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5 Strategies to Increase Engagement All Year Long

So your event had great attendance and you saw a surge in membership. Feedback was positive and you feel triumphant. Great! Now what? What happens next is sometimes…well, not much.

After the excitement of your event, it’s easy for people go back to their regular routines and forget about your organization. The crickets start to chirp on your social media feeds. Email opens and click-through rates drop. People just aren’t engaging like they did in person.

If you can keep the momentum going, people will continue to engage, connect, and work toward your mission over the long haul. Even better, it will be easier to get them to register for your event next year. How can you do all this? You need a comprehensive engagement plan.

Here are Five strategies to maintain the community, camaraderie, inspiration, and engagement of your event all year long.

Use marketing automation

The Association Engagement Survey with Access Intelligence suggests that your event attendees are the most engaged people in your organization. These individuals are already convinced of your value and will need less attention throughout the year. New prospects, by contrast, will need to be informed, inspired, and reassured before they take action. To communicate effectively with all your audience segments, you’ll need to personalize your campaigns and align them with the buying cycle. A marketing automation platform, such as Informz, can help. Informz lets you create, schedule, personalize, and track your campaigns to ensure timely, relevant communications before, during, and after your event.


Get more face time

Supplement annual national events with smaller regional affairs throughout the year. This might mean you host mini conferences or workshops in a few centrally located cities. It could also be much simpler. Consider sponsoring a team for a 5k or organizing a neighborhood cleanup day. These simple events can facilitate powerful connections among members by bringing them together for a common cause. If all else fails, organize regional happy hours for some liquid inspiration. More face time equals more opportunities to connect and engage.


Build online communities

It’s not enough to have a social media presence. People need to interact—with each other and with your organization. Post a mix of original content, quizzes, motion graphics, videos, live streaming, affiliate articles and information, and promotional ads. But don’t stop there. Pose open-ended questions to encourage conversation, and be sure to respond when people ask you questions. In addition to social media, consider other year-round networking opportunities using your event’s mobile app, a LISTSERVE, Basecamp, or other platforms that facilitate connection and idea-sharing.


Recruit brand ambassadors

Gather your pilgrims, your most devoted members and attendees. Ask them to promote your event and your year-round offerings in their own circles, online and off. Give them an opportunity to share their experiences through member-curated stories and testimonials. Create a referral program with incentives to attract likeminded colleagues. For example, you could craft an email that’s meant to be forwarded to a friend. Offer a free online workshop for joining as a new member and give one to the member who made the referral. Your brand ambassadors put their reputation on the line by promoting your organization. Reward their loyalty with recognition and the occasional goody.


Encourage audience participation

People feel more engaged in your organization and your event if they have a say in the decision-making process. Ask for input on anything from the event theme to the food you serve and the music you play. Take a poll on which speakers to invite. Ask for volunteers to serve on committees or teach sessions. The more deeply people get involved, the more likely they are to become brand ambassadors and repeat attendees.

For year-round engagement, people need to hear from you on a regular basis. But that’s just the first step. They need personalized communications and face-to-face opportunities that offer value, reinforce connections, maintain the momentum of your event, and enable their goals. Go beyond an event marketing strategy. Sustain your organization 365 days a year with a comprehensive engagement plan.

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How to Move People from Prospects to Attendees, Members, and Ambassadors

Member journeys in the digital marketing world

Member journeys in the digital marketing world

According to the Email Statistics Report, the average person received 90 emails per day in 2016. That’s a lot of clutter to cut through if you’re a marketer. To get attention and to maximize your ROI, you need to go beyond impersonal e-blasts and one-size-fits-all marketing. A better strategy is to take cues from your audience and your data to craft purposeful content for a range of digital touch points. Then optimize your efforts through automation and a CRM platform. When all the elements of your digital marketing environment come together, that’s when the magic happens. You’ll increase engagement and move more of your base along their journey toward event attendance and membership.


