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How NOT to get prospects

(plus 5 ways to actually attract people)

So your in-person event is back on. Great! Now you need attendees. Here’s a list of proven failures that will most definitely NOT attract prospects. Take these tactics off your to-do list. Then implement a few of the surefire strategies listed below to build a high-quality prospect pool and get more people in the door.

FAILURE #1

Have no value proposition or differentiator

If you’re looking to deter prospects or get ignored altogether, having no value proposition is a great start. Afterall, professionals in your space have lots of events to choose from, so they can just choose a different one. Alternately, they might be satisfied with LinkedIn or Google.

FAILURE #2

Send a drip campaign with 5+ emails

Don’t stick with a “spray and pray” e-blast approach. Sending multiple impersonal emails is a proven tactic to take potentially interested people and chase them away.

FAILURE #3

Hire a famous keynote speaker who is irrelevant to your industry

Your association promotes itself as the best place to find industry-specific resources. Don’t hire a big name celebrity as your keynote speaker who knows absolutely nothing about your industry.

FAILURE #4

Use overly complex language nobody can understand

Long paragraphs, long sentences, and long words take lots of time and brain power to decipher. If nobody can understand you, they surely won’t know why or how to register for your event.

FAILURE #5

Create busy visuals nobody can decipher

Your event branding and logo shouldn’t be difficult to read. Using a plethora of colors and fonts adds to the clutter and is guaranteed to turn people away.

FAILURE #6

Use a generic event name that is meaningless to anyone outside your association

Don’t be afraid to use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heDon’t use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heard of you before, they won’t be compelled to attend XYZ’s Annual Conference.

FAILURE #7

Wait until the last minute to create your event website

Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll benefit from your event, and actually register. If you leave off the value proposition, agenda, and registration links until a few weeks before your conference you won’t reach attendance goals.

FAILURE #8

Be so exclusive nobody thinks they are allowed to come

Don’t hide the fact that your event is open to the public, including people who are not members of your association. When people don’t feel welcome, they will definitely not investigate further.


5 Ways to Actually Attract Prospects

Aside from doing the opposite of the failures mentioned above, here are five ways to up your event game and attract more prospects.

SUCCESS #1

Tell your story

Your prospect might have no idea who you are or why they should care. You have to convince them to care. You can’t do that with a few dozen impersonal emails. Tell your story quickly and make it easy to take action on it.

SUCCESS #2

Craft a unique value proposition

If you can’t articulate in just a few words why someone should attend your event, you need a new value proposition. Focus on benefits and differentiators. In one sentence, explain why you are worth someone’s money and time away from the office.

SUCCESS #3

Speak like a human

Messaging should be authentic and value based. Write everything at a 7th or 8th Grade level for easy comprehension. Be friendly and inviting. Make sure everything makes sense to someone who has never heard of your association before. 

SUCCESS #4

Be relevant

Take time to curate a truly relevant experience that addresses your audience’s current pain points. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Choose a keynote speaker who knows your industry inside and out.

SUCCESS #5

Keep it simple!

When it comes to your messaging, visuals, agenda, or anything else related to your event, go with the simplest choice. Cut the clutter. Stay on point. Promise select takeaways that matter to the segment of prospect you’re going after.

A good default strategy for event-related prospecting is to think like a prospect. Take some time to consider the types of messages and offers you prefer to receive from other businesses and organizations. Stick with those and leave the rest of the noise behind.

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How to Navigate the New Frontier of Hybrid Events (and maximize ROI along the way)

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The age of the hybrid event is here. As associations contemplate returning to in-person gatherings, the advantages of virtual—including serious time and money savings for your members—can’t be ignored. To engage the largest audience in the most personalized way possible, a hybrid event that combines in-person offerings with virtual ones is the way to go.

The hybrid model comes with some challenges, of course, including logistics, technology, engagement, and more. But the juice is worth the squeeze. Following a few best practices will help you navigate this new frontier to maximize the benefits and engage your base for years to come.

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is any in-person event that has some online component. This could include a livestream of the in-person sessions, on-demand content, a gamification component, a remote keynote speaker, a Q&A with both in-person and online audiences, or any number of other possibilities.

There are no rules here and no audience expectations because everything is new. For example, you might discover that your event becomes 80% virtual and only 20% in-person based on your audience preferences.

What are the advantages of a hybrid event?

If your association is like most, you’re eager to replace lost event revenue from 2020 and fuel future growth by retuning to a full-fledged in-person conference and expo. Plenty of your members are chomping at the bit to get out of their homes/offices and connect in person once gain.

However, budget cuts and lingering fears related to COVID-19 mean people won’t be returning to your event in droves just yet. In-person attendance will likely be low for years to come. A virtual event offers an opportunity to serve your base with high-quality content from afar.

A hybrid event is the best of both worlds. It’s a chance to regain the magic of an in-person experience while engaging people virtually—and generating revenue on both fronts. Chances are you invested in virtual event infrastructure in 2020, so the potential for hybrid is already there.

What are some best practices for hybrid events?

1. Simplify your offerings based on your association’s differentiators.

It’s easy for your event to become a three-ring circus of sessions, certifications, whiz bang technology platforms, cocktail hours, rock bands, and more. Some of this was a risk before the pandemic. Now more than ever, your event (and all your association’s offerings) should focus on what you do best. What sets you apart from competitors? What is the highest-value service you provide for your members? What do you offer that people can’t find anywhere else? Highlight these differentiators in your event marketing as well.

2. Understand your audience.

The answers to a few key questions about your members and prospects will guide the decisions you make about your hybrid event—including the size of your venue, registration price, engagement strategies, and the percentage of your event that goes online.

  • Are your members and prospects ready and willing to travel again? 
  • What is the No. 1 reason people attend your event?
  • Why might people NOT attend?
  • Do people place a higher value on your networking or your content?
  • Are people looking for certifications? Can these be delivered online?
  • How important is a hands-on, face-to-face exhibit hall experience?
  • What is the ROI of in-person offerings compared to virtual ones?
  • What does your association offer that can only take place in person?

3. Choose your tech last.

There are hundreds of tech solutions that you could include in your hybrid event. Most of them aren’t actually necessary, and some of them add unneeded complexity and the potential for technical difficulties. After answering all the questions in No. 2 above, choose the tools that will best serve your base. For more insights on technology, have a look at New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing.

4. Focus on value.

A big-name speaker fills seats but may not offer insights your audience needs to hear. A well-known entertainer may get rave reviews from attendees without generating enough ROI for your association. Focus on value first. Ask yourself: Does this help people solve their challenges? Does it enable goals? Does it present new possibilities? Does it foster meaningful connections? Is it purposeful? Does it align with our cause? Also consider whether it generates ROI for your association. 

Seize this Huge Opportunity

A hybrid event is a huge opportunity for your association to serve the needs of your members in a curated, personalized way while generating much-needed revenue. Amid today’s challenges, people are tackling more responsibilities than ever. Be part of the solution. Distill your event down to only the most powerful resources and deliver them in a way that honors people’s preferences. Cut everything else.

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3 Ways Associations Can Replace Lost Event Revenue

If you’re feeling the financial squeeze from cancelled or postponed events, buckle up. There’s more pain ahead as a recession looms large and fears abound. You need a proactive plan to replace lost event revenue so you can ride out the storm and ensure success into the future. Here are three essential steps to take right now.

1. Attract more members

There is power in numbers. The more people you can rally to your organization, the better off you will be financially in the long term. Invest in member acquisition now to ensure you have a solid base to sustain your association.


2. Focus on being a resource

Of course you need revenue to survive as an association, but focusing solely on money right now is insensitive and tone deaf. A phased approach to revenue generation is your best bet.

Start with empathy. Be a trusted resource for members in a time of crisis. Give things away for free if you have the means. Avoid overt sales pitches. Retaining your base and building a following now can ensure long-term loyalty that will turn into revenue later.

When things start to improve, you can be more aggressive with money-making initiatives, for example:

  • Simultaneous in-person and virtual events
  • Vendor-sponsored webinars or Twitter chats
  • Advertising (especially while webinar attendance is high)
  • Gated content for lead generation
  • Paid content or resources for direct revenue streams

3. Go virtual with your event

Transition your event to the virtual space so you can continually deliver value to your base, crisis or no crisis. Use these strategies to help you make the move:

Host smaller virtual events

Instead of transferring your entire multiday event online, consider breaking it into smaller sections, like webinars, livestream keynotes, and panel discussions. Many of your members simply don’t have time for a two- or three-day event. Smaller, bite-sized resources are more feasible, especially during a crisis.

Offer on-demand resources

On-demand webinars, information packets, resource libraries, or online portals can offer the same value as your in-person events with an added advantage: Each individual can choose when and how they want to engage with your association.

Build online communities

Your event gives like-minded people a place to belong. Foster meaningful online communities to maintain that camaraderie even when they can’t be together in person. Post open-ended questions to spark discussions. Share videos that showcase member success stories. Offer free downloads that solve pain points. Host virtual happy hours.

Be a conduit for connections

Your in-person event puts all your members, vendors, and industry leaders literally in the same room. While you can’t exactly do that virtually, your association can still connect the dots to help all your constituents get what they need. Job boards, Q&A forums, hotlines, virtual networking events, online marketplaces, and member portals can help people connect directly so they can learn, share, collaborate, and achieve their goals.

Offer insider deals

For many associations, the annual event is a place for special deals and discounts. Work with vendors and industry partners to make exclusive offers to your members and virtual event attendees. Offer free or discounted association membership to retain your base and ensure they will be around to make purchases from you down the road.

Replacing lost event revenue is a matter of identifying the high-value components of your association—the pieces that serve your members best—and repackaging them for easy, convenient consumption by the people who need them most. Focus on serving members and the revenue will follow.

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How to Track Ket Metrics to Make Better Strategic Decisions

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers

Key Performance Indicators for Event Marketers

Do you know if your event marketing is working?
Which promotions were the most successful?
Is your association reaching attendance, member acquisition, and retention goals?
Are you making real, quantifiable progress toward your mission?

Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are measurable values that show you how effectively your association is achieving key objectives. They can help you gauge what’s working and what’s not so you can make adjustments along the way. Tracking KPIs allows you to use real-time data to make smart decisions for your marketing and your long-term sustainability.


How to Use KPIs

KPIs can help your association focus on common goals and ensure those goals stay aligned within your association. The first step is to determine what your goals are. Next, choose KPIs for each one so you can measure progress. For example, associations who hold events often focus on improving lead generation, event registration, brand awareness, and member engagement. If we match each of these goals with KPIs, it might look something like this:


Best Practices for KPIs

How do you determine which metrics are meaningful for your organization? Effective KPIs align with the long-term mission of your organization, not just this year’s event. They should be measurable and have easily obtainable data that is reliable and accurate. Mostly importantly, they should be actionable, allowing you to make changes to your event, marketing, member offerings, and operations based on the actual needs and behaviors of your audience.

Be realistic when choosing your KPIs. If it’s expensive or difficult to monitor a KPI, then you likely won’t be able to track it over the long term. If your KPI is not clearly defined, you also won’t be able to extract meaningful data. If you can’t act on the information, there is little point in tracking it.


KPIs for Events

Effective KPIs for your event marketing and your event itself might include member acquisition and attendance numbers, social media traffic, or the number of people who requested follow-up information. The most insightful KPIs are dynamic. They consider multiple metrics within the context of your larger brand ecosystem. For example, you already measure event attendance. However, comparing the number of people who registered to the number of people who actually attended might identify a gap in your marketing. Looking at when all these individuals registered could lead to additional insights. (We’ll cover 12 common KPIs for event marketers in our next blog post.)


Track Your KPIs

Once you’ve established your goals and corresponding KPIs, you will need a way to track these with a real-time reporting tool. A software platform can help you manage KPIs from a simple dashboard. It can also help you track campaign performance, create reports, and make adjustments to your marketing to ensure your reach your goals. Plan to review KPIs with stakeholders on a weekly basis. Stay nimble, and be prepared to make changes based on what you learn.

Without established KPIs you can only guess at the effectiveness of your marketing and overall organizational strategy. With KPIs you can know definitively what’s working and what’s not based on quantifiable data. You’ll know exactly where to invest in your event and your organization to ensure long-term sustainability.

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Strategic Event Marketing is About Inspiring and Connecting Potential Attendees

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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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Increase Attendance and Find New Prospects with Personalized Marketing that Aligns with your Buying Cycle

How to Promote Your Event on Facebook (in just 5 simple steps)

How to Promote Your Event on Facebook

Facebook is the ideal platform for event marketers. You can use it to find new prospects and drive attendance among existing members. You can build excitement around your conference and inform attendees of speakers, special events, and exclusive offerings. In short, promoting your event on Facebook will get more people in your door AND those people will be primed and ready to engage. Thanks to smart customizations and audience targeting, you can deliver personalized marketing messages aligned with your buying cycle. Even if you’ve never tried online advertising before, these five steps will have you running effective campaigns in short order.


Step 1: Use Facebook Ads to retarget known users and find new prospects

Facebook Ads are a great way to reach your audience outside of email and direct mail. They offer efficient personalization not possible with these other channels. To get started, use the Power Editor. Consult Facebook’s library of tutorials, including videos, to help you take full advantage of all the platform’s features.

Once you get the hang of things, you can use Facebook Ads to align your communications with your buying cycle. For example, people who already registered for your event don’t need to see ads that ask them to register. Instead, you could show them an ad about your keynote speaker. You can introduce your organization and event people who don’t know who you are. You can also retarget visitors to your website or Facebook page, to reassure their interest and encourage them to register.


Step 2: Install the Facebook pixel on your website, create custom audiences

The Facebook pixel is a piece of code that helps you track and target visitors to your website. Don’t skip this step! The pixel makes laser-focused ad campaigns possible.

To install the Facebook pixel, log on to your Facebook page and navigate to the Ads Manager tab. Click the button that says “create pixel.” Once your pixel is generated, paste that snippet of code in the

tags on each page of your website—including any “thank you” pages that appear upon form submission.

Create custom audiences
Four types of custom audiences help you reach the people most likely to attend your event:
  1. Customer file—upload your existing email list, which Facebook will match to user profiles
  2. Website traffic—target people who have visited your website or specific pages (based on insights from the pixel)
  3. App activity—reach out to people who have taken specific actions on your app
  4. Engagement on Facebook—connect with people who have already interacted with you on FB

Use these audiences to craft highly personalized ads based on your buying cycle. You can also create lookalike audiences from your custom audiences. That means you can ask Facebook to find people with similar interests and behaviors who might be interested in your event. Lookalike audiences are a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to grow your base and drive attendance.

Custom conversions

A feature called “custom conversions” helps you target prospects who have already taken some action. That might be someone who signed up for your newsletter and was redirected to a “thank you” page (i.e. a conversion). You can optimize your ads for this conversion, so Facebook will show your ad to people most likely to convert again.


