Triggers, Targets, and Inspired Journeys in Event Marketing

Triggers, Targets, and Inspired Journeys in Event Marketing

So far, we’ve debunked the myth that inspiration is unknowable. We’ve shed light on the powerful Inspiration-Connection Duality™. And we’ve helped you get a clearer picture of clarity, energy, and spark—the three key elements your event marketing needs to inspire members.

Our goal is to help you understand how to use inspiration as a best practice for your association. To that end, it’s time to talk about how inspiration translates into something tangible. In other words, how do you rally inspiration and turn it into action? Because if you want to build a more sustainable organization, you need people taking action at the right times.


Research has found that people in an inspired state feel a sense of possibility. Psychologists call this goal enablement. It means that an individual feels enabled to make something happen for him or herself. That’s exciting stuff! But it needs direction.

To start, it needs a trigger. In the most basic sense, your brand is the trigger, or the thing your members connect this feeling of goal enablement to. But within the broad category of your event brand, there are many types of triggers. Think of inspiration triggers as the fence posts of your marketing campaign: they are the teasers along the way that support your overall message. You’re always trying to pull some sort of trigger when you communicate with members.

Let’s look at three types: product-driven triggers, networking triggers, and unique triggers.

Product-driven triggers are the traditional nuts and bolts of your event, and include:
  • Education (workshops, sessions, tracks)
  • Certifications
  • Pre-conferences

Before we move on to other types of triggers, let’s do a quick review of the elements of inspiration: clarity, energy, and spark. It’s not nearly enough to send a bland, business-as-usual email about the different tracks your event has, and call it a trigger. If you’re following along, then you know you have to build your marketing campaign around your mission (channeling clarity). Each email or direct mail piece you send that uses one of these triggers has to tie back to that notion of clarity. Likewise, you want to ensure that you’re following the strategic plan you set in place, and building the energy. And finally, the mention of a trigger alone is NOT a spark. You have to create the spark with captivating visuals, imaginative and concise prose, and a well-executed design.

In other words: keep everything you’ve already learned about what inspires members in the forefront of your mind as we move on to the other triggers!

Networking triggers including facilitated networking opportunities and organic networking opportunities. We say “facilitated,” because that’s the lingo associations use; but in fact, it’s really forced networking. It’s planned. As much as we advocate careful planning, you can’t actually “plan” connections, and you certainly can’t force them. In our work with associations, we’ve discovered that the higher up members are in an organization, the less likely they are to derive any benefit from the forced networking. Organic networking is a stronger trigger overall—the more opportunities you can create for it (and the more compelling stories you can tell around it), the better.

Your organization also has unique triggers. Unique triggers are triggers that are tied to your specific event. There are generally two categories of unique triggers: pricing promotions and special events.

Pricing promotion triggers could include:
  • Group discounts
  • Membership specials
  • Early bird rates
  • Giveaways and add-ons
  • First-time attendee promotions
  • Save the dates
  • Lapsed attendee discounts (someone who has attended in the past, but not for a few years)

Special event triggers are those pieces that are distinctive, and even exclusive, to your event. This includes the popular outings or related sporting or other events that always get a large draw. Special event triggers are terrific opportunities, because they tend to be the things your attendees naturally look forward to, and tell other potential attendees about.

Examples of special event triggers:
  • Keynotes
  • Opening sessions
  • Special interest groups (sigs)
  • Luncheons
  • Closing sessions
  • Concerts
  • Golf outings
  • 5k run/walk events
  • “Night at the . . .” events (ballpark, racetrack, museum, etc.)
  • Fun and lively networking events (game night, art night, movie night, etc.)


If your triggers are the fence posts, then your target is the gate. It’s where you want to lead members, and what you want them to DO in the inspired moment. You’ve given them a trigger (a hint about the possibility that awaits at the event) and now, they need to act in a specific way.

There are five common targets for event marketing campaigns:
  1. Register
  2. Sign-up
  3. Tell someone else (word of mouth)
  4. Visit the website
  5. Make an inbound inquiry

In every piece of communication, make sure that your target is clear! The copy and visuals both need to support the target, and lead people organically to the conclusion that this is the action they need to take.

Organize your marketing segments.

The last piece of the trigger/target puzzle is around the idea of marketing segmentation. Just because your members and potential attendees tend to be like-minded doesn’t mean the same exact message will resonate with all of them. You may have the same trigger and the same target, but you need to spin it slightly differently among your groups of constituents.

