Follow the Golden Rules for golden results
Remember the golden days when organizations had unrestricted budgets for sending employees away to conferences. All you had to do was quietly mention your conference and boom! Sold out. It hasn’t been since the 90’s that associations have had to re-think event marketing. But, the world has changed drastically and if you don’t adapt, your organization is going to become irrelevant.
But, how do you keep up with the times and still hold on to the values of your organization?
At a recent conference we saw some marketing directors from various associations fail at this challenge during a conversation that paralleled the kind of peer pressure occurring at middle schools. A marketing director from an association was guilted into signing up for Twitter by marketing experts from other associations. Ignoring her knowledge that her members do not use social media and without considering the nature of that industry these marketing “experts” rallied together to pressure her into starting a Twitter account for the association.
We’re going to bet that her instincts were correct and that Twitter is not popular among professionals in that industry. Imagine the time and money she is going waste on launching a Twitter account that will have little to no engagement.
What could have saved her in this moment of peer pressure?
A set of marketing principles….like the ones we’ve laid out for you in the newsletter!
These guiding principles can keep you focused on fulfilling an organization’s mission and goals, while remaining relevant. These essential truths will keep your organization on target for fulfilling your mission and goals – while navigating trends, social media, economic changes and cultural shifts.
We should use social networking to reach out to attendees. We will learn new ways of communicating through social networking to engage in meaningful, effective conversations with individuals before, during and after the conference.
Everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon. That’s fine – it’s popular, it’s fun and it’s a great way to communicate with attendees….well, at least that is what we believed until we looked at how associations are using social media.
Page after page of uninspiring content and no engagement from followers. It comes as no surprise that these associations are not getting anyone to register for their events from Facebook or Twitter.
So, what can you do?
Look at the demographics of your target audience. Then do a little research to discover which social media platforms they are using and how they are engaging on social media. It may be that members in your association love using Facebook – but only for keeping up with friends and family. If that’s true, then investing in Facebook will be a waste of time.
- Ask the highly engaged members and regular attendees how they use social media, personally and professionally.
- Brainstorm with members to get an idea of the content they’d like to receive from the organization via social media and which discussions they would help kick-start online.
- Review our guide to measuring social media ROI
We accept that late registration is a fact, not a trend. We will not ignore cultural shifts. Instead we will work with them to make our marketing plan even stronger and more effective. Adding new means of communication and changing the schedule of communication are musts.
You have to embrace it. Don’t freak out.
Late registration is a side effect of making it easy for people to register. And, with the economic challenges we face today – they are more likely to wait until the last minute to register.
This isn’t true for everyone. Your hardcore attendees and the very involved members will sign up every year. But, will they alone support the growth necessary to increase attendance and membership retention? Likely not. You need to get the other members more engaged. These are the ones you are after to make the conference a greater success.
So, what can you do?
You have two sources of power to influence potential attendees to register early. Money and availability. The traditional early bird discount is how you can use money to influence. As for influencing through your power of availability. You can limit certain sessions to people who register early. This will add urgency to the process and communicated how much you value the content of the event.
A more radical option is to replace the early bird kick-off with a late registration push. Yes, that will make your job a little tougher. But, what’s more important to you – an easy work day or giving potential attendees what they need in order to boost attendance?
- Reach out to the needs of all segments of your target audience.
We should promote value over venue when developing a conference marketing plan. We will position ourselves as experts with valuable resources and information to share with like-minded professionals, instead of positioning ourselves as tour guides. Through multi-media and strategic communication we will educate potential attendees on why they should attend.
Promoting the venue over the value of the conference is a cop-out. It’s not in the best interest of the association or members, and its definitely failing at your job because you are not talking about the value of the event. There has to be something more members can gain from attending your event other than visiting a great city.
So, what do you do?
For anyone who may disagree, we are not suggesting that you omit the conference location from all marketing pieces. Yes, please tell them where the conference is occurring and a few area attractions that may make their trip enjoyable.
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Use imagery that captures the value of the event, not just the venue’s most popular sites.
We perceive that conference marketing is one arm of an organization’s holistic messaging for fulfilling their mission. We embrace conference marketing efforts that will enhance an organization’s strategic messaging and fit within the organization’s overall goals.
Most organizations have some sort of strategic plan that guides them towards specific goals and fulfilling their mission. However, conference marketing must give association executives amnesia because they completely forget about the organization’s strategic plan when promoting their largest event of the year.