Step 3: Make a Facebook page for your event, or create an event through your main page

A special event page ensures that members and prospects focus directly on your event and its offerings—instead of getting distracted by other content. You can also create an official Facebook event from your main page for easy promotion.

For either option, follow these best practices:
  • Choose a high-quality photo in line with the rest of your branding
  • Use a clear, descriptive but short event name
  • Add specifics on location, date, and time
  • Include the ability to register (Facebook calls this “Buy Tickets”)
  • Add any FB page you manage as a co-host to expand who sees your event details. You can also add vendor and speaker pages so your event will appear on their calendars also.
  • Include keywords to help people find you
  • Write a brief description that explains the value of your event

Step 4: Create a content calendar

Plan your Facebook content to help you stay focused. Include a mix of blogs, images, videos, status updates, opinion polls, and a few outright promotional messages. Craft posts about individual speakers , workshops, or special events to get your fans excited. Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue and feedback. Post regularly for best results. Don’t forget that your Facebook presence is an extension of your brand, so your messaging, images, and offers should be consistent with the rest of your branding and marketing.


Step 5: Monitor and evaluate your efforts

Facebook offers infinite possibilities for customizing your messaging, images, offers, and formats. But none of that matters if you don’t track what works and what doesn’t. Use the platform’s reporting features to see how many people saw your ads, how many took action, and what actions they took. Edit or turn off ads that aren’t performing to your expectations. Consider increasing your budget on ads doing exceptionally well. Use what you learn about your audience’s likes and dislikes to adjust images, messaging, and offers going forward.


Don’t miss out on attendees and new members

If you’re not marketing your event on Facebook, quite simply, you’re missing out. Your members and prospects are already there, hanging out and hungry for engaging content and offers. Leverage this smart platform to reach your base, find new prospects, and drive event attendance.

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Engage more attendees and prospects with Facebook Canvas

Facebook Canvas is an immersive storytelling platform you can use to communicate with your base, drive event attendance, and build brand loyalty. It’s more than an ad; it’s an interactive marketing experience. Canvas is simple to set up, but before you start placing buttons and adding images you need a plan. It’s a good idea to outline your key points and basic story line first.

The look and feel of your Canvas should be in line with the rest of your branding. This is especially important if you’re also running Facebook ads. All your online branding should match so users recognize you no matter where they encounter your brand.


Customize your story

The possibilities for customizing your Canvas are endless. You can select a range of styles and colors using easy drag-and-drop tools. Available components include button, photo, text block, video, and header. These can all be used more than once throughout your Canvas. A good strategy is to include a mix of content, high-quality images, and video to engage your users. As with any effective marketing piece, don’t forget clear calls to action. Keep things short and to the point so you don’t lose your audience. A general rule is to include only one or two key points in each Canvas. You can always create more than one for your event.


Create a custom audience

Once your Canvas is complete, you should create a custom audience in Facebook for people who have opened and/or clicked on any links in your Canvas. This allows for precisely targeting these individuals based on their interests and behaviors later on. Canvas is exclusively a mobile platform. That means when you set up your Canvas you will need to select “mobile only” in the ad set process.


Ideas for associations

This exciting new medium has endless potential for marketers. It is especially well suited for associations. Consider using Canvas to promote the following:

  • Curated member stories, to inspire attendees
  • ROI Toolkit, to prove the value of your event
  • Membership, with a sign-up form at the end
  • Overall conference, with a call to register at the end

Canvas allows you to go beyond traditional advertising formats to truly engage your base with compelling stories and relevant offers. It also helps you track user behavior so you can more precisely focus your marketing efforts going forward.

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Remove Common Barriers to Event Attendance and Engagement

How to overcome event marketing challenges

How to overcome event marketing challenges

Attract younger members. Encourage repeat event attendance. Build passion and engagement among members. Change more lives. Every member organization faces these challenges and more when it comes to marketing for membership, attendance, and engagement. According to the Association Engagement Survey, most associations expect these challenges to continue. (A whopping 58% are pessimistic about the future of their events.)

Take a look at the survey results below that address common marketing challenges and the overall outlook for events. While it’s true these can seem like pretty daunting obstacles, everything’s not all doom and gloom. A fresh engagement marketing strategy can help you conquer these hurdles and keep your event growing and thriving.


Biggest Membership Marketing Challenges – Association Executive Quotes

Survey Question: What is your biggest membership marketing challenge?

Select responses from association executives:
  • “Attracting younger and more ethnically diverse members.”
  • “Continually demonstrating the value of an intangible product to potential buyers.”
  • “Conveying value of networking.”
  • “Engagement.”
  • “Finding prospects outside core membership.”
  • “Getting leadership to understand there are more pockets of potential members that represent different areas of the profession that have been overlooked in the past.”
  • “Knowing why people attend our meetings and figuring out how to attract new attendees.”
  • “Marketing to the youth.”
  • “Reaching members who are disengaged/transactional.”
  • “Redefining and persuasively communicating a robust membership value proposition.”
  • “Relevance and value proposition.”
  • “Retaining new/younger members and getting first time members to commit for more than just one year (those that join just to attend the annual meeting).”
  • “Retention after year two.”
  • “The right design to grab attention enough that a prospect is enticed enough to call about membership and review our programs.”
  • “Thinking of membership marketing as its own program.”

Biggest Audience Development and Attendance Marketing Challenges – Association Executive Quotes

Survey Question: What is your biggest event audience development and attendance marketing challenge?

Select responses from association executives:
  • “Convincing leadership to market/advertise outside of our in-house efforts.”
  • “Creating content that attracts a wide variety of attendees.”
  • “Engaging younger members to participate/attend.”
  • “Find out what their needs are and how we can improve our event.”
  • “Getting awareness of our events to people outside our membership.”
  • “Growing the audience and engagement.”
  • “Having so much for so many audiences and not being able to properly segment and target communications.”
  • “Having the time to implement a targeted marketing effort.”
  • “Helping people make the business case to attend.”
  • “Keeping them after the join as a result of attending a meeting. Engaging them with a local chapter and getting them to purchase other products/services.”
  • “Proper messaging — to register vs. once registered.”
  • “Reaching new audiences.”
  • “Understanding why people attend and figuring out how to get new attendees.”

The Growth Outlook is Mixed for Associations’ Largest Events

Survey Question: What do you see as the trend and outlook for large, leading association conventions, exhibitions, conferences, and other events in terms of growth and relevance?

Association executives disagree on the outlook for their largest events in terms of growth and relevance to their markets, although the majority are pessimistic. Consider that 39% say large association events are experiencing flat growth and have a stagnant outlook, and 19% say large events are getting smaller and are less relevant. On the other side, 28% have a positive outlook and say their largest events are growing. Lastly, 15% of the survey respondents are unsure about the outlook for growth and continued relevance.


How to conquer challenges

You might assume from these survey findings that events are losing relevance and fading away. But this is far from the truth. The real issue is that organizations aren’t proving the ROI of attending their events—and attendance and engagement suffer as a result.

Additional findings from the Association Engagement Survey indicate that many associations lack a clear acquisition and attendance marketing strategy—or they have a tired, worn-out strategy. Many ignore storytelling as a powerful engagement platform—even though it’s a proven winner. Other organizations know their value but lack a clear value proposition. These findings suggest that associations have plenty of opportunities to improve outcomes.

So what can you do? Let’s focus on that 28% of association executives who say their events are growing and thriving. These individuals prove that events can be successful. For your events to thrive, too, you need an effective engagement marketing strategy that demonstrates the value of your event. It starts with a clear value proposition. It also includes regular and relevant contact using compelling triggers and targets, curated member stories, and an authentic, human voice.

Overcoming challenges to improve attendance and engagement is well within your grasp. Contact us to get started crafting an engagement marketing strategy today.

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Drive Attendance and Engagement Using a Time-Testing Technique

Why event marketers need more storytelling

Why event marketers need more storytelling

Storytelling is a proven technique for sharing information, bringing people together, inspiring action, and exploring possibilities. Recently, neuroscientists have shed new light on this ancient platform. It turns out our brains engage more fully with stories than with information alone. We feel what the characters in the story feel—in both a tactile and emotional sense. This deep connection actually influences our behavior.

It only makes sense, then, that if you want to attract people to your event and encourage them to engage while they’re there, you should use storytelling. But, it turns out that many event marketers ignore this powerful marketing tool. The recent Association Engagement Survey reveals that only one-third of associations use storytelling in their event marketing. That means many are missing out on countless potential attendees as well as the contributions these individuals could make to their event and their mission.


Here’s the Storytelling Survey Questions and it’s Findings:

One-Third of Associations Use Storytelling as Part of Their Membership Marketing Approach

Survey Question: Does storytelling play a significant role in either your membership or event attendance marketing?

Thirty-three percent of associations say storytelling plays a significant role in their membership marketing, and 30% say they use this approach in their event attendance communications. Thirty-nine percent say they do not use any storytelling techniques currently.


Now, let’s switch gears slightly for a minute and consider this engagement question and its findings:

Event Attendees are Somewhat More Engaged than Many Association Members

Survey Questions: How would you rate your members’ engagement with your association overall on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 equal to the highest level of engagement? (And) How would you rate your attendees’ engagement with your association event on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 equal to the highest level of engagement?

The survey asked association executives to rate the level of their members’ and event attendees’ engagement on a 10-point scale. As the table shows, event attendees are considered to be more engaged. This makes sense as events often attract the most active members and important association management meetings are held in conjunction with the main programs.


How Storytelling and Engagement Work Together

Given the relatively low number of associations who use storytelling (about one-third), it’s not surprising that member engagement tends to be moderate to low and is only somewhat higher among event attendees. There’s room for improvement here! People need to be inspired to act, and one of the best ways to do that is through storytelling. Below is a sample story structure to get you started, along with some examples of where to use stories in your marketing.


Start Telling Stories

You likely won’t have any trouble getting those 8s, 9s, and 10s from the survey to attend your event and be engaged. However, most of your members and prospects will need some nudging to be inspired to attend and to be engaged while there. Your event marketing must prove that the value gained by attending is greater than the money, effort, and time it takes to get there. How can you do that? As the neuroscientists tell us, you can’t simply present a logical cost-benefit analysis. The numbers alone are just not inspiring or compelling enough to win over all those people rated a 5 and below. You need storytelling as part of a fresh engagement marketing strategy.

Begin with a compelling value proposition that proves the ROI of your event. Then collect curated member and attendee stories that demonstrate this value. Once you have stories, you can distribute them on the web, in email, on micro-sites, via digital marketing, and through direct mail to inspire and engage your base.

Need to increase attendance and engagement? Contact us today to add strategic storytelling to your marketing plan.

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Insights to Help you Bridge the Gap Between What you Want and What you Have

How Organizations Drive Membership and Attendance

How Organizations Drive Membership and Attendance

You’re probably investing significant time and resources to increase event attendance. Great! But are you also leveraging your event to increase overall membership? Do you know which areas of your conference and your marketing to enhance in order to drive attendance and member acquisition?

Rottman Creative recently partnered with Access Intelligence to find out how associations drive membership, event attendance, and engagement. The findings reveal a disconnect between what associations know about their attendees and how they use these insights to drive membership and attendance. Here’s a look at a few key findings we discovered:


Less than Half of Associations have a Clear Membership Acquisition Strategy

Survey Question: Do you feel your association has a clear membership acquisition and growth strategy?

Only 44% of association executives surveyed say their organization has a clear membership acquisition and growth strategy. And a similar percentage – 43% – say they do not have a strategy. The rest of the respondents are unsure if they have a clear strategy or not. The survey found similar segments of associations saying the same about their event attendance marketing approach: 46% say they have a clear event attendance marketing and growth strategy, 42% say they don’t have one at all, and 12% are unsure. These findings show many associations need to revisit their strategic plans. Many simply have their membership acquisition process on autopilot, following the same script year-after-year.


Most Associations are Missing Opportunities Tied to their Events to Increase Membership

Survey Question: Do you feel that your organization misses opportunities to increase membership related to your event attendance marketing and engagement? If Yes, please explain what’s missing:

Fifty-eight percent of association executives say their organization is missing opportunities to increase membership related to their event attendance marketing and engagement process. This is particularly an issue because one of the main goals of hosting events is to increase membership. Essentially over half of associations are saying a key aspect of their events is not effective, or at least would benefit from new strategies and approaches.

What’s missing? Here are select responses from association executives:
  • “Connection to membership value.”
  • “Focus is on attendance, not membership value.”
  • “Missed opportunity to promote association via social media, targeting a younger audience.”
  • “More targeted messaging to different demographics and groups.”
  • “No strategic plan. Staff resources limited.”
  • “We don’t have a complete marketing strategy.”
  • “We don’t use the most effective tool ‘word of mouth’ effectively.”
  • “We need to expand to a broader audience.”

Nearly 80% of Associations with Events Have a Good Understanding of Why Their Attendees Attend And What they Value

Survey Question: Does your organization have a good understanding of why attendees attend your events and what they most value?

Seventy-nine percent of associations with events say they understand their attendees’ motivations to participate in their events. This compares to 21% that do not have a good understanding of these motivations or say they are unsure.


Besides Growing Total Attendance, Associations use Events to Increase Membership

Survey Question: Which of the following best describe your overall attendance marketing goals for your largest, most important event?

It’s no surprise that most association events have a goal to increase attendance, but the other top goal is to use events to increase total association membership. Following these top two attendance marketing goals is to drive total exhibit-floor traffic and attendance numbers for exhibitors.


Enhance Educational Sessions is the Main Tactic to Achieve Attendance Marketing Goals

Survey Question: What has your organization been doing more recently specifically to reach event attendance goals?

To reach their attendance marketing goals, associations are mainly enhancing their educational sessions and providing more networking opportunities. The top three attendance marketing tactics found in the survey are: (1.) adding educational sessions, 57%; (2.) reviewing attendance marketing tactics and processes, 53%; (3.) adding networking opportunities, 51%.


What’s Next?

You likely have a good understanding of your audience and what they need and want. But if you find your organization among those without a clear strategy—or perhaps with a tired one on autopilot—it’s time to take action. It is tempting to add more educational sessions, different speakers, or more exhibitors. But first, let’s take a step back.

Members and prospects don’t want more stuff. They want measurable value. A savvy engagement marketing plan begins with an irresistible value proposition that proves the ROI of joining your organization and attending your event. Once you have a clear value proposition, you can build on it to drive membership and attendance with compelling engagement marketing.

Looking to increase event attendance and member acquisition? Contact us to help you develop a value proposition and a complete engagement marketing strategy.

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You Know your Event has Value, But Can you Prove It?