You may need to segment according to:
  • Archetype (see our work on archetypes here)
  • Profession/career type/degree type/membership type
  • Purchasing behavior (the “givens”—the 20 to 30 percent who always register, the potential customer, and the repeat customer)

At Rottman Creative, we talk endlessly about inspiration. Our motto is that it’s yours for the taking, and you have to pursue it fiercely, as if your organization’s future depends upon it (because it does). You may look at everything we’ve outlined above and say, “But this is all process stuff!”

Exactly. Because it IS a process—but it’s a process with purpose, backed up by the Inspiration-Connection Duality™. This process is what brings your marketing meaning, order, and peace—which is vastly different than the anxiety, chaos, and despair that aimless, uninspired, unconnected event marketing creates for associations.


What you’re really doing with this process is creating an inspired journey for your people. You have to lead them through the process with purpose, because purpose attracts purpose, and aimlessness attracts aimlessness. It’s not just about the numbers you get at your event this year, it’s about next year and the year after that and the year after that, and so on.

For sustainability, you need more than casual tourists, who drop by from time to time. You need pilgrims—people who are deeply connected, and come year after year, as if making a pilgrimage. Every association lists “how do we find these people?” as the million-dollar question they’re struggling to answer! The answer is far simpler than most associations realize: you harness a process. However, just because the answer is “simple” doesn’t mean it’s “easy.” It takes WORK!

Are you ready to do the work of creating inspired journeys for your members and attendees?

If this piece has inspired YOU, we encourage you to pass it on to someone else you think can benefit. Forward this newsletter, or share on social media. Let’s start an inspiration revolution!

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Attract Event Pilgrims, Not Tourists

Brand ambassadors. Advocates. Cheerleaders. Fans. Whatever you call them, you know you want them: loyal members who attend your event year after year…who bring friends and colleagues…who spread the good word about your organization and your life-changing mission. At Rottman Creative, we like to think of these people as pilgrims.

What exactly is a pilgrim?

In a more literal sense, pilgrims are the devout faithful who make a journey to a holy site—often yearly—because it does something for them on a deep, meaningful level. It makes them feel inspired, connected, renewed, refreshed, and purposeful. Driven by a sense of duty, pilgrims make the journey a priority. They suspend their everyday lives to complete the pilgrimage. It’s not even a decision. It’s a must. Imagine if your event was a must for your members, a given part of their year and their lives.

Holy sites are filled with pilgrims. They also tend to be filled with camera-toting tourists who visit once, check it off their list, and never return. Chances are your event has plenty of tourists, probably too many. The good news is that tourists can be converted. Here’s how to turn casual attendees into loyal members who make your event a priority year after year.

At the event…

Offer something they can’t get anywhere else.

There’s only one Santiago de Compostela. Similarly, your event needs to be the place for inspiration and connectivity. One way to accomplish this is to provide exclusive offerings that members won’t find elsewhere. You might include continuing education credits, access to industry leaders, or event-only workshops and trainings. A word of caution, however. These are just things, and while they might get people in the door, they don’t build loyalty and encourage brand advocacy.

Deliver inherently uplifting experiences.

An inspired state requires you to create a spark for your members through brand experience. While spark involves all aspects of your event—from the mood music to the signage—meaningful activities can be especially powerful sources of inspiration. These might include a morning of volunteer work, an interactive game night, a mentorship program, or an outing to the ballpark.

The big idea is that experiences, not “stuff,” emotionally engage members and give them an extra reason to attend your event yearly. These activities make members feel good about being a part of something greater than themselves. Not to mention activities provide untold opportunities for connection and inspiration through unscripted networking. Ask yourself what experiences your event can offer members that they just can’t get virtually or remotely.

Provide meaningful mementos, not junky souvenirs.

Pilgrims often take home a vial of holy water or a bit of earth from a pilgrimage site. Similarly, unique promotional items can be meaningful reminders of your event and your organization. They serve as visual signals to unite tribe members and raise awareness for the uninitiated.

A few years back, travel review site TripAdvisor sent out branded magnets that read “I travel with TripAdvisor.” They asked users to share photos of the magnet clinging to cars, airports, and landmarks around the world. This simple, inexpensive item made existing users feel uplifted and connected to the TripAdvisor community (who doesn’t like to share their vacation photos?). At the same time, the magnet promoted the brand to the unaware.