The member journey

Most people aren’t ready to attend your event or join your organization the first time they hear about you. They need time to get to know you, explore your offerings, and understand your value. Individuals will undergo a journey from awareness, to attending your events, to joining as a member. Eventually, they might also become loyal long-term followers and brand ambassadors. But how much time do they need? What exactly do they need to know? And when do they need to know it? Answering these questions requires a solid grasp of the entire digital marketing environment. This includes in-depth audience knowledge as well as integrated brand touch points.


Meet them where they are

A solid digital marketing strategy begins by knowing your audience—not just their demographics or purchase history but characteristics and behaviors that help you speak to them. Start by assigning archetypes, or personas, to your audience segments. Archetypes are defined categories centered around value and purpose. You can also segment your audience based on known behaviors, such as members, non-members, veteran attendees, or new attendees. Also consider where individuals are in the buying cycle and how much they already know about your association. All this information helps you tailor your messaging and tactics so you can provide timely, relevant marketing communication that engages your base.


Bring all brand touch points together

Digital brand touch points include stories, videos, retargeting, emails, ebooks, white papers, landing pages, and more. Your audience might encounter any or all of these items depending on where they are in their journey. It’s important to present a unified look and feel in all your branding as well as complementary messaging. It’s also critical to include a mix of content types to cater to various communication preferences. But how do you know which tactics to launch, to whom, and when?


Why you need marketing automation

Marketing automation allows your audience to tell you what they need. To get started, you create several defined communication strategies, called workflows, based on your archetypes, audience segments, and any data you’ve gathered. Once you set your workflows in motion, your audience behaviors trigger the next steps. One example would be an individual who sees your Facebook ad then clicks to download your white paper on business finances. This behavior then triggers an email promoting the finance track at your annual conference. If this person decides to register for your event, they will receive information about other offerings at the conference. If they don’t register within a week of your first email, they automatically receive a discount code in a follow-up email. The more that people interact with your brand touch points, the more you learn, and the more likely it is that you can continually deliver communications they find valuable. The result? A recent study suggests that using marketing automation to nurture your prospects could result in a 451% increase in qualified leads.


Tracking success

It’s important to track campaign results, examine key performance indicators, and understand your data. By leveraging real-time pre-event marketing data, you can use relevant member or prospect behaviors to trigger lead scoring and follow-up activities for cross-selling and upselling. Combining data-driven insights with automation technology will help you personalize their journey toward attendance and membership—and you’ll see increases in both as a result. Use a customer relationship management program to monitor your data and effectively track and score leads. If you can’t monitor results, you won’t be able to calculate campaign ROI and you won’t know what’s working (and what’s not). Marketing automation isn’t something you can set and forget. You must keep an eye on the data and adjust your workflows based on actual behaviors.


Up your marketing game

In today’s world of flooded inboxes and information overload, you need to up your marketing game if you want sustainable membership and event attendance. Improve your marketing using automation and integrated brand touch points to guide more people through their customer journeys. Rottman Creative can help you cut through the clutter and drive event attendance with purposeful digital marketing. Contact us today to learn more about marketing automation.

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Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

4 Pillars of Event Marketing to Fuel Attendance and Engagement

Strategic event marketing is about inspiring and connecting potential attendees. It goes beyond facts and “stuff”—all that networking, education, and certification you offer. People need to understand your event’s value on an emotional level. They must see a measurable return on the time, money, and effort they invest to attend. This is all within your grasp if you have a solid marketing strategy.

Use these four pillars as the foundation of a purposeful marketing strategy that drives event attendance and member engagement.

Product (your event)

Your event is a product, and it should be marketed as such. There is a buying cycle, and your marketing must support it. You need to inform the unaware, inspire the interested, and reassure the intent to guide prospects along a journey toward registration and membership.

Like any good product marketing, your messaging should focus not on the features (sessions, experts, certifications) but on the benefits your attendees will realize.

  • How will their lives be better or easier by attending your event?
  • What goals do they have that your event will enable?
  • What pain points will it take away?
  • What’s the ROI they can expect from attending?