How to fuel attendance and engagement with an ROI Toolkit

How to fuel attendance and engagement with an ROI Toolkit

Attendees don’t buy products (a.k.a your event). They buy outcomes. They don’t really care what you have to offer. They care what’s in it for them. If you can’t prove the outcomes of attending your event, your marketing will have to work much harder to drive attendance. It will cost you more time and money to get people to register. You will also have a difficult time getting people to engage during your event—no matter how many great things you offer.

When you promote your event you’re asking people to spend their M.E.T. (Money, Effort, and Time) to attend. In exchange for these three valuable resources, your attendees expect another M.E.T. in return, something Meaningful, Eventful, and Thought-provoking. But you need to go further. You need to quantify these ideas to show an actual return on investment.

Imagine if you could tell prospects, “Attendees on average see a $3000 increase in sales after they put our ideas to work.” Or maybe it’s, “Attendees save an average of $5000 on products and freight thanks to show-only discounts.” These real outcomes would be powerful reasons to register for your event—and to be engaged while there. An Attendee ROI Toolkit can help you craft a strong value proposition like these that proves the value of your conference and encourages attendance and engagement.


How much ROI is enough?

On average, your attendees should realize a return on investment between 3:1 and 5:1. That means if they spend $1000 in travel, lodging, and registration, they should see $3000 to $5000 in return.

Depending on your organization and your event, ROI might take one or more of these forms:

  • increased customer acquisition
  • boost in sales
  • efficiencies gained
  • costly mistakes avoided
  • deals closed
  • product or freight discounts
  • connections created or nurtured
  • free or discounted coaching, tools, or information products
  • free or discounted continuing education credits and certifications

While there will always be immeasurable benefits of attending your event, many of the items above are quantifiable. A little research will tell you how much consulting and seminars cost compared to your event offerings. Check in with vendors to see what show-only discounts they’re offering. Find out how much continuing education credits cost from other sources. Add up the monetary value of free tools and resources. All these data points will help you create a no-brainer value proposition to include in your toolkit: Attending our event will make/save you X in money, effort, and time.


How to assemble the ROI toolkit

You can further demonstrate your event’s value by asking prospects a series of questions that get to the heart of their unique situations. Start by walking them through their event-related expenses, from registration to travel, lodging, and food. Create a simple worksheet with a grand total at the bottom. This is your number to beat.

Demonstrating value is the more difficult portion of the toolkit. In fact, many conferences that already have an ROI toolkit fall short of showing actual value based on real data. You need to be so convincing that only a fool would say no. Stick to hard numbers whenever possible. And avoid silly or trivial items, such as “Free cocktail reception, $50 value.” Employers don’t send attendees to conferences for free booze.

Here are a few value-based questions to get your prospects thinking:

Connections
  • Who will you meet with at the conference?
  • Are there relationships you can initiate or cultivate?
  • Is there business you can close?

Challenges
  • What challenges are you trying to solve?
  • What resources does this event provide that will solve these challenges?
  • How much would you spend on these solutions (trainings, consultation, info products etc.) from other sources?

Opportunities
  • Does the conference offer discounts you plan to take advantage of? List the approximate savings if known.
  • Are there other opportunities in the conference city that you can leverage while you’re there (ex: site visits, client meetings, etc.)?
  • What resources does this event offer that you can’t get anywhere else?

These questions will help prospects (and their employers) see the tangible and intangible benefits of attending your event. To encourage repeat attendance, you might consider surveying past attendees to show actual ROI. Here are a few example queries:

  • How much did you save thanks to product discounts at the conference?
  • How much did you save on freight at the conference?
  • Did you receive any free tools or resources? What is their approximate value?
  • Did you notice an increase in sales after you implemented ideas from the event? How much?
  • Did the connections you made save you from making costly mistakes? How much did you save?
  • ex: switching service providers based on the recommendation of a colleague saved me $100/month.

Have attendees or prospects fill out the toolkit online. That way, you’ll not only convince them to attend in a convenient survey-style format; you’ll also gain a huge amount of information. From there you can craft strategic engagement marketing that will prove the measurable ROI of your event and its Meaningful, Eventful, and Thought-provoking value.

Benefits this year and next

As an added bonus, an ROI toolkit helps attendees come to your event primed and ready to engage. Since they’ve already anticipated what your event offers and how they will benefit, attendees are more likely to connect, learn, and engage. As a result, they are more likely to see maximum value from your conference AND register again next year.

Need an Attendee ROI Toolkit? We can help! Contact us to learn how you can ask the right questions to create an ROI toolkit that drives attendance and engagement.

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Prove the ROI of Attending your Event to Drive Attendance and Engagement over the Long Term

Why Your Event Needs a Value Proposition

Why Your Event Needs a Value Proposition

Let’s face it. Attending your event is expensive. There’s travel, lodging, and registration costs plus time away from the office. Even if your event is really great, people might not attend because the costs are just too high.

You know your event offers so much value—so much education, career-advancing certifications, connection, and inspiration—that people would be foolish not to attend. Yet your numbers aren’t what they should be, and the people who do attend aren’t fully engaged. There’s a disconnect between the value you offer and the attendance and engagement you see.

So what’s an organization to do? You need to prove that the ROI of attending your event is higher than the cost. You need a value proposition to close the attendance and engagement gaps.

What a value proposition is

A good value proposition solves problems for your members and prospects. It overcomes impositions. It clearly illustrates the benefits of your event. A thoughtful value proposition that speaks to audience pain points sets you apart from competitors. It doesn’t “tell” why you’re better. It “shows” why you’re better using concrete data points.


What a value proposition is NOT

Don’t confuse a value proposition with a tagline, slogan, brand mark or conference theme. While these feel-good items can help you brand and market your event, they don’t show value or ROI. Similarly, a “Why Attend” letter that summarizes benefits and conference offerings is not a value proposition. This piece might come close to addressing your value, but chances are it lists too many “things” like sessions and networking opportunities. These things are not compelling enough to offset the costs of attending. You need more value.


Elements of a value proposition

If all this sounds a bit daunting it’s because you’re starting to see just how important a value proposition is to the success of your event—and to the sustainability of your organization. But don’t worry.

There are only three main elements to a good value proposition:
  1. Advantage statement. Concisely state how people will benefit from attending your event. Be specific. If you have hard data, such as improved sales, money saved, and customers gained after attending, your value prop will be that much more compelling.
  2. Substance claim. Tell people what you have to offer, to whom, and why. This will reinforce your value to members and quality prospects. At the same time it will weed out people who aren’t a good fit.
  3. Hero image. The human brain processes images better than text. Create a unique visualization of your advantage statement to grab attention and encourage action.

Thought-provoking questions

To cover all the elements above, you have to ask the right questions. There is no substitute for knowing your target audience.

Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
  • What are attendees trying to get done at their jobs?
  • What obstacles keep them from getting it done?
  • What do you offer that will remove their obstacles or alleviate pain points?
  • What gains or benefits will they achieve by attending your event?

The answers to these questions will not only improve the way you market your event. They will also help you provide a valuable event experience that meets audience needs, solves their problems, and removes obstacles to their success. In other words, they will help you deliver on the promises in your marketing and fuel engagement at your event.


Have you M.E.T. me?

Your members and prospects spend Money, Time, and Effort to attend your conference, and they expect to see real value in return.

As you begin to craft your value proposition, consider these three questions your audience might have:
  1. Money: Does the value I gain exceed my out-of-pocket costs of attending?
  2. Effort: Is it worth the effort of leaving the office and traveling cross-country?
  3. Time: If I show up and be present, will I be rewarded for my time?

If your conference value proposition does not answer these three questions with a resounding YES, then who will attend your event and engage with your organization? If you can’t demonstrate in your marketing that your event has measurable ROI, then people won’t come. If they do come, they won’t be present and engaged.


How to gauge engagement: The phone check

Your event attendance and member engagement are directly related to your ability to demonstrate your event’s value. Look around the conference floor at your next event. If you see too many people on their phones, it means they’re not engaged with you. Instead, they’re engaged with their technology. They are not present, and they won’t retain any of the information your events provides.

People engaged with their phones can’t see the value in your event (even though they were compelled to register and attend). You’ll have a hard time convincing these people to give up their money, effort, and time to attend next year. Your event—and your organization itself—will not be sustainable if people aren’t engaged. Your value proposition is the place to begin remedying this situation.


Need a value prop? We can help!

Rottman Creative has developed a series of questions to identify your audience needs and how your event will meet them. Once you answer the questions, we can help you develop a value proposition to prove the ROI of attending. Contact us today to get started.

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7 Strategies for Improved Engagement and 7 Bonus Tips

How to Use Engagement Marketing in Your Emails to Drive Event Attendance

How to Use Engagement Marketing in Your Emails to Drive Event Attendance

Email marketing represents a big opportunity to drive event attendance and encourage engagement. As a platform for communication, it remains king across all generations. The recent Association Audience & Member Engagement Study shows that 56% or more of Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and Matures prefer email over any other channel. If you’re getting just ho hum results from your email, you’re missing out. Here are seven proven strategies to improve your email marketing to get attention, drive event attendance, and build lasting engagement.


1. Relevant Messaging

Effective messaging has only one specific trigger and one target per email. Triggers include your products, events, and special offers. Targets are whatever you want your members to do, like register for an event or make a purchase. Choose triggers and targets based on what you know about your audience and where they are in the buying cycle. Avoid blasting your audience with too many offers at once because people will get lost in the clutter and won’t take any action. Mastering triggers and targets drives acquisition, retention, attendance, and engagement.

2. Distinct Brand Voice

Developing a distinct and unique brand voice is essential to effective engagement marketing, in your emails and across all your platforms. Try a conversational, human tone to best reach members. It should be authentic and approachable. From there, neuroscience tell us that stories inspire more than facts. Consider adding curated attendee stories to your engagement marketing mix.

3. Free Resources

A little extra insight goes a long way when it comes to email marketing. We use www.subjectline.com to test the effectiveness of email subject lines before hitting send. We also use World Data’s B2B and B2C Email Marketing Calendar to identify top performing dates as well as the poor performing ones to avoid. For instance, the calendar suggests you should avoid sending promotional emails on Mondays and Fridays, when readership tends to be low.

4. Email Marketing Automation and Email Service Provider (ESP)

The Association Audience & Member Engagement Study shows that 72% of event marketers see email marketing automation as either extremely important or very important. However, many fall short in using automation to its full potential to generate, track, and score leads. Seize this huge opportunity by investing in improved email automation. (We’ll show you how!) Additionally, if you aren’t already using an email service provider—start today. An ESP can help you create, schedule, personalize, and track your campaigns more effectively than your in-house email system. It can also send a larger volume.


5. High-Quality List

Without a high-quality list, even the best marketers will see poor email results. Take a look at the date contacts were added to your list, the size of your list, and the number of opens and clicks. You could be experiencing poor deliverability if your email addresses are very old or if contacts haven’t opened one of your messages in six months or more.

If your list is too small, you might also be falling short of your full potential. To increase your email list, consider purchasing a list from a trusted provider. The best lists, however, are those you create yourself using one of these methods:

  • create lookalike audiences within Facebook and target ads to them
  • encourage current subscribers to share with friends and colleagues
  • offer freebies such as an e-book, whitepaper and webinars on your website in exchange for email addresses

When building your list, keep in mind that it is always easier to engage someone who already knows about you or is interested in what your organization offers. Think about it: It’s easier to sell salad dressing to someone who already eats salad!


6. Segmentation

Creating smaller, specific lists from your larger database is a proven best practice for more effective marketing. Segmentation allows you to send relevant messages to different audience members depending on their unique situations. You could segment based on any number of factors, but here are a few ideas relevant to event marketers:

  • last year’s attendees
  • members who have never attended
  • lapsed attendees (members who attended in years past but haven’t attended recently)

Once you establish your segments, you should tailor the language of your message to appeal to each segment.


7. Optimal Structure

Images, graphics, and a responsive layout can affect open and click-through rates—which are directly related to member engagement, brand loyalty, and event attendance. It’s a good strategy to start with a white background and a one-column format for your content area. Add compelling images to draw attention, and embed videos for increased engagement. Consider creating a standard masthead for your event to connect the dots among messages. For a more effective call to action, use graphics instead of hyperlinks.

No matter the content, it is absolutely essential that you create an adaptive and responsive email for a range of technology outlets. This will ensure that your message is powerful and professional whether a prospect views it on a desktop, phone, or tablet.

When done well, engagement marketing means connecting in relevant, meaningful, interesting ways with audiences who want to hear from you. If you can pull this off (and you can!) everything changes.* Not only will attendance and membership increase but members will be more engaged. People will put down their phones, they’ll be truly present, they’ll connect meaningfully with like-minded colleagues, and together they’ll dig in to make things happen for your organization. Your email marketing is a key component in driving this deep engagement before and during your event and all year long.

Footnote:
“Engagement Marketing 101 (Redux)”, Marketing Daily, April 18, 2012

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Why you Need to Measure your Level of Inspiration

Inspiration Assessment Drives Member Engagement and Attendance

Inspiration Assessment Drives Member Engagement and Attendance

The perfect scenario for your organization: Your event attendance and membership are at all-time highs. Attendees are engaged and eager to connect. You’ve broken the cycle of acquisition and retention. Your members are so passionate about your mission that they tell others about your organization. You’re growing sustainably and changing more lives than ever…

Not there yet? That’s okay! You are not alone. Most associations with events are challenged to increase attendance and engagement.

Chances are your members and prospects are engaged on some level. But how much? Is it enough to sustain your organization into the future? And how might you move closer to this perfect scenario from wherever you are right now?

Our proprietary Engagement Assessment will ask you questions to help you rank your event’s performance.


The Engagement Assessment

It turns out, engagement is a knowable and measurable thing. We’ve developed an Engagement Assessment specifically for member organizations that regularly hold member events. Why do you need engagement? So you can improve attendance, build more excitement around your event, and drive stronger membership acquisition and retention. These targeted questions will help you identify your association’s score on the Engagement Scale.

Once the Engagement Assessment reveals your current level of engagement, you can better judge which areas of your marketing you most need to strengthen. No matter where you’re starting, we have resources to help you create a strategic engagement marketing plan that’s focused on outcomes.


Where Are You Right Now?

If you’re lost on the highway, you can’t head in the right direction until you know exactly where you are. The Engagement Assessment can help you find out where you are in terms of engaging and inspiring your membership. It subdivides the engagement-generating capabilities of your event category by category to identify your pain points and get you on the path to solving your most pressing issues. The assessment is completely free. If you need assistance from there, we can help you create a roadmap to get you where you want to be. Heck, we’ll even put gas in the car. C’mon. Get in! Let’s go find engagement.

Take the Engagement Assessment

Click here to take the free Engagement Assessment. You’ll have it finished in less time than it takes you to get a coffee at Starbucks. Based on your score, you’ll gain access to resources that can help you inspire your members, break the acquisition and retention cycle, and build lasting engagement. If your score reveals there’s room for improvement, just imagine the possibilities! If your score suggests that your association is strong and your members are highly engaged, you can build on that to sustain your organization for the next generation.