The huge disconnect between the powerful strategic plan and an association’s branding guidelines.
It is a complete failure if the plan for marketing the annual event is list of rules on font and logo usage. Let’s get this straight, branding guidelines are not a list of rules about fonts, pictures and colors, no more than parenting is a list of house rules about curfews and putting away toys. Branding guidelines must capture the essence of the association, which in turn affects the event. They are pillars of how the largest in-person meeting of the year fulfills the organization’s mission.
We see poorly defined branding guidelines all the time…and the failures that come from it. If brand guidelines are really just a list of rules, then of course the only thing to rely on is the venue. Thus begins the transformation from association guru to travel agent, and the abundance of marketing materials with pretty pictures of D.C., Nashville or whatever city has been picked for the venue.
So, what do you do?
Grab a copy of your organization’s strategic plan and get ready to examine your navel….your branding guidelines. How does the conference help fulfill the mission? Why is the event important when you look at the big picture?
Immediately you’ll realize the value of the conference. A story will form that will give potential attendees a “gut feeling” about what you’re all about.
- Promote the new sections/sessions as being up-to-date and relevant content for your members.
- Use testimonials from previous years to help tell the story.
- Create brand guidelines that connect the organization’s strategic plan to conference marketing efforts. (i.e. our goal to be the place professionals come for the latest in industry trends means our email marketing campaign must promote breakout sessions that are lead by industry leaders)
We believe that a marketing plan is a schedule of strategic activities that will guide behavior. We will achieve conference marketing success by following a roadmap that leads to a desired destination. We affirm that a marketing plan is a well-researched strategic map that addresses the role, appearance and tracking of all marketing efforts.
You have reached a fork in the road as the path you are on divides into two roads. The road on the left forgoes the use of data and surveys. It leads you to brochures and emails with pretty pictures of the conference location. It is easier and familiar. It involves some Googling and chatting with the nice lady at the tourism office.
The road on the left worked in attracting some people – not as many as last year, but what do you expect with the economy. The road to the right takes you the way of using survey results and data to create a marketing plan designed to guide behavior.
It is a more challenging and a longer journey, but along the way you meet new members, hear stories of how attendees implement what they learned at previous conferences, and find out why some members did not attend last year’s event.
As an added bonus, membership retention numbers are also on the climb!
You must adhere to this principle or you’ll be marketing venue over value with pretty pictures instead of real, valuable content. Ultimately whatever crowd that does draw, is not one that will stick around – they will just as easily leave your nice venues for another. CRASH! There goes your retention rates, too.
So, what do you do?
Survey previous attendees about past conferences. Then use this data to help formulate a plan that will help the unaware, inspire the interested and reassure the intent.
- Learn something new by surveying members other than the ones you see at every event.
- Talk to members who received marketing materials, but did not attend.
We should recognize that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is foolish. We will not engage thinking that supports ineffective habits. We will transform our habits and works based on research, the audience’s needs, and our vision. We will test our efforts to ensure that we are putting energy into projects that produce quantitative results.
Look around, do you see companies using the same marketing tactics with the launch of every product? No, its different. Apple is a great example. Their marketing evolves with cultural shifts, but also with the product they are promoting. The marketing for an iPod, iPhone and Apple computers are completely different from each other, yet, each one captures the essence of what the product has to offer the target audience.
If you are doing it the same way every year, that is why you are seeing the drastic drops in attendance and retention rates. Yes, the economy has affected things, but your inability to adapt is the real reason why attendance and retention rates are dropping.
So, what can you do?
Tell a story through testimonials. A simple testimonial about how the content of the event affected an attendee’s work can add freshness to the marketing campaign. An interview with an attendee about what they took from the conference and how they implemented it in their work will go a long ways in promoting the value of your event and organization.
- Follow an individual (through a blog, Facebook page, Twitter, etc) while at the conference. And, then go “home” with them to show how they implemented the new information, tools and resources they picked up at the event.
Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of newsletter!
In addition to the great stuff we just shared with you, enjoy an RCG exclusive deal.
Conference brand mark special!
RCG will develop a conference brand mark unique to your organization and event. The brand mark will be based on the principles shared with you in this newsletter. Instead of a cookie-cutter logo, you’ll have a brand mark that expresses who you are and the value of your event. Includes an animated video file that can be used for online marketing. Available for $1200 to first THREE* people who respond to this email.
*Three winners will be awarded a brand mark during October 2010. Void where prohibited. Limited time offer. Employees, vendors, current clients are not eligible.
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