These are emotional issues for your audience, so to be effective you need to have empathy for their situation—no matter where they are in the buying cycle. For example, someone who is brand new to the industry might be feeling in over their head. They lack experience and expertise. They’re hungry for resources and connections. To effectively reach this individual, you must first raise awareness that you exist. Next, demonstrate your offerings and value through compelling storytelling. Lastly, reassure them that they’ve come to the right place—a place where like-minded people collaborate to solve their most pressing issues.

If you host an annual event, it’s easy to keep churning out the same marketing year after year. To really inspire and connect people, you must take a fresh approach. Every year is a new product launch. Every year you must ask yourself how you can align your marketing with the buying cycle to address current audience needs and emotions.


Story

Neuroscience tells us that stories have the power to inspire and connect your attendees. Storytelling goes beyond facts and logic to engage the limbic brain, where most of our decisions are made. To truly resonate with prospects, branded attendee stories must show new possibilities and enable goals. They must address pain points, challenges, and questions attendees might have. To find juicy story content, identify a handful of people willing to give you an hour or two of their time. Choose a mix of new members, veteran attendees, and maybe even a curmudgeon who wasn’t so quick to see your value. Come prepared with questions, but don’t be afraid to venture off the map. Sometimes your best stories come from unscripted conversations.

Once you have enough information, craft the entire story. You can always use shorter excerpts depending on your platform. For effective stories that inherently increase connection among readers, follow the universal story structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. (Read more about The Anatomy of a Story and see an example.) The best stories create a sense of urgency with the reader to incite the desired action.


Sustainability

For your event—and your organization itself—to be sustainable, you need to create pilgrims, not tourists. Pilgrims engage. They attend your event year after year because they are internally compelled to be there. Tourists, by contrast, come to look. They leave without contributing and do not return. Again thinking of your event as a product, it’s much easier to up-sell, cross sell, or get repeat business from an existing customer. If you can continually inspire your members and attendees, you’ll have a much easier time filling seats year after year. As a bonus, your devoted pilgrims will be more likely to engage.

Strategies for driving sustainability:
  • Craft timely, emotionally engaging marketing communications aligned with the buying cycle. Use marketing automation to ensure you are most responsive to prospect/attendee needs based on actual behaviors.
  • Provide exclusive event offerings people can’t get anywhere else (ex: face time with experts, hands-on learning, exclusive products, event-only specials).
  • Create meaningful event activities that allow inspiration and creativity through in-person connection and collaboration (ex: social outings, informal networking spaces, roundtable discussions, business incubators).
  • Provide unique promotional items with an engagement component (ex: Encourage attendees to share an image on social media wearing your association’s branded clothing).

Fear

Besides the cost to attend, fear is why people do not register for your event. Pre-event stressors and on-site stressors prevent people from registering altogether, or they prevent people from fully engaging while there. You must prove that the benefits of your event are greater than people’s fears. According to the Attendee Research Report, 1 in 4 attendees thought their last event was stressful. To address stressors and encourage people to overcome them, you need to be empathic in your communication efforts. To do that, you must first understand their fears.

Pre-event stressors include time away from work and family, cost and hassle of travel, and even what to wear. On-site stressors might be the crowds, not knowing anyone, or selecting which sessions to attend. General fear of the unknown can put a serious dent in your attendance numbers.

Focus on the fears most relevant to your audience, and take steps to address them.

A few suggestions for overcoming fears and proving value:
  • First-time attendee breakfast or mentor program
  • Early bird discounts, giveaways, or special drawings to offset costs
  • Clear communications about how to get to the event and where to stay, including any travel promotions
  • Detailed event schedule and layout to help attendees navigate your event and take full advantage of all offerings
  • Online forum for people to connect ahead of time
  • Pre-event social media conversations or webinars to break the ice between attendees and your organization
  • Suggested dress code (ex: “Our attendees typically wear business casual attire.”)
  • A mix of structured and informal networking events to cater to introverts and extroverts
  • ROI toolkit to help attendees weigh the costs versus the benefits

It’s not enough to host a great event.

You need a comprehensive strategy to inspire and drive people to attend. Plus, you need them to come back next year. Use these four pillars as a guide to identify and close the gaps in your current marketing strategy.

No strategy? Now’s the time.

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