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How to Build Loyalty, Drive Event Attendance, and Further Your Mission

Motivation vs. Inspiration

Motivation vs. Inspiration

The words motivation and inspiration are often used interchangeably to mean “something that makes someone want to do something,” (seriously, that’s Webster’s definition). At Rottman Creative, we think there are important differences between these ideas. You need inspiration—not motivation—to drive event attendance, inspire brand attachment, and reinforce high-quality connections (1).


Motivation

Motivation involves an external force nudging someone to take action. It’s often a short-term state of being, and the end result is a given objective. For example, you might be motivated to lose a few pounds because your pants are too tight. Your members might be motivated to attend your event because they need continuing education credits to keep doing their jobs.

The trouble with motivation is that when the nudging stops, so does the action. Once your pants fit, you abandon your diet. Once your members get their CCE credits, they stop attending your event. They aren’t called to work toward your mission or advocate for your organization. They get some “stuff” and then they go away.


Inspiration

Inspiration, on the other hand, involves being called from within to a higher purpose. It’s often long lasting, and the end result is personal fulfillment. Compared to our pants example, you might be inspired instead to adopt healthy habits so you can live longer. Your members might be inspired to go from attendee to presenter or mentor.

Inspiration is a win-win: Members get things that improve their businesses and their lives at the same time they work toward fulfilling your mission and improving the lives of others. This scenario is far more powerful and beneficial over the long term than simply selling a one-time certification or workshop.


How to Inspire

For your organization, inspiration is better than motivation because it opens members to new possibilities, enables goal attainment, and fosters long-term brand loyalty and advocacy. In more practical terms, members who are inspired go beyond simply paying dues or showing up for your event. They set aside their phones, engage in mutual idea-sharing, actively participate, and tell others about it in person or through social media.

Inspired members strengthen and sustain your organization. Here’s what you can do to move from motivation to inspiration:

Tell Stories

Success stories inspire because they show us what’s possible. Sharing a past attendee story demonstrates to your other members that they can achieve similar growth, success, connectivity, etc. (Brain research supports this idea that stories, not facts, move people.)

For your organization, tap into the experiences of past attendees whose lives have been impacted by your event. Did they make a connection that skyrocketed their success? Did they solve a particular challenge by attending your conference? Broadcast these stories before, during, and after your event to foster inspiration on a brain-deep level. Read more about the power of storytelling.


Communicate Regularly

Even pilgrims go to church on Sundays. While inspiration comes from within, your members will still need to be kept aware of special offers, annual events, and any important accomplishments of your organization. Stay in touch throughout the year with a mix of marketing tactics: Newsletters, promotional emails, direct mailings, and sharable content can encourage action and advocacy.


Foster Brand Attachment

We know that emotions—not facts—drive most decisions. When members are emotionally invested in your organization they attend repeatedly, tell others, serve on committees, and achieve milestones. Research tells us that brand attachment is the single most important indicator of whether a person will buy a brand. Read more on how to create brand attachment.


Encourage Connectivity

When your members feel connected, they are compelled to attend your event year after year—not because they need a certification but because they might miss out on valuable interactions with their friends and colleagues. Planned/forced networking doesn’t necessarily lead to high-quality connections that inspire your members. Sometimes the most meaningful connections happen over coffee or in the hallways between sessions.

Consider how you might encourage connectivity through unscripted networking at your event. Lounge areas with comfortable seating, an outing offsite, an ice cream social, a photo booth, or a game night are just a few ideas.


Motivated members might pay dues and even register for an event. But after they get what they want, these tourists will be gone and you will be back on the acquisition and retention rollercoaster. Inspired members, however, are compelled from within to help your organization achieve goals and pursue new horizons. They spread the word about the great work you do. They feel fulfilled while they actively work to fulfill your mission. Maybe your organization can survive on motivation, but it can’t thrive without inspiration.

(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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TO MOVE MEMBERS FROM AN INSPIRED STATE TO TAKING ACTION, YOU NEED A TRIGGER AND A TARGET.

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.


INSPIRATION NEEDS A TRIGGER.

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.)

SET CLEAR TARGETS.

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.


ATTRACT PILGRIMS, NOT TOURISTS.

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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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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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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We Need to Belong

Tap into the Power of Human Connectivity to Attract Long-Term Members

In their book The Blue Zones, authors Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified regions of the world where people live exceptionally long lives, many over 100 years. Not only are people living longer in these regions; they have fewer illnesses and enjoy more quality years of life. Once the authors narrowed down these “longevity hotspots”—from Japan to California—they looked for common characteristics that contributed to people’s long lives. They discovered just six key factors, one which was social engagement.


Hardwired to Connect

From our early origins, human beings have been herd animals, wandering in groups before eventually creating settlements and cities. Congregating kept us safe from predators, starvation, and the elements. Even with these ancient pressures long gone, we still feel the need to gather today—in churches, in stadiums, in book clubs, at sci-fi conventions, and in member organizations. We need to belong. And, according to the The Blue Zones, we’re better for it.

Among many benefits, including health and happiness, being part of a group makes us feel secure and more likely to show our true colors, thus facilitating even deeper, more meaningful connections with others. Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown put it this way: “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”


Belonging Hypothesis

Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary developed a “belonging hypothesis” that suggests humans are hardwired to form bonds and are reluctant to break them. That means once you hook a member, you’re likely to keep them. The psychologists also pointed out that people prefer a few close relationships rather than many casual friendships. You must prove your value to members or they won’t have room for you in their circle.


Baumeister and Leary suggest two criteria for developing a sense of belonging:
  1. frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals
  2. engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern

Note that frequency alone isn’t enough to draw people in. Interaction with your members must be positive, and you must exhibit stability and genuine concern for their interests (not just furthering your own). If you’re pumping out regular e-blasts without considering the needs of your base, people won’t feel connected to you. They won’t let you in their loop and they won’t join yours.


Inspiring Connectivity

Our need to belong and connect is one reason member organizations exist. You offer security, support, and concern for people who are looking for those same things. People thrive in groups—but not just any group. That’s where inspiration comes in. Tell your stories, resonate with audience worldviews, draw people to you, and you’ll build positive, beneficial connections that last for years and years.

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TAP INTO EMOTIONS TO FILL MORE SEATS We've discussed in the past just how powerful emotions are when it comes to making decisions. Figuring out the emotional reasons people attend your events can help you market more effectively and fill even more seats. While fear and greed are the two most common emotional triggers in marketing, there are dozens of other emotions you can use to move your audience to action. Below are a few examples of emotions your members might be feeling. Imagine how you can use these to craft more effective messaging and promotions: Fear and Insecurity Members are worried they'll miss out on key information that could help them be more successful at their jobs and, by extension, their lives. They're also worried that "everyone will be there" so they should be, too, or risk missing out on key insights and experiences that could help them in the future. Vanity and Exclusivity Members want to hobnob with the leaders in their field. Your annual conference is often a who's who of your industry. The conference might be the only time members get face time with these luminaries. Then they can go back to work and tell everyone whom they met and what they learned from such an exclusive opportunity. Pride and Passion Certain members are your cheerleaders. They love your association and are proud to be part of it. They feel connected. They want to connect with other tribe members to forge new connections, renew existing relationships, participate in the conversation, and generally support your association. They would miss your annual conference like they would miss their daughter's wedding. Security, Confidence, and Value Members know your conference is the source of the latest information, trends, techniques, research, and thought leadership. They also know that if they attend, they too will know the latest information, trends, techniques etc. and they will be better at what they do because of it. Greed Your conference has the goods, and your members want the goods. These might include exclusive information from panel speakers, access to industry partners on the showroom floor, and irresistible giveaways and incentives. Members appreciate that what you offer enhances their lives, so they attend your conference to get more of a good thing. More Emotional Triggers to Consider >optimism >pessimism >embarrassment >revenge >stickin' it to the man >complacence >love >envy >desperation >benevolence >boredom >sadness >wit >shyness >whimsy >guilt >disgust >patriotism >anger Get to know your audience. What keeps them up at night? If fear isn't a strong emotion your audience members experience, don't use fear in your next postcard or email campaign. If you know that the majority of conference goers are repeat attendees, use pride and passion to your advantage. It's okay to promote your expertise, but it's much more powerful to sell your attendees on how your expertise will solve their problems and enhance their lives. Homing in on a primary emotional trigger means your marketing efforts will resonate with your members, connect with them "where they live" emotionally, and move them to book a seat.

We’ve discussed in the past just how powerful emotions are when it comes to making decisions. Figuring out the emotional reasons people attend your events can help you market more effectively and fill even more seats. While fear and greed are the two most common emotional triggers in marketing, there are dozens of other emotions you can use to move your audience to action.

Below are a few examples of emotions your members might be feeling. Imagine how you can use these to craft more effective messaging and promotions:

Fear and Insecurity

Members are worried they’ll miss out on key information that could help them be more successful at their jobs and, by extension, their lives. They’re also worried that “everyone will be there” so they should be, too, or risk missing out on key insights and experiences that could help them in the future.


Vanity and Exclusivity

Members want to hobnob with the leaders in their field. Your annual conference is often a who’s who of your industry. The conference might be the only time members get face time with these luminaries. Then they can go back to work and tell everyone whom they met and what they learned from such an exclusive opportunity.


Pride and Passion

Certain members are your cheerleaders. They love your association and are proud to be part of it. They feel connected. They want to connect with other tribe members to forge new connections, renew existing relationships, participate in the conversation, and generally support your association. They would miss your annual conference like they would miss their daughter’s wedding.


Security, Confidence, and Value

Members know your conference is the source of the latest information, trends, techniques, research, and thought leadership. They also know that if they attend, they too will know the latest information, trends, techniques etc. and they will be better at what they do because of it.


Greed

Your conference has the goods, and your members want the goods. These might include exclusive information from panel speakers, access to industry partners on the showroom floor, and irresistible giveaways and incentives. Members appreciate that what you offer enhances their lives, so they attend your conference to get more of a good thing.


More Emotional Triggers to Consider

  • optimism
  • pessimism
  • embarrassment
  • revenge
  • stickin’ it to the man
  • complacence
  • love
  • envy
  • desperation
  • benevolence
  • boredom
  • sadness
  • wit
  • shyness
  • whimsy
  • guilt
  • disgust
  • patriotism
  • anger

Get to know your audience. What keeps them up at night? If fear isn’t a strong emotion your audience members experience, don’t use fear in your next postcard or email campaign. If you know that the majority of conference goers are repeat attendees, use pride and passion to your advantage.

It’s okay to promote your expertise, but it’s much more powerful to sell your attendees on how your expertise will solve their problems and enhance their lives.

Homing in on a primary emotional trigger means your marketing efforts will resonate with your members, connect with them “where they live” emotionally, and move them to book a seat.

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Hashtags, Likes, Shares and the Empty Seats
Let’s start with an idea that you know is true, but may stress you out to think about nonetheless. It’s this:

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A POWERFUL MARKETING TOOL FOR YOUR EVENT.

If you’ve read anything about social media, heard any story about it on the radio, or generally not been living under a rock, inside a cave, or on a deserted island, you know this is true.

But we’re beyond it being true. What we want to address is the “powerful” part. Because that’s where we have something to add to the conversation—something we see that many organizations still aren’t grasping. Social media isn’t powerful just because it’s a giant microphone. The power doesn’t even come from the fact that these are billion dollar platforms with social reach unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s not the platforms themselves that are the source of the power.

The source of the power comes from the inherent desire baked into all forms of social media, and that is the desire for human connection. That’s why social media has taken off: because people inherently want to connect to other people.

If you can work social media through the lens of connection, it will feel more natural, take on a stronger purpose, and ultimately, be a lot more fun for your association.

In case you’re not sold yet, here’s one more truth: there are too many options and ways to spend time today. The existence of your association is not nearly enough.

It won’t survive or thrive if it’s not a vehicle for connecting people.

In fact, if you want to be sustainable for the future, you need a system that doesn’t just help you connect with people, but also helps empower those people to reach out and keep making more connections.

How handy that social media exists. Honestly, it came right in time for your organization.


Clusters are Out: Micro is In

The age of social media represents a fundamental change in where power is clustered.

A better way to say it is that social media has “unclustered” power. No longer do large corporations and brands hold all the cards. We’re entering an age when individuals, especially individuals working together, can do what only big brands and corporations used to be able to do, like influence.

Your members, supporters, and fans have more power than you.

That’s not something to be feared. Rather, it’s a tremendous opportunity—if you use it effectively.

Let’s talk quickly about how NOT to use social media. First, it’s not a dumping ground for existing content. It’s also not a place to make endless sales pitches. And it’s definitely not a rinse-and-repeat, one-size-fits-all operation.

The advice we used to give (that we were passing on from the social media experts) was to pick one platform and do it well. That’s not really enough anymore. It’s not that you have to tackle every single platform out there. But you do need to develop a consistent social media voice across your platforms, and then share your best stuff, tailored to fit what that platform is truly about.

We love the advice from Gary Vaynerchuk in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: “Stop thinking about your content as content. Think about it, rather, as micro-content—tiny, unique nuggets of information, humor, commentary, or inspiration that you reimagine every day, even every hour, as you respond to today’s culture, conversations, and current events in real time in a platform’s native language and format.”

In other words, if you are only using social media for an endless series of updates and calls to action, pushing your Facebook feed through to Twitter, or pinning images of your own brand to Pinterest, you’re missing the opportunity.

Addressing the nuances of every platform is more than we can tackle in this space. But we’d like to share a few tips about the social media platforms we know that associations are using most.


Twitter: Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me . . .

We’ll start with Twitter, because it seems to be the preferred platform for many associations.

We suspect it’s because Twitter is safe. It’s fairly easy to spin out Tweet after Tweet as tangible evidence that you are doing something regular on social media: Look, we’re Tweeting! We’re telling everyone about our event!

The problem is, with so many people talking, there is a big listening problem on Twitter. Even the most robust feed doesn’t translate into engagement if you’re not actually engaging.

This is because Twitter is less about the content itself, and more about coming up with unique takes on what’s going on—not just in your industry, but the trends at large, from world news to pop culture.

For associations, this is a great opportunity to add relevancy, engage directly with followers about the stuff they care about, and show that you have a distinct voice and place in their world.

How can you do that? First, always pay attention to what’s “trending.” Instead of Tweets that are just links to your association’s latest blog post or early-bird rate offer, pull from what’s trending and find ways to offer your own fresh take. Sometimes it’s directly related to your association. Other times, only tangentially. But that’s sort of the point. It’s a conversation, and not every Tweet is the zinger. Build interest through engagement and insight. And only then should you bother to promote anything.


Facebook: I Like You; Do You Like Me?

What Facebook has on its side is mass appeal.

