working.

Get Off the Roller Coaster

It’s time to get off the roller coaster. In terms of the buying cycle, energy is most critical after you’ve raised awareness and inspired the interested. You need energy to move people toward making a purchase and experiencing your brand. You also need energy to maintain momentum once they’ve joined your organization or attended your event—to break the cycle of constant acquisition and retention efforts. No energy, no inspiration…no dice.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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Let's Be Clear: Inspiration Requires Clarity

How to Cut Through the Babble Instead of Becoming Part of It

Walk down the cereal aisle in any grocery store and you’ll be bombarded by countless boxes in a rainbow of colors. While there are dozens of brands and flavors, they all contain basically the same stuff—sugary junk food that doesn’t nourish and leaves you feeling hungry in just a few hours. Adding another brand or flavor to the cereal aisle won’t help matters. It will just add to the clutter.

Event marketing often falls into a similar situation. Organizations promote dozens of products—networking, education, and certification among them—but they don’t articulate any VALUE to their membership. Members get so lost in the clutter that none of the messaging sticks and they’re left…well…hungry for real meaning and value.

Want to connect with more members? You don’t need another cereal box. You need LESS STUFF. Your members need CLARITY, not clutter. A minimalist approach to event marketing, believe it or not, will result in more inspired members, higher event attendance, and better fulfillment of your organization’s mission.

Identify One Thing of Value

We know inspiration can’t exist without clarity, a way of seeing things in a new light that compels people to take action. For your organization, that means clearly conveying your mission to your membership. The best way to achieve this clarity is to strip your messaging down to the bare bones. What is the one thing with the most value you want them to know? Once you determine what that one thing is, remove any “noise” from your marketing that might distract your audience. If your messaging doesn’t tie back to your mission, it’s clutter.

Know Your Archetypes

I can hear some of you saying “But our members are so diverse! How can we deliver one message that is valuable to everyone?” Start by defining your audience’s archetypes. You might be surprised that most of your members fit into one or two defined categories that will help you speak to them in meaningful ways. You can always craft variable messaging based on membership status or event attendance, but these details are secondary to archetypes.

Another strategy for determining the one thing of value is to look at your single biggest pain point (or Super Problem, as the pros say). If your greatest concern is reaching Millennials, for example, create a clear message the illustrates the value of your mission to this particular audience. Staying clear and focused on one issue can help you avoid the clutter trap.

How to Achieve Clarity in Your Marketing

Clearly communicating your mission is essential to the first two phases of the buying cycle—raising awareness and inspiring the interested. Present a confused or cluttered message early on and people simply can’t connect with you. They’ll get lost along the way! The key to a clear message that hooks and inspires your base is to know your audience well and to concisely articulate how your event will benefit them.

Take for example, the 99U conference by Behance. Tired of hearing babble about idea generation at conference after conference, the folks at Behance wanted to see some action and results. Their solution was to develop an event around the mechanics of idea execution. The simple value proposition of the event is basically, “Let’s actually get something done,” as opposed to, “Come get certified, see speakers, network with professionals, and attend happy hours.” The former promises value. The latter, stuff.

TED Talks are another great example of clarity and simplicity in action. Experts who could speak for hours are given just 18 minutes to present an idea, engage the audience, and demonstrate the value of their work. TED Talks are wildly popular with hits in the millions because they’re relatively short, accessible, and engaging even to a layperson. Sure, the experts have more to say. But if the speaker raises awareness and inspires the interested, mission accomplished. We can always dig deeper once we’re inspired if we want to learn more and take action.

Taglines are also a nice model for clarity and simplicity. Consider Nike’s three-word mantra “Just do it” as opposed to something like “Best-in-class apparel and equipment for today’s top athletes.” When it comes to inspiring your base with your mission and your event, you want the TED Talk version, the tagline version, the version that focuses on actual value in a clear, simple way.

Not the Kitchen Sink

You might think that paring back or eliminating elements from promotions is a terrible idea. After all, your organization is doing some pretty exciting things, and you want to tell the world! Resist the urge to include everything and the kitchen sink. Keep in mind that a clear, minimalist approach doesn’t take away meaning. It simply helps you get to the main point with laser focus—to cut through the babble and inspire your membership by delivering value.

Enough with the Stuff!

Modern consumer culture buys into the lie that accumulating things will make us happier, better people. We have a passion to possess as much as possible, rather than focusing on what makes us feel fulfilled. This “more stuff” idea spills over into our roles as event marketers. We often assume more is better when in fact LESS might be just what you need to go from Ho Hum to Hell Yeah. Clarity is key to inspiring your members, fostering high-quality connections (1), and advancing your mission.

(1) Dutton, J. E., & Heaphy, E. D. (2003). The power of high-quality connections. Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, 3, 263-278.

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