Imagine how your organization might use tangible objects to unite and uplift your base. Maybe you ask members to tweet a picture wearing your branded clothing out in the field. Maybe you’ll host a crazy hat cocktail hour to encourage high-quality connections (1). You can add meaning and mileage to your promotional items by incorporating them into relevant marketing campaigns and your event itself. If your items don’t have meaning and purpose, you’re just adding to the babble…and the local landfill.

Throughout the year…

Stay in touch.

As our flashbacks to Sunday School remind us, even the most devout pilgrims need a little nudging and nurturing throughout the year. Connect and inspire members regularly using mailings, social media, online forums, and regional events. When it comes time to register for your annual conference, generate hype and action using specific triggers and targets.

Create pilgrims.

It’s not enough to get an interested party to pay dues or register for your event. Once these tourists have checked your conference off their list you might never see them again. That puts you back in the dreaded cycle of acquisition and retention. To create true believers, loyal fans, cheerleaders, and advocates you will need to do more. You’ll need to have a marketing strategy that sets up optimal circumstances for inspiration and connection.

Share how you’re creating pilgrims for your association!

(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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Generate Specific Actions Through Inspiration

Mastering Triggers and Targets in Your Event Marketing

Mastering Triggers and Targets in Your Event Marketing

Knowing how to use triggers and targets in your event marketing will result in inspired members ready to create high-quality connections (1), fulfill your mission, and ultimately become brand advocates for your organization. Once you’ve clearly established your targets and the triggers that will make them happen, you’ll need to sort out tactics and timing for delivering your messaging. You will also need to examine your audience segments to create optimal conditions for inspiration.

Your Tactical Toolbox

Determining the marketing tactics that you will use for your event will depend on your event, your audience, your message and timing. Common marketing tactics include websites and microsites, print and web ads, social media content, direct mail and email. When deciding, ask yourself do I achieve a better ROI with direct mail or email? Are my members more likely to respond to a print ad or a social media promotion? Do we need to urgently communicate with our base? Knowing your audience and examining the results of past promos will provide insights to help determine which tactics to use.

When the Time is Right

Now that you’ve decided which marketing tactics to use, you have to decide when to use them. There are two types of timing that you want to identify (1) pre-event, onsite and post-event, and (2) where they’re at in the buying cycle.

Most of the marketing tactics you choose will be pre-event, but it’s a good idea have a variety. For example, social media efforts during your event (onsite) can increase engagement and facilitate high-quality connections OR you could send a follow-up email (post-event) thanking all the attendees for attending! Which tactic you choose depends on where they’re at in the buying cycle. Is your goal to inform the unaware, inspire the interested or reassure the intent? Or it is to get them to make a purchase (i.e., register for your event).

Determining your marketing tactics and deciding on the timing will take time, but if done right the inspiration is endless!

Success Through Segmentation

Perhaps the word “segmentation” draws a collective groan from your marketing department. It’s easy for organizations to assume their audience members are basically the same. After all, everyone is united around your mission. But when it comes to communicating triggers and targets to your base, there are some important differences that can help you increase attendance, boost engagement, and create long-term loyalty. We’re not necessarily talking about having a dozen triggers for one promotion. In fact, success could very well result by having just one that’s tailored slightly to a few groups. Let’s look at three potential ways to segment your audience:

Archetypes: Knowing your members’ archetypes — broad categories centered around values and purpose — is key to providing truly compelling messaging that triggers inspiration and generates the desired target action. Read more about how we identify archetypes here.

Profession, Position, or Membership Type: Breaking down an audience by these types of segmentation can make the individual your marketing to feel valued; that the message was geared directly towards them. For example, distributors won’t necessarily get inspired by the same ideas as manufacturers. To segment try swapping out the names (from distributors to manufacturers) and tweak the message to be more clear.

Purchasing Behavior: You likely have loyal members who take action with little to no effort on your part. These people are the pilgrims who faithfully attend your event year after year. They simply don’t need as much encouragement from you. Similarly, there are those who are ready to buy. These people have been informed and reassured already; they’re just waiting for the right offer from you. Your potential customers, by contrast, will need to be informed, reassured, and encouraged. Your lapsed customers, who attended in the past but have been absent in recent years, will likely need some re-inspiration to convince them to come back.
Crafting the right message that is specific and segmented can play a big role in getting them to take action towards the target object.