But more and more, that appeal isn’t coming for free as Facebook is transforming itself into a paid advertising platform. The first thing to understand is that you probably will have to pay to be seen on Facebook now. But anyone can tell you that. Let’s talk about how to craft the right kind of Facebook posts worthy of sponsoring.

If Twitter is your take on the conversation, Facebook is the love fest of sharing: a picture-based storytelling platform. It’s visual stories, with bright, interesting, and real color commentary.

It is not:
  • Links with poor context.
  • Things that should really just be Tweets.
  • Beauty shots of your product or spreads from your magazine.

At the root, Facebook is being part of the community in a deeper way; it’s about cultivating friendships through sharing.

Most importantly for associations: it’s about exposing the human side and showing a piece of who you are.

That starts with compelling images that show something real. Something interesting. For example, one of our association clients usually gets 15 or so likes for Facebook posts. When they posted pictures of staff wearing Halloween costumes, they got 150 likes. Does that translate directly into more seats being filled at their event? No, but it’s part of a relationship-building process that does translate into that. More likes means more visibility, which can lead to more engagement, which leads back to more visibility. But it all comes from being real.

Large, good quality images that show the people-side of what your association and event is about: that’s what Facebook is for. And think carefully about the status update that goes with it. Remember your social media voice, and always offer interesting, funny, or informative commentary, with a link.


Pinterest: The Middle School Locker

This all-visual platform is a great chance to connect to your members’ and supporters’ aspirations and interests.

Pinterest is less about your brand, and more about creating a vision board around what your organization is about. It’s a chance to have fun (yes, fun is allowed). For example, perhaps you know that a lot of networking at your event happens on the coffee breaks in between sessions. You might create an entire board around the idea of “coffee breaks”: beautiful images of coffee, interesting quotes about coffee, strange collections of coffee cups . . . you get the idea.

Pinterest is all about the re-pin (which keeps original image links in tact). This means you don’t need to necessarily spend a lot of time creating your own images. Just make sure to tag your images with interesting and relevant hashtags. And, like Twitter, offer your take on the image and provide context.


Instagram: Life, Only Better

Instagram is similar to Pinterest in that it’s 100 percent visual. There is a realness about Instagram—even through the filters—that Pinterest sometimes lacks, because it’s about photography and slices of life, versus aspirational ideas.Instagram has the quality of an old-time print campaign. If Pinterest deals in products and ideas, Instagram deals in moments.

And that’s where associations can really capitalize—because events are full of Instagram-worthy moments.

In our view, Instagram will only grow in popularity, because it is so easy to story tell, and to invite others in to story tell with you (through the hash tag). Instead of the thumbs up for like, Instagram uses the heart: click it and you fill the empty heart. If that’s not a metaphor for what associations need to do, then we don’t know what is!


LinkedIn: Calling All Thought Leaders!

In Jab, Jab, Jab, Vaynerchuk says that if Facebook is the dining room where we entertain, then LinkedIn is the library, where we go for resources and to get deals done. Associations have already embraced LinkedIn, but not necessarily for what LinkedIn is becoming, which is a place where thought leaders gather and share ideas.

It’s no longer just job seekers and networking and group discussions. LinkedIn is bringing back the idea of long form copy, and they’ve been working hard to encourage content creation. Both trade and consumer brands are embracing LinkedIn (we heard an executive from Coca-Cola recently talking about all of the traction they are gaining for their Journey magazine by using LinkedIn). Take a look at what LinkedIn is doing (if you haven’t yet), because it’s an emerging opportunity for associations.

The channels of social media each represent opportunity. We know that many of them are already part of your marketing plans. Move the effort from repurposing your content and hitting your followers with an endless stream of offers and updates to creating quality micro content, meant to engage without asking anything in return.

When you approach social media that way – as a means of talk to your people in the very ways they are self-selecting – you’ll find they listen much better.

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A Golden Triangle of Conference Marketing

We propose a Golden Triangle of Conference Marketing: WHY is in the center. And your Brand is at the top, with your Strategic Plan and Conference on either side. Your brand, your strategic plan, and the essence of the conference are all elements of HOW you do what you do. Outside the triangle lies the WHAT stuff: the deliverables, like social media, apps, the registration brochures, e-newsletters, save-the-date, report to members, and other tangibles.

But all of it must start with WHY your association exists. And it all must be aligned. However, we find that it hardly ever is. For example, if a key driver of your strategic plan is to elicit member feedback, but you only look at the composite scores on surveys and don’t take the time to read the comments, WHAT you’re doing isn’t aligned with HOW you say you are doing it (and the WHY is usually lost altogether).

We can break this down one step further for your conference: WHY is still the foundation and the WHAT things are still the deliverables, but HOW becomes the conference theme. A conference theme that starts with WHY is inspired by the very belief that holds the association together—not by the location or the venue or the time of year. Instead of a clever pun that could work for any association in any given year, your conference theme should spring from something deeper and more fundamental. Your conference theme can become like a rallying cry… or it can be yet one more empty promise. The conference theme holds tremendous potential. But so often, it’s wasted.

We hope you find these tips inspiring for your next conference, and until next time keep a look out for clue #2!

-The Lone Marketer

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Learn Why You Should Market Your Event Like a Product Launch

Take a moment and picture your favorite group of members in your head. You know, the “go-to” group. The ones who are are involved and highly engaged. The ones who always give you feedback and come to your annual conference without even being asked. You love this group—as well you should. Be grateful for them. But here’s the un-pretty reality: they represent a huge hurdle for your association. Their eagerness and tendency to show up no matter what is keeping you too comfortable in your marketing.

Because in the new frontier of association event marketing, there is no norm. It’s not about assuming like-mindedness. It’s about embracing and understanding the dis-similarity of your membership. It’s about understanding the fact that your members are disparate people, with lives and problems and jobs and Saturday morning sporting events and bills to pay and arguments with significant others and dreams they’re trying to chase. It’s about getting that what holds them together is they are looking for a life-changing moment. An event that will be a game changer. Your association has that power. It’s why you exist.

But you aren’t reaching them because you’re focused on the eager 30 percent who always show up. It’s time to start talking to the other 70 percent who desperately need you, and design visually-based marketing campaigns that inspire them to want to come to your event.

Because the ability to inspire people is what will transform your association from same-old, same-old with a fast approaching expiration date to a sustainable organization with the ability to change lives.


Do You Sense a Theme Here?

Marketing a conference is almost exactly like launching a product. So, the first thing you need to enlist for a product launch is empathy, or being intimately connected to what your customers need (in the case of associations, your members). And then it’s a matter of focusing on what they need. Most associations do a good job with these first two things. It’s the part where you show people what you’ve come up with for them where it’s falling short. Early Apple investor and former CEO Mike Markkula said:

People DO judge a book by its cover…
We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod.”

Mike Markkula

Just as with a product launch, marketing your event is all about “packaging”—which is the story you’re wrapping your promotions in. Associations have this tendency to believe that their audience is so “niche,” that they forget to care about story. It’s easy to start thinking it just has to be “professional” and inform the unaware. But that’s where the empathy falters a bit. Because your members DO need to be inspired. They’re not just a niche. They are people with imaginations. People whose lives are waiting to be changed. And your conference can do that. But you have to present in that way.

You have to start by being clear on the difference the event makes for people. And then, you need a way to communicate it and visually portray that belief. You need a clear “HOW.” For a conference, that HOW is the conference theme.

But hold on, because this is where the disconnect happens. A theme isn’t just a nice-sounding phrase, recycled and repurposed year after year. Rather, it’s a verbal and visual statement about possibility, about what can happen at the event, and about the ways in which lives can be changed.

A conference theme is a living thing: the idea and the visuals should sprout and grow together.

Your theme and the brandmark you design around it MUST inspire wonder and excitement and anticipation. Sounds lofty, right? Well, it better be. It better be absolutely fantastic! And it better look fantastic on the page and screen. Because if your theme isn’t right, the whole thing falls apart. From what we’ve seen, a majority of the themes out there aren’t right.

Products aren’t just thrown out there, with the assumption that the right people will buy it. They are given careful thought, unveiled in a strategic way, around a central theme that’s been carefully chosen. You have to do the same for your event.

For example, for their 2013 event, we created the theme for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), “From Ordinary to Extraordinary.” We built a strong photographic and graphic treatment around it, used it to craft a targeted direct mail campaign, dripped an email campaign around it, and let it inform every single visual we used (including the short video we created for the event). We incorporated it in the campaign messaging and content strategy. Their attendance wound up with a 15 percent bump when all was said and done. Of course, the campaign was more than just a great theme. But the theme is what the campaign was built around. It was the glue that held it together. The thing that continually inspired their base. The clear HOW.


Good Design is Good Business

Our roots are in design, so we’re biased on this. But we’re also right. Good design is good business. It’s a promise of quality. It builds trust, amplifies your brand, impacts members’ experiences (and the way they remember the experiences), and changes members’ behavior (by inspiring them to act). You can create the best programming in the world and bring in a roster of top-notch speakers. But if your visuals don’t support content, don’t resonate with people, and aren’t powerful, nobody is going to think the event is powerful. In other words, bad design is bad business.

Too often we see associations forsaking design for the method of communication. They choose the way they are going to communicate and engage (email, social media, etc.) without taking time to create a design strategy that supports their message. Platforms alone don’t create emotional connection. Even Pinterest—one of the most visual platforms—doesn’t create connection on its own. The visions of life, via the Pinboards people pull together to inspire themselves and others, are what make emotional connections happen: you could do this; you could travel here; you can learn this; you can have this in your life.

Visuals you connect with don’t just create little moments: they create movements. And that’s what your event needs to be: a movement on a larger scale. Not just an event made up of some good moments.


So, how do you tap into this visual world to promote your event?

As we said above,

Step one is to have a killer theme that you can build a visual world around.
Step two, you need to think about how to balance your content with your visuals.

We believe in visual email campaigns. Of course the substance matters: you have important things to say. But if it’s too text heavy and the visuals are just an afterthought, we guarantee that for the majority of people (the 70 percent who don’t just automatically show up), your conference will also be an afterthought.



Third, harness the power of video.

But edited video.

Five-minute videos about why your association is great are just self-indulgent. And hardly anyone is going to watch them. Why do you think TV commercials are 30 to 60 seconds? The first thing people do with a You Tube video is look to see the time: they are looking for videos three minutes and under (under two minutes is even better). For that same ASTRA event, we created a promotional video that was under two minutes short and graphic. It was the campaign’s biggest hit, and they got an increased number of registrations from it. There are plenty of examples of great video, based around a central theme. Two of our favorites are Back to the Start and The Scarecrow videos by Chipotle.


Fourth, think more critically about the content of your magazine.

We know from reading surveys that an association’s magazine is often one of main reasons a person joins. But to reiterate: that doesn’t mean you’re dealing with a like-minded bunch. Your members/readers are not just a herd of sheep that will follow blindly to your event. You have to woo them with powerful visuals. Your magazine absolutely has to have inspiring and visually-driven content that promotes the conference. We recommend a six- to eight-page spread that also has case studies wrapped in it. It should run at least one month before Early Bird.


Finally, think about ways you can “unveil” your conference.

What can you borrow from successful product launches? Find ways to highlight pieces of the event, by visually representing them. Use your theme in creative ways. And always, always, always wrap everything you do in strong visuals. If you’re not sure if your visuals are strong, we’ll be glad to take a look for you. We have no problem telling the truth.

That favorite group of yours? They’ll be there. They’ll keep coming. But they can’t sustain you, and you know it. It’s really the other battle that will make your numbers. And that fight is only going to get more difficult. The only way to win it is to design yourself to victory.

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The Importance of Event Design

Let’s face it; design matters. Marty Neumeier, the Director of Transformation for Liquid Agency states that “the most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box” which is what Michaela O’Connor Abrams emphasizes in her speech at the 2013 Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum. In years past, events typically followed the standard norm; a big show room filled with vendors that had attendees walking up and down the rows. How is this appealing to your audience? How does your event stand out from others? To put it simply, it doesn’t. In the article, “Why Event Design Matters” the author sums up why design is a critical aspect in making your attendee’s overall experience worthwhile.

Imagine walking down the street and stopping into a restaurant or store you’ve never been to before. The atmosphere is your first impression; despite the products you have or the food you serve, people aren’t going to embrace it if they aren’t impressed by the overall character of your place. Take this into consideration when planning an event for your association. Every little detail matters!

The first steps of event planning begin with marketing (i.e. social media and direct mail) then bringing your event to life which includes the atmosphere, the entertainment, the food, the venue; the impression you make on your attendee is valuable.

Where do you think your first impression is made? Your marketing. You need to design a strategies that will help engage members and prospects so that they will be inspired to act. Your customized strategy will need to include comprehensive plans for email marketing, direct mail marketing, and social media marketing. Your marketing pieces should contain innovative design and strong story-based copywriting.

So, when you sit down to plan your next event, remember to think about your attendees and the design that is going to make your event noteworthy.

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For Tangible Results, Try Doing Something Tangible

You need to be doing direct mail.

We tried very hard to find a stealthier way into this statement. But it’s such a point of contention and confusion that we just have to come out and say it, in no uncertain terms, as unequivocally as possible: Direct mail is a necessity of conference marketing.

We know this because across every industry and meeting size, the associations that meet their numbers are the ones who are doing direct mail. Yes, there was a mass exodus from printed marketing pieces a few years ago, fed by a perfect storm of recession, mobile app proliferation, and social media. But the associations who have kept direct mail in the mix are the ones having the most success with their events.

If these few paragraphs were all it took to convince you, we’d be thrilled! But we see you shaking your head in disagreement. Direct mail in 2013? Really?

Yes, really. But let’s get it all out on the table. All of the reasons you disagree and don’t want to invest in direct mail in 2013.


1. Because no one cares about print anymore.

This is one of those statements that people like to utter with a hint of nostalgia in their voice and pair with a sad headshake. Oh, the doom and gloom of a modern world that no longer values print! It’s a really compelling story. The only problem is that it isn’t true.

In fact, as a culture, we value print more than ever: precisely because when there are so many other options (less expensive options at that), creating a tangible piece of printed material is a much more conscious decision.

However, the scarcity of print doesn’t automatically mean that everything being printed is actually good. Lots of printed pieces are still crap. But, if your piece is well-designed, inspiring, and interesting, that combination of good + tangible automatically builds esteem and credibility in your members’ eyes—as in, “Wow, they must really care about this: they put it on paper!”

It’s not something terribly logical. It’s like trying to describe why you would ever want to go to the zoo to hear the lions roar versus just watching them on TV. It’s about realness.

And when you print something, it becomes real.

It comes out from behind the screen and jumps into your hands, connecting with the part of the brain that processes emotion and gut decisions. Like the decision to register for a conference.

We would never deny that in the modern world, people care about different things than they used to. But don’t tell us they don’t care about print. We’ve seen with our own eyes that the opposite is true.


2. Because it’s too expensive.

Yes, print is more expensive than email. We can’t argue our way out of that one. We know your budgets have been slashed. But here is an important fact to weigh when you’re designing your conference marketing budget: Direct mail gets a greater response than email.

We’ll repeat that one more time, because it’s not a typo. Direct mail gets a greater response than email. Now, email has a stronger return-on-investment, precisely because it is relatively inexpensive. But time and time again, when associations need to bring in the numbers, they send out print. A great example: one of our clients, National Staff Development Council was having trouble meeting their attendance goals, despite using all of the other tactics we recommend. Once we designed a compelling direct mail campaign for them, they easily met their numbers. This is a rinse-and-repeat story: it happens over and over again. When associations are struggling to meet their numbers and they hit their audience with strategic direct mail, they wind up meeting their goal.

Yes, direct mail is an investment. We can’t pretend it’s not. But it’s an investment that works.


3. Because it doesn’t work anyway

Did you read what we just said?

But we will concede that on its own, it may not work. And if it’s not done well, it definitely won’t work. But when you use direct mail strategically—that is, as part of a comprehensive campaign that also includes email marketing and social media—and you create graphic- and story-driven pieces that engage and inspire, and you segment and time the pieces properly, it works beautifully.

Basically, direct mail is the opportunity right in front of you that you’re missing.

Are you ready to do something about it?


Two Ways to Make Direct Mail Work

We recommend choosing one of two approaches—both of which work extremely well.


Plan A: Highlights Mailer + Registration Brochure

The first approach is to pair event highlights with a well-designed registration brochure. We’ve written quite a lot about the kind of registration brochure you need to be doing. So let’s focus on what this highlights mailer needs to be about.

Timing: Drop the event highlights mailer when registration is open, and the registration brochure in the weeks before the Early Bird deadline.

Content: A highlights piece should be exactly that: the most captivating highlights of the event, based on what your members tell you they care about most. Networking is almost always the number one reason people cite for coming to events, followed by learning. Your printed piece needs to have those things jump off the page, with bold design and high quality photography (not grainy images of people sitting around a table in a poorly lit ballroom). The session highlights you feature should make an emotional connection with your members. You need to both show them why they should care, and also tell them.

Design: This is not simply a save-the-date postcard—or a postcard at all. This is a folded, smartly-designed piece, with graphic elements that tie not just to the event brandmark, but also to the overarching “WHY” behind what your association is about. For example, we did a highlights piece for our client, The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) —whose “WHY” is around the idea of leading through play. We used fun images of kids playing and learning and wove in graphic elements like bubbles. We laid it out in such a way that all of the messages—even the “Schedule-at-a-Glance”—tied back to the kids and the overarching reason.

Segmentation: It’s possible that you need to create two (or more) different pieces, especially if you have two (or more) distinct audiences you’re reaching. You’re not re-inventing the design each time—just tweaking. For example, if your session events are grouped by track, you might create a mailer to highlight each track. The more directly you are talking to your members in this piece, the better. Forcing the highlights into a one-size-fits-all piece sometimes has the effect of not saying anything at all. Take the time to be strategic and segment.


Plan B: Case Studies Mailers

The alternate approach (and one we love) is to craft three direct mail pieces around three personal stories from members. We call these “case study” mailers. You’re basically building a case study—based around member testimonials—for why the event matters.

Timing: Start dropping the pieces one a month, about three months before the event. Tie the pieces to your specific offers, such as Early Bird, hotel deadlines, giveaways, webinars, or other special offers.

Content: The only way to build a successful case study is to mine your members (survey feedback is the logical place to start) and do a series of in-depth interviews with a handful of them to really get at WHY they come to the event and the difference it makes. Choose three stories that build on each other: they’re not saying exactly the same thing, but they all tie into why the event matters. Include good quality headshots of each member. There are various stylistic choices you can make (first person versus third person), but the key is to make sure the pieces are written in the voice of the event. And definitely use your email campaign to reiterate and retell the stories.

Design: As with the highlights mailer, this should be a top-notch piece. The design should match the voice, whether it’s playful, urgent, bold, or charming. Your design must get at the heart of why your event matters to people. When we design case study mailers, we take time to really brand them. For example, we did a series of case study mailers for the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) where we focused on interviewing people at one member organization and telling their stories of why the event mattered. We branded the case study mailers all around this idea of why the event matters, and used the design to reinforce it. (And yes, they got their numbers.)

Segmentation: Different stories will resonate with different people. It’s not just about tracks. For example, stories from first-time attendees might be the exact thing that members who have never attended need to hear. On the other hand, members who are deciding whether to return to the event might make a stronger emotional connection with stories of members who have attended multiple conferences. Think carefully about the stories various segments of your audience will identify with.

Yes, many of your peers may have run away from direct mail. That only makes your opportunity that much stronger. Go back and take a look, and then ruminate on this: tangibility will set you apart. Tangibility will build connection. And tangibility will help you bring in the numbers.

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Making Email Marketing Work for Your Event

In the winter of 1971, a guy by the name of Ray Tomlinson did something really ordinary that would, in time, revolutionize the way we communicate: he sent the very first email message. Ray was a computer engineer at a contractor for the U.S. Defense Department. One of those brainy guys working on some of the very early Internet stuff, he did some fancy playing around with the existing technology, and figured out a way to send messages between two machines. In various interviews, Ray talks about how his first messages were just nonsense strings of letters, totally forgettable. He was only testing the technology, he says; he didn’t know he should have had a Neil Armstrong “one small step” comment at the ready.

It’s been 42 years since that first message, and email has changed our lives. But what hasn’t changed is the forgettable factor: emails are all too often forgettable, opened and discarded (or unopened and discarded) in a matter of seconds. Most of us get an average of 100 emails a day: that adds up to more than 36,000 emails a year. In all of this noise and traffic, what is going to make someone stop, read, and—most importantly—ACT?

Inevitably, stories about email have a section where they bemoan the pace of modern life. That’s a total waste of time, so we’re not doing it. Because our culture isn’t the problem. Your forgettable emails are the problem. And the truth is that in today’s world, the disease of forgettability will cost your association more money than all of your other woes combined.


Making Email Marketing Work for Your Event

The really great news is that email is actually a terrific way for associations to market events. Unlike spam or unsolicited emails, you are abiding by the first rule of email marketing: get permission first. You have the permission of your members to communicate with them.

Permission is a powerful thing to have on your side. But it’s not enough. You also have to do it right—because email marketing only works when you do it right. We make it work for our clients by following the Think-Say-Show process: strategy that starts by answering why this whole thing matters, archetype-based messaging that talks to members about the things they care about, and inspiring graphics that paint a picture they have to be part of.

But that’s the view from above. We’re going to walk you through some specifics: things you need to start doing TODAY to see better results from your email marketing for your conference. First, we’ll talk about what has to be true ALL of the time. Then, we’ll offer six ideas around how to create email content that inspires members to ACT. And finally, we’ll address what six things you need to do to get members to OPEN your emails.


First, let’s talk about what has to be true all of the time.

Email Marketing for Events Golden Rule:
Every single email message you send out to promote your conference must have a consistent, branded look. Every. Single. One.

There are three reasons for this:
  1. Consistency builds trust and credibility: your members will take seriously what you say if they keep seeing it presented in the same way.
  2. Of those thousands of emails we get every year, we are much more likely to open and engage with the ones we recognize.
  3. The third reason is really the key: A branded look is what allows you to build the story of your event, week by week. Your email campaign needs a graphic and verbal life of its own—separate from the other regular communication that you send out to members (like monthly updates).

We’ll talk more specifics about how to brand your emails in the next two sections.


SIX IDEAS FOR IMPROVING YOUR EMAIL CONTENT

1. Use a customized, well-designed email template that incorporates your brandmark.

Text-based emails inform: they do not inspire.

Your email template is your chance to paint a captivating visual of what the event is about. It MUST incorporate the brandmark and theme (that’s part of that stand-alone branded look we outlined in The Golden Rule). You also need a smartly-designed sidebar, with calls-to-action designed as graphic icons. Choosing (and then customizing) the right template is perhaps the single-most important design decision your association will make regarding the conference email marketing.


2. Segment your storytelling.

The same stories don’t appeal to everyone, because not everyone cares about the same thing.

For example, in a campaign we built for The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), we realized that the headmasters of boarding schools came to the event for different reasons than the faculty and staff—so, we created a segmented email campaign. We also segmented based on members who had never attended and members who had attended. This allowed us to help TABS tweak the messages in very specific ways.


3. Speak in a voice that will make members listen.

One of the things we specialize in is helping associations hone in on the voice they need to use to inspire their members to register. As we said in last month’s article, discerning your archetype is a key stepping stone in your marketing plan—and it’s what you’ll use to create the branded voice. For example, we determined The American Specialty Toy Retailer’s Association (ASTRA) member archetype is that of a caregiver. Their members believe that nurturing a child’s love of play can change kids’ lives. It’s what drives them at their core. So, we created a voice that is nurturing, caring, cheerful, optimistic, and playful. We used the conference theme, “From Ordinary to Extraordinary” to develop the stories. And we worked with ASTRA to keep the voice consistent across all event email communication. When you talk to your members in a voice designed specifically for them, it forges an emotional connection.


4. Build unique offers into the campaign.

Offers include things like Early Bird specials, webinars, hotel discounts, giveaways (from iPads to free hotel stays), ebooks, and other special promotional things.

And definitely use videos to entice people to click on your offers. Videos should be short (one or two minutes, tops). You can take two approaches: motion-graphic based videos (highly graphic and fun), or testimonial videos (where members or speakers talk about the benefits of the event). Videos not only break up text-heavy emails, people also love to watch and share them. As for how to present your offers: craft at least one specific email for each offer, and then keep them in front of your members for the duration of the offer using graphic icons in the sidebar.


5. Always remember to answer: “What’s in it for me?”

The most successful email campaigns are the ones that consistently make emotional connections with members.

For example, it’s not just about telling your members about who the keynote speaker is: it’s about showing them why they should care, and telling them the story of how it might change their life. A great strategy is to build your campaign around member testimonials. For example, for The American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) email campaign, we interviewed three senior staffers of a long-time member organization, and told their stories of why the conference mattered to them through a series of three emails. We’ve said it many times before: your event is about people. So, channel people. Not facts.


6. Include calls to action

In each email you send, you want to have a specific call to action.

Tell members exactly what you want them to do: “Register by April 15th to claim the special rate!”; “Don’t miss the chance to win a free iPad: Register in the next two days!”; “Claim your spot in this valuable webinar and register today!” Make sure to include a call-to-action in the body of your email, and in your sidebar.


SIX WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR EMAIL OPEN RATES

1. Get the frequency right.

You can structure your email marketing campaign one of two ways. Either start marketing via email six months out, and send emails three times a month. Or, start the emails three months out and send them twice a week. Pick your strategy, and stay with it—throughout the entire campaign.


2. Don’t be afraid to send more emails (if they are good emails).

Associations are sometimes leery of sending too many emails, feeling like they are “bothering” members. We have two challenges to this notion. First, the data doesn’t support it. It shows that the rate of unsubscriptions is the same whether or not you only send one monthly email or two to three emails a week. That’s why we recommend two branded event emails a week. And then, bundle all of your other association updates into one weekly digest.

The second reason we challenge this idea of “bothering” is that you are in the business of changing lives (as we talked about in last month’s article). You can’t change people’s lives if you don’t communicate with them. But you also won’t change their lives with bad emails. Send smart, well-designed, inspiring emails about your event on a regular basis, and lives will be changed.


3. Craft better subject lines.

We often suggest doing A/B testing (send out one subject line to one group and a different to another group—all things being equal—and then see which one gets a better response). But before you go to the trouble, try simply writing better subject lines. Preferably ones with a “what’s in it for me?” statement. Ones that inspire, intrigue, and tell stories—versus simply informing. The exception: the “registration is now open” email: this email usually gets the highest click-through rate and drives the most registrations. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel on this one.


4. Be deliberate in your timing.

People read more emails in the morning than the afternoon, and the earlier, the better. The best open rate is actually between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Monday and Friday are terrible days to send emails (Monday is the highest “unsubscribe” day). Tuesday is slightly better; Wednesday and Thursday have shown to be best. Do you have to be a slave to what the stats say? Of course not—especially if you know your members very well. But it’s definitely good to understand the trends.


5. Keep emails mobile friendly.

People tend to read about half of their emails. And of the ones they do read, about 88 percent of them are read on mobile device (smart phone or tablet). Your email template MUST be mobile-friendly.


6. Inspire confidence in your members that they can anticipate something better than the ordinary.

People will open your emails if they know they are good. No matter what the data says about which day of the week or what time to send, if you craft really, really great emails, people will open them. If they know they can expect exciting offers and creative storytelling, they will open them.

Email marketing is one of your best tools for telling the story of your event.

But you have to use it the right way. Otherwise, it will get eaten alive by the forgettability bug. But don’t panic yet—the antidote is readily available: Send better emails. Starting now.

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Conference Marketing in 2013: The Space You Don't See

From the time I started school, I knew something wasn’t right with the blackboard. Or books. Or spelling words. What my eyes were seeing and what I knew they were supposed to see weren’t the same thing. And it was a big problem. In middle school, I actually had a teacher who wouldn’t let me go out to recess until I finished correctly copying word-for-word what was on the board.

But I never got it right, and I often missed recess altogether. Because the a’s and the e’s were always backwards, and the words constantly jumped around. There was a name for it, even back then: dyslexia. To cope, I just discovered ways to see differently.

That’s why I got into typography. Typography is basically the way “type” is arranged so that you can read language. We think about fonts and size, but the key to typography is space. Specifically, the space between the letters themselves (called “kerning”) and the space between lines (called “leading”).

My eye could immediately pick out those spaces in between, and I intuitively got it. In this way, my “inability” to see what everyone else was seeing became one of the great blessings of my life. Because it allowed me to see that the space in between is the space of possibility. This is the key message we at Rottman Creative need to share with you in 2013, because all of the other space has been swallowed up by tight budgets and competition from the virtual world. The space in between is all that’s left for your conference. And it’s in that space where we see something that you probably don’t. We see that you are in the business of changing people’s lives.


You’re Not Just a Marketer; You’re a Life-Changer

Joining an association is a very conscious decision. People join to connect, and to better themselves in some way: to be better leaders, better employees, better business owners, better advocates, better service providers, better parents, better friends. Better humans. This is one of the coolest messages in the world. But not all organizations are actively thinking it, saying it, or showing it.

It’s not that you’re not marketing. According to the 2012 Meetings Marketing Benchmarking Report, 97 percent of you say you come up with your own marketing plan and have your own marketing people. What the survey didn’t reveal—but what we know—is that those marketing plans are rinsed and repeated every year, with updated dates, locations, and themes.