Triggers and Targets in Action

Here’s a look at a practical example of trigger and target objects in action:

Annual Conference

1. Determine the marketing tactic:

Email #1: Registration is now open!

2. Determine the timing:

Pre-event; inform the unaware and inspire the interested.

3. Determine segmentation and messaging:

(A) Last years attendees – “Looking forward to seeing you again this year…!”
(B) Attendees who didn’t attend last year, but have in years past – “We missed you last year…!”
(C) People who have never attended the event – “Make this the year to attend…!”

4. Determine the trigger object and the target object:

Trigger = Early registration discount
Target = Register today

The big idea is that these are all tangible, concrete steps you can take to create inspiration. By mapping out the marketing tactics, knowing your segments and identifying the triggers and targets your marketing will have meaning, order and peace.

(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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Triggers and Targets

How to Inspire your Members to Act

How to Inspire your Members to Act

A practical guide to manifesting inspiration through triggers and targets

A cartoon from the New Yorker a few years back shows two cavemen. One is drawing on the cave walls. The other is holding a bow. The caption reads, “Enough storyboarding. Let’s shoot something.”

Now that you know you need inspired members (and the clarity, energy, and spark that inspiration must have), it’s time to see what inspiration looks like in practice. Luckily for you, all these big ideas can be executed using two things: a trigger object and a target object.

In essence, your brand is the trigger that inspires people to take action. More specifically, your products, events, and special offers trigger inspiration. The target object is whatever you want your members to do—whether it’s register for an event, make a purchase, tell a friend, etc. For example, you might offer an early bird discount and encourage people to register for your event. The discount is the trigger. Registration is the target.

You can’t have an effective trigger if you don’t know what you want your audience to do. Similarly, a target object is useless without a trigger to direct your members towards it. It might go without saying that in order to have effective triggers and targets you must know what your audience wants and needs.

You might find it’s easier to start with the target and work backwards. If you want more Millennials to register for your event, what inspiring triggers might make that happen? Next, you can decide which tactics—email, social media, direct mail, print ads, etc.—might be most effective at communicating the trigger and target objects to your base. (More on tactics next time.)

Three Triggers, Six Targets

Identifying triggers and targets gets even easier when you break them down into categories. There are three common types of triggers: product-driven triggers, networking triggers, and unique triggers. Your targets will typically fall into one of six categories: make a purchase, register for an event, sign-up for membership, tell someone else, visit the web, or make an inbound inquiry.

Product-driven triggers include concrete items, such as your downloadable information; certifications; pre-conference events; and the educational sessions, workshops, and tracks available at your annual conference. The target of product-driven triggers is often asking your members to make a purchase or register.

Networking triggers revolve around planned/forced networking events and organic networking events (i.e. the unscripted variety that happens as a result of being present at your event). Your goal is to trigger your base to register for your event and, by extension, to connect with others, become inspired to work towards a goal, attend your event yearly, or become more engaged throughout the year.

Unique triggers include a range of offers specific to your organization, events, and audience. For example, you might promote a special discount for members who attended a past conference but have been absent in recent years. Other unique triggers might be keynote speakers, opening sessions, luncheons, outings, or fun activities like game nights. The target objects of these triggers might be making a purchase, registering for your event, or attending a special session or activity.

Triggers N’ Targets
For Engagement Marketing
Learn More >

How to Interrupt the Babble

A concise, minimalist approach to triggers and targets will be most effective. Yes, your event has a lot of potential triggers, but each promotion should focus on only one. Maybe it’s free continuing education credits or an early registration discount. Your trigger is the big idea. Everything else should support this idea or be eliminated to avoid distracting your audience. Identify one target object. What is it you want people to do? State this clearly and concisely as a call to action. For example, “Register by November 1 to receive your early bird discount.”

Don’t forget about clarity, energy, and spark. Your message will need all three elements of inspiration to cut through the babble and avoid becoming noise. After all, your goal is to INSPIRE people, not bore them to death or overwhelm them with useless “stuff.” Complementary visuals can help you here, too.

Lastly, make it easy for your audience to take action. Include an obvious link to your registration form, enclose a response device in your direct mail, and state your contact info repeatedly on all promotions. Don’t make your inspired members search for what to do next. You might lose them along the way.

Triggers and targets are the “clubs” you need to go after inspiration and make action happen. Happy hunting!

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