We also know that for most organizations, email is the primary way you communicate with your base. But instead of gems of inspiration, these emails are usually just more noise in the world, stocked with facts: this keynote, that session, this workshop… All of this adds up to only 20 percent of members attending your events. That’s one-fifth. A small bite. Much less than it could be. Too many lives not getting changed. So, what’s stopping you from getting 50 percent or more? In relying on facts rather than emotional connection, you are missing the opportunity to inspire the base.

What’s really stopping you from greatness is that you’re not telling the story of how your conference changes lives. And there is a pretty good chance that you’re not even seeing this. Not yet, that is.

We are going to tackle inspiring organizations this year in a way we never have before. Because we literally can’t take it anymore: What your association is doing is too important. The lives you are changing matter too much. Twenty percent isn’t good enough.


The Stepping Stones to Inspiration

Let’s start with the idea that you are in charge of changing the bulk of your members’ lives. Not 20 percent. But the bulk. Instead of an idea lost in the cracks, let’s make it the only thing you see. Your members need your conference more than anything. They want it. They must have it.

In fact, let’s make that idea the first stepping stone.


Stepping Stone #1
BELIEVE THAT YOUR JOB IS TO CHANGE LIVES

How do you get from where you are now (20 percent) to changing the bulk of your members’ lives?

The first answer is a marketing plan. A real one. (As in, not the one from last year.)

You need to develop an integrated marketing plan that will close the gap between the excitement of what really goes on at the conference, and the way you market it.

Your emails are excellent at informing people of WHAT the conference is. But what’s lacking is WHY (“because this will change your life!”). As we’ve said, ultimately, it’s about inspiring your base, and telling them the verbal and visual stories they will connect with.

But first, you need to know who your members are and how they behave. Which leads us to the second step:


Stepping Stone #2
RUN YOUR DIAGNOSTICS

Think of this as looking under the hood. Gather the most up-to-date facts about your membership base (keeping in mind that it’s probably changed in the past few years). That means looking at surveys, demographics, member feedback, and open rates for emails (including which ones get the highest and lowest).

Get a clear picture of who your typical member is and how they behave. Once you know that, you can start to plot their story along the continuum of stories that have been with humanity since the beginning of time.


Stepping Stone #3
IDENTIFY YOUR ARCHETYPES

Archetypes are personality types or stories that show up over and over again, across all cultures. Think about the stories of humanity: the hero who triumphs, the rebel who challenges, the lover who casts a spell, the trickster who teaches a lesson. We connect to and intuitively get these and other stories, because we live them over and over again. Your association actually evokes an archetype: your brand is linked to one or more of the archetypes—and so are your members.

To really inspire your base—and to know how to market specifically to the different segments of members—you need to know your brand archetype, as well as the archetypes of your people. We’ve done a lot of work in this area (one great resource is Archetypes in Branding), and we’ve seen how when an association takes time to discern their archetypes, they connect to their members in a new way. They connect because they have a much clearer picture of what they’re about, and what their people are about. Figuring out your archetype map helps take the mystery out of this storytelling you need to do that we keep talking about— because (maybe for the first time) you know what stories will resonate.

In short, archetypes help you know how to talk to your people. That’s where the next step comes in.


Stepping Stone #4
DEVELOP YOUR VOICE

People don’t know that you’re talking to them if you don’t actually talk to them. And the way your people recognize that you’re talking to them is through voice. If your logo or conference brandmark is your visual signature, your voice is your verbal signature—and without it, there is no compelling reason to listen to your message, to take action, or to share it with others. We see far too many voiceless marketing campaigns: generic information, lacking context, personality, or specificity.

A strong brand voice demands attention. It creates instant recognition, and—most importantly—inspires your people by talking authentically and directly to them about the stuff they care about. The visual and the voice—your graphics and your copy—have to work together. They have to both come from the same place of inspiration, and archetype-driven messaging.

Nothing about how you communicate to your members should be haphazard. That includes what you offer them. Which leads us to the fifth stepping stone.


Stepping Stone #5
LEVERAGE YOUR OFFERS

So, what do you have to offer members? Literally, what is the stuff you’ve got? Remember, the first stepping stone is that your job is to change lives. You can’t do that if people don’t register. But they’re not going to register until they see a piece of what you have. Stop looking at this as a catch-22, and just start sharing what you have.

Be generous, and be strategic. What events/promotions/discounts can you tie to registration? We’re not just talking about hotel discounts and room blocks. But giveaways. Information sharing. Community-building activities. What thought leaders in your industry can you tap to provide value-added things for your members?

However, your offers won’t be effective if you don’t understand (and account for) registration timing. And that’s the final building step.


Stepping Stone #6:
WORK WITH THE TIMING

Knowing when and how to make your offers is an art to itself. Registration occurs along a bell curve, peaking around the early bird deadline. Increasingly, we’re seeing higher rates of late registration, and we believe that early bird registration numbers will begin to drop off. The next generation moves faster, and often decides last minute. You have to know their patterns, and what will move them at any given time.

You also need to understand how to integrate all of your marketing, so that one is reinforcing the other: social media posts highlighting the key points of emails, emails reinforcing the direct mail pieces, and direct mail pieces dropping at strategic times.

In fact, your marketing plan should be a comprehensive picture of how Email Marketing, Direct Mail Marketing, and Social Media Marketing will work together to tell the same story. Fear not, those are the topics for our next three newsletters. But it’s no use moving forward until you’ve walked the path along your stepping stones: belief that you change lives, diagnostics, archetypes, voice, offers, and timing.

You can think of this focus on stepping stones as stepping back. Or stepping up. We think of it as stepping in-between, to see what you do and how you do it in a totally new way.

Because the space in between is rich. You just have to start looking.

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Balance & Timing: The Athletics of Event Marketing

You’re an athlete in the arena of event marketing. What skills will you see?

We admit it: we are raving sports fans.

Yeah, the rehashing of scores and bad plays and personalities on the field, court, and course is fun. But if you’re like us, that’s not the stuff that drives you to keep watching, week after week.

Sure, you might be jealous of athletes’ 7-figure contracts and endorsements, but what you truly admire is their talent and ability to flat out move—against the odds, and against Newton’s laws. Athletic movement captivates us with its raw flow of balance and timing. The way it comes together is symphonic: the guy who runs 90+ yards at full speed, dodging madmen with the instinct to kill all the way; the triple play that squashes the other team’s 9th inning rally; the series of flips and twists perfectly landed on a tiny strip of nothing.

We’re drawn to these physical expressions of balance and timing because we covet these two qualities in our lives—in all ways imaginable, from not falling on our rear ends in the snow, to knowing how to deliver a punch line, to juggling a career and a family. We’re all students of balance and timing. And we watch athletes because they show us what happens when it all comes together.

So, when we launch a marketing campaign that lacks both balance and timing, why are we so surprised when the fumble, fall, or foul derails our efforts? Why are we so in love with expressions of careful balance and good timing, yet we forget to translate them into the work we do that matters?


Eggs, a Basket, and a Bad Ending

What we’ve been noticing lately is that many associations have terrible balance. Specifically, when they have an over-reliance on one particular marketing mode—such as email marketing, social media, direct mail, or on-site apps—their attendance numbers become volatile. When all efforts are clustered around one thing, the event turnout is much more likely to fluctuate when something goes awry (because the state of everything is to go awry at some point).

On the other hand, when associations position the core of what they’re about solidly in the center, and then spread their marketing efforts across a balance of activities—each one built on the other—they are much more likely to get the attendance numbers they want (even through hitches, glitches, and twitches).

The kind of balance we’re talking about is born of abundance and proactivity. The running back with explosive legs and a single-minded determination who’s got five different strategies for plowing through. It’s about knowing exactly why your association exists and the difference you are making—and then skillfully guiding your people through the three stages of the buying cycle: (1) informing the unaware, (2) inspiring the interested, and (3) reassuring the intent.

We wish one basket were enough. But it’s so not. Not today.

Why Email Alone Isn’t Enough

How many emails do you get every day? We send you this one, in hopes that you’ll click through. But we’d never invest everything in that, because we’ve seen the industry numbers. Most professionals get more than 200 emails a day. Sure, it raises the odds of the email being opened when it comes from a trusted source (like your association), but it doesn’t buy you that much in the end. Maybe an extra second.

As for the open rate: this is only a measure of who has viewed your email. It doesn’t mean they’ve engaged with it. And it certainly doesn’t mean they’ve clicked-through. For most marketers, the click-through rate is a fraction of the open rate (think of the difference between “hits” and “unique viewers” on your web site). If only a small fraction of your people click through, your marketing breaks down around the very first stage of the buying cycle: informing the unaware. Unaware people aren’t inspired. Unaware and uninspired people don’t register for your event.

The first step is to create stronger emails. We have a few suggestions:
  • Create a story around networking, and lead with it in your content, since the majority of attendees come there for networking.
  • Spam-proof your subject lines, while still keeping them engaging and interesting.
  • If you do top 10 or top 5 lists, keeping NEC in mind: that’s networking, education, and certification. Any list of reasons to attend has to touch all three areas.
  • Remember that branding matters. Your event will be judged by its marketing, including the emails. That means creating branded, well-thought out emails with a recognizable look and feel. To be clear: a bunch of words on the page is a bunch of words on the page; it’s not a look and feel.
  • Include calls to action, but not too many (a confused brain shuts down). Include no more than three action steps in your email.
  • Consider the time of day your email gets delivered. Stay away from Mondays and Fridays, and choose either 10 a.m., noon, or 4 p.m., based on what you know of your membership base.
  • Consider using testimonials. Someone else touting the benefits of attending is more powerful than you touting them.
  • Remember that venue alone does not inspire. Ditch the cityscape photos and think a little more strategically about images and your brand.

The second step is to stop relying on email alone. In fact, to stop relying on any one thing to do everything you need.

Nothing Alone is Enough

We can look at social media and direct mail in much the same way: if a person isn’t engaged with that medium, you haven’t reached them. It’s not that you’ve failed to inspire them (yet). They haven’t even looked at you.

Oh, but wait, you say: we have an app! Hey, we love apps. We just wrote about them. We’ve got a killer one that drives registration in development. But that’s not the kind of app we’re talking about, and we know it’s not what you’re talking about. You’re thinking your onsite app is the ticket, right? Surely, that will inform the unaware?

Sadly, no. Because no one downloads the conference app until the plane ride or the morning of the event. It’s great for helping people steer their way through their day at the event. But not so much for getting them there.

In all of this business, hardly anyone is getting informed. Even fewer people are getting inspired. So your job becomes harder and harder, and making your numbers become harder and harder.

Striking a balance with your marketing is the smart way to navigate through the three stages of the buying cycle. So, here is what we want you to do: step back, and take a holistic view of what you’re doing in your event marketing. Put your WHY (the compelling reason to believe) in the center, and spin an interconnecting web, comprised of a strong email campaign backed up with some eye-catching direct mail, reinforced with a memorable and interesting social media presence, and paid off in a well-thought-out event app.

That’s your stuck dismount.

You’re in the Right League, Just the Wrong Year

Indulge us in one more sports metaphor. Did you know that no matter how good a quarterback is in college, there is virtually no correlation with how good a quarterback he’ll be in the NFL? There’s a long history of top draft picks winding up . . . well, nowhere. It’s because—from the quarterback’s prospective—college and professional football are two very different games. Professional is faster, vastly more complicated, and uses a totally different sense of timing. To be good in the NFL, a college quarterback has to throw out what he thought he knew about timing, and absorb a very different sense of it. If he doesn’t, he’ll fall to the bottom of the pack.

At least with football, there is only one big transition from NCAA to NFL. In marketing, we have to transition year after year, and our ideas about timing are always changing. But the one thing we can take from the quarterback conundrum is this: you will fall to the bottom of the pack if you insist on sticking to the old ideas about timing. For example, if you’re not capitalizing on the trend of late registration, you are missing a huge opportunity. In fact, whatever your idea from five years ago (even two years ago) about how to time your marketing was, it’s out of date now.

Let it go.

Drip, Drip, Drip

If balance is about mastering the first stage of the buying cycle (informing the unaware), timing is about navigating the second: inspiring the interested.

We believe that you create inspiration through nuggets and drips. It’s about the build. It’s about momentum and coyness and not giving away the milk for free. We never get tired of the way Apple introduces new products. They manage to build excitement for the same product, such as the iPhone, over and over again. What they actually change about the product is not the point (because it’s usually not much). It’s how they meter out the marketing, managing to build excitement and hoopla around release dates.

You can do the same thing, without Apple’s mega-million dollar marketing budget. It’s about building your WHY—your source of inspiration—through slices and teases. To be clear, your association better full-on know your WHY (every part of it, not just a nugget).

But stack it like Legos. Stagger it like bricks. Create a rallying cry around a date when something is announced: build it, offer it, and make it limited (going, going . . . gone!). Create both interest and urgency. Give people a reason to keep reading, to click through, to retweet, and ultimately, to register. Generate excitement over time—using a balance of marketing modes.

A great way to make use of timing in your marketing plan is to create interest around four key areas:
  • Money-driven stuff: early bird rates, hotel prices that go up after a certain day, and travel rates that increase the longer you wait.
  • Education stuff: paid workshops with cut-off dates, and sessions with limited seating.
  • Networking stuff: dinners, lunches, parties, outings, and other special events, paid or unpaid, with cut-off dates.
  • Certification: sessions with limited seating and/or limited time to react.

Half-time is over. You’ve got a game to win. Find your balance, maximize your timing, and we’ll see you in the end zone.

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INSPIRATION? There's an App for That
The mandate to inspire isn’t going away. How will you conquer it? We have an answer.

To drive event registrations and build a sustainable organization, you have to inspire the base. Wake them up. Shake them around. And get them to act. Now.

But it’s hard to do. We feel your pain. That’s why we write about it so much.

Now, we’ve given you various advice. We’ve told you to market your event by telling a story around the person-to-person interaction. We’ve told you to create excitement and inertia with your registration brochure. We’ve told you to start with why.

We stand behind all of this. Earlier this year, we wrote: “The fact that virtual can’t match human is the meat of your story, and you better tell it in a compelling way.”

And we’ve got a pretty good idea about what the most compelling way is, as of this minute. It’s not a web site. It’s not a printed piece. It’s an app.

“Oh, good. I already have an app,” you say.
No, you don’t. Not the kind we’re talking about.

We’re not talking about a event app that your attendees download on the way to the event (or on-site). We’re talking about an app that drives registration, a next generation, interactive, voice and video-enabled digital publication. We’re talking about an app that generates pre-conference connections and excitement. An app that teases, entices, engages, and flirts with your potential attendees, creating a vibrant experience that leads them to click on “register now.”

We’re talking about an app that helps you do the thing you desperately need to do: inspire people.


Immersion Inspires

A digital publication that comes alive on your iPad can engage in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. In fact, we have to go back to the mid-1990s and the CD-ROM for a comparison. It sounds like old technology now. But let’s look at what it did: CD-ROMs created a sensory experience that engaged viewers and took them on a journey. It was an immersive world, not a flat world. Although the web ultimately replaced CD-ROMs, it never quite filled the niche.

In fact, a bunch of the things that were popular on CD-ROM (especially games) reappeared on iPads once app technology came onto the scene. It’s because there is nothing better out there for engaging users—not even on the web. And PDFs don’t even come close.

Your registration brochure, reimagined as a vibrant, colorful digital publication app can hold video, animations, audio, and slideshows. It can incorporate live twitter feed and be customized with HTML. It can also showcase 3D pictures (vs. flat). Through these mediums, this kind of digital publication app can tell a variety of stories.

Imagine it:
  • Animations and videos that come alive.
  • Interactive articles about what attendees will experience.
  • Snippets of keynote speakers giving their presentations.
  • Sessions and workshops with one-click download of slides, worksheets, and handouts.
  • Tools for users to quickly and easily set up networking opportunities beforehand.
  • The ability to entice sponsors and take advertising to the next level
  • A hub for discussions, tweets, posts, and images of your event—six months before it even starts!
  • 3D images that showcase the venue.
  • A quick, easy registration process, right there in the app.

A registration app transforms the user experience from the flat world of “telling,” to the immersive world of “showing.” Instead of just telling people to be there, an app shows them in a very human way why they need to be there.


Why tablet apps?

In case you’re wondering: we’re focusing on apps for the tablet market vs. the smart phone market because the research shows that the smart phone is more for on-the-go use, to quickly check and respond to email, or to glance at headlines or web sites—mostly for quick information. On the other hand, tablets like the iPad are more strategic thinking devices. They engage people for longer periods of time, encouraging them to sit down and enjoy the experience (more like reading a book or a magazine).


The Pre-Conference Party

With an app for your registration brochure, here is a snapshot of how it could work: you promote through social networking, email marketing, text messages, and direct mail effort (an inspirational, well-designed piece), all of which lead people to a cool animation or video on your home page, which links to your app in the app store.

Within two or three years, this will be the main way you promote your event. Everything will be wrapped around your registration app. And by the way, apps aren’t limited to the registration brochure. Create a digital publication for your sponsors brochure and exhibitors brochure, too (imagine the selling opportunity that could create).

Marketing your app drives registration by building excitement; it sets up a pre-conference feeling for the event. It’s almost like your event has already started. In fact, it IS how it starts. You’re not just promoting it six months out: it actually begins six months out. (Perhaps this means you can even start charging more for early registration!) Your web site won’t go away. It will simply become a kind of information hub. But the mobile, immersive experience of the app—that will become the cornerstone of how you inspire.


Get There Before Everyone Else

We’re not jumping on the app soapbox because we like the view. We’re advocating for registration brochure apps because the numbers make sense.

Tablets will overtake desktop computers. They will. Already, we’re seeing about 20 percent of users choose iPad over the computer. In a recent South by Southwest panel discussion (click here to listen), a panelist presented research that showed that when given the choice, people opted to use an iPad app versus the web at a 5:1 rate. Five to one.

With more than 55 million iPads out there (that number is 100 million once you factor in the other tablets), that percentage is only going to grow. By the end of 2012, we expect 35 percent of users to prefer the iPad/tablet to the computer. And by the end of 2013, 50 percent—yes, half of your base—will be on the iPad/tablet.

If apps are where your people are going, it makes sense to meet them where they are—and then to lead them. Remember the adoption of social media? You may have pushed it aside as a fad—but now, you can’t run or promote a event without it. But think about what it felt like to be late to the game. Think about the rush to catch up.

This time, you can be prepared. It’s your chance to be out front, using the technology in the right way.


Be Relevant, or Don’t Bother

In two years from now, this is how the majority of events will be marketed. By making the switch now, you are addressing the current trends and making your members feel very relevant. When members feel relevant, they have a reason to believe that your event is worth their time and money—and they also have a reason to spread the word.

Inspiration, relevancy, and innovation: this is what apps bring to the table.

But more than anything, they help people actually come to your table. Because if no one shows up, your event won’t survive.

Drop us a line and tell us what you think about app marketing. Challenge us with a question we don’t know the answer to, or tell us your vision for what you’d like to see an app do. We’d love to chat with you about it.

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What does event marketing and hoarding have in common?

Do you know why people hoard? It’s not because they are terrible people. It’s because every little thing represents possibility. “I could do something with this someday,” the hoarder thinks.

But they wind up with so much stuff, they become paralyzed with the idea of possibility—and they don’t do anything with any of it.

Traditional event marketing has something in common with hoarding: it’s all about believing that inspiration lives solely in the stuff. Events are marketed as mountains of possibility (Learn! Grow! Network! Innovate! Advance! Mingle! Sightsee!)

But it mostly comes off as . . . white noise. As more stuff. A bit like the home of a hoarder.

Now, your event has to have stuff. We get that. The stuff is what people do when they get there. But the stuff actually doesn’t build loyalty. The stuff doesn’t drive registrations. The stuff is just WHAT your association does. It might close the deal, but it doesn’t forge the connection. And by itself, it doesn’t inspire.

So, what does?


The Why that Comes Before the Stuff

There is a brilliant book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action. Sinek’s thesis is that people don’t buy WHAT you do or even HOW you do it; rather, they buy WHY you do it.

People don’t buy Apple just because they think the products are cool. They buy Apple because they identify with Apple’s prevailing WHY: to challenge the status quo. In every way that Apple communicates, they lead with that WHY. It’s always the message.

It’s the WHY behind the stuff that inspires people to act.

And with technology making virtual networking easier, this is only going to become more and more true. Having a clear WHY—behind not just your event, but also your brand and your strategic plan—is like having a laser that cuts through all of the WHAT.

WHY drives registrations.

But only if you communicate it in an effective, intriguing, and clear way

Yet in the association arena, hardly anyone is doing this. That’s because it’s hard to do. We can all come up with the WHAT. Go to any association’s event site and you’ll see plenty of WHAT they do: keynote speeches, networking, and training.

But the WHY, as Sinek says, can feel fuzzy if you’re not used to thinking about it. The WHY is not keynote speeches, networking, and training. The WHY isn’t the stuff you get.

The WHY is related to the reason the association was founded. A person or group of people founded it, right? It didn’t simply spring to life by itself. There was something that moved someone. That reason, that thing that the association is about at its core: that is what moves people to act. That is what people own. It’s the same emotional logic that governs why people spend double the money to buy an Apple product, or why they buy music and phones from a computer company at all. They own a part of the WHY: “Yes,” they say. “I want to challenge the status quo, too. When I buy this, I feel like I AM challenging the status quo.” WHAT they are buying matters, of course—but it’s not the hook.

Your WHY is probably not the same as Apple’s (although it could be, and we’re dying to work with you if it is). So what is it? Providing service to your members is probably a key part. But we’re willing to bet that there is something deeper that drives your organization—something so basic and so fundamental that the organization absolutely could not exist if it weren’t true. For us, it’s to inspire and elevate. We can think of at least one association where it’s as simple as to teach people how to be leaders.

Nowhere is it more important to communicate your WHY than in your event planning and marketing.

Do us a favor: use a critical eye to take a look at your event marketing. Is it more crowded with WHAT stuff than WHY stuff? Are you communicating WHY you do what you do in a clear, uncluttered, and uncomplicated way?

When we do event marketing audits, we rarely see associations being guided by WHY they do what they do. They almost always let white noise take over. That’s why, on average, associations get less than 30 percent of members to attend the annual conference. That means you have to work that much harder to recruit new members, so less than one-third of them might come to your event.


And the truth is, you’ll never break out of that cycle unless you think differently.

Turning your event to gold.

We propose a Golden Triangle of Event Marketing: WHY is in the center. And your Brand is at the top, with your Strategic Plan and Event on either side. Your brand, your strategic plan, and the essence of the event are all elements of HOW you do what you do. Outside the triangle lies the WHAT stuff: the deliverables, like social media, apps, the registration brochures, e-newsletters, save-the-date, report to members, and other tangibles.

But all of it must start with WHY your association exists. And it all must be aligned. However, we find that it hardly ever is. For example, if a key driver of your strategic plan is to elicit member feedback, but you only look at the composite scores on surveys and don’t take the time to read the comments, WHAT you’re doing isn’t aligned with HOW you say you are doing it (and the WHY is usually lost altogether).

We can break this down one step further for your event: WHY is still the foundation and the WHAT things are still the deliverables, but HOW becomes the event theme. A event theme that starts with WHY is inspired by the very belief that holds the association together—not by the location or the venue or the time of year. Instead of a clever pun that could work for any association in any given year, your event theme should spring from something deeper and more fundamental.

Your event theme can become like a rallying cry… or it can be yet one more empty promise.

The event theme holds tremendous potential. But so often, it’s wasted.

When you can clear away the clutter and get to the driving force (we want to teach people to be leaders), there is so much less noise. As designers, we specialize in creating purpose-driven design that does that, whether it’s through infographics or video or visual storytelling. We figure out the strategy based on your WHY.

It’s a far more sustainable and clear way to communicate.

So, you can keep doing what you’re doing—hoarding stuff and trying to sell possibility around WHAT—and work twice as hard for the same results as last year.

Or, you can do something different, something that requires a moment of fuzz-clearing, something that will get you beyond just possibility and all the way to results.

Join us in the Golden Triangle, won’t you?

(Or we’ll just call Hoarders for you: maybe they can help.)

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The Dystopia of Event Marketing: Only the Inspired Will Survive

Have you read The Hunger Games yet? If you want to know how to market your event, you should. Yes, we’re serious. So . . . what do a mega bestselling youth culture book set in a futuristic dystopia and your lovely event have to do with each other? We’ll tell you. But first, play along with us as we lead you through a quick futuristic visualization exercise.

The year is 2017. It’s the first day of your association’s annual event. As always, it’s been a furious few months of preparation. But since you’ve been following the same marketing plan for eight years, it runs like clockwork. You’ve got the same web site (all you had to do was swap out a logo), the same web site (you just had to make some slight tweaks to the event page) the same series of postcard drops (just with different iStock photos swapped in), the same lineup of industry topics (just with different speaker names attached), and the same event happy hour (although wine went up to $17/glass). What could go wrong with such a well-oiled machine?

You breathe in the smell of Starbucks and blueberry muffins, glance at the neatly strung lanyards, the banner ready to greet attendees, and the tote bags tucked under the table. Finally it’s time: you open the doors, ready to greet the masses and welcome them to the 2017 event.


Except no one is there.

You check your watch. Eight-thirty sharp. Where is everyone? You bound down the steps to the expo center. But instead of sponsors decked out in brightly colored booths, there are only a bunch of union guys waiting to unload trucks that never showed up.

You grab your laser-powered, 10 terabyte, ultimate high-def, waterproof foldable titanium tablet to check online. You stumble upon a webinar covering the same topics as your event, and there you see the list of attendees. It’s a familiar list since it’s the same names in your membership database. Panicked, you head to one of the virtual networking rooms made possible by some new Apple technology, just in time to catch the tail end of a business breakfast, and you see the real time stats posted: $90,000 in business just exchanged, 150 strong connections, and two people engaged. Surely, there is Twitter activity. So you head to your association’s Twitter page, where you spot the hashtag #worthittorenewmembership? being Tweeted about. The Tweet-sensus? Probably not.

As you sit sadly with your muffin, the truth hits you: your event has become irrelevant, and your association isn’t far behind. You had the chance five years ago to change course, to heed the predictions, and to shake up the game. You heard some buzz about inspiration and story, but putting on the same event year after year felt much more comfortable. Besides, inspiration costs money. And your well-refined marketing plan seemed to be producing modest increases each year. It seemed good enough. But it wasn’t.


Will You Make it Out of the Arena?

Listen, we’re all ate up with the future. We love technological innovation (and have been known to camp out in line for the next Apple product). But we’re worried about you, because physical (as opposed to virtual) events are about to enter a point of no return. A dystopia as frightening as The Hunger Games. You can come out on the other side, strong and relevant. Or you can get swallowed whole, and never make it out of the arena.

We’ve been saying it for years: to keep your event relevant (and attended), you need to inspire the base. But we’ve got a new idea for you: you also need to inspire the future base. Because what people like to call “youth culture” is about to just become “culture.” The next generation is your guide for what to do now, because not only are they your future (literally), the trends bubbling out of youth culture are infiltrating middle-aged board rooms everywhere.


Why You Need to Pay Attention to The Hunger Games

The next generation may have a nine second attention span (you do too, by the way), but they’re not stupid. They are discerning. And they’re not interested in dumbed-down content. In fact, the only thing that breaks through that nine-second attention span is good content—specifically, a good story. That’s exactly why The Hunger Games trilogy made it big: aimed at teens, but read widely by just about every demographic, it spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list (and Suzanne Collins is the most downloaded author on Kindle to date).

What’s the secret to the book’s success? It’s intense. It’s big. The action moves fast. Lots of short sentences. Pure plot. Characters you get. The bold change that you need to root for is laid out very clearly. It’s basically a story that you can’t stop reading—so you buy the next book, and the next one. And then you see the movie. And then you tell everyone you know to do all of these things, too. Not because anyone tells you to, but because it captured you and you can’t not share.

In order to compete against all of the online resources for education and networking, your event marketing has to become The Hunger Games (no, of course not literally). It has to be about big ideas, communicated quickly, and in a way that makes people desperately need to know more, read more, tell their peers, and above all, actually be there.

You have to figure out how to communicate the big ideas behind your event—like education and networking—in a remarkable way that is both easy to digest and inspiring.

Nuances were last generation. This generation is about boldness and clarity.


Make It Unexpectedly Good, or Go Home

Your brandmark, your brochure, your direct mail pieces, your web site, your social media: every piece of your marketing has to be clear, inspiring, and remarkable if it’s to cut through the nine-second attention span and compete with today’s (and tomorrow’s) virtual world. It has to be unexpectedly good. It has to be text-message worthy. Kindle highlight worthy. Hashtag worthy. And—in case we haven’t said it enough—relevant.

If your marketing is that good and that in touch with the people you want to attend, then why wouldn’t they show up in person to see what’s next? On the flip side, if your marketing is that outdated and unremarkable, why would they bother showing up?

We’ll talk more about the anatomy of inspiration in next month’s newsletter, but if you don’t want to wait that long to start brainstorming your mega blockbuster event marketing plan, drop us a line. We’ll figure out how to get you out of the arena triumphant.

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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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2010's Top Trends in Conference Marketing

East to West, Big and Small – we’ve been watching what’s going on and it’s time to report the facts. Over the past year we’ve been analyzing conferences and annual meetings across the country. Organizations are still struggling to meet attendance goals. We’ve identified four major trends that attribute to low attendance.


1. Informing and assuring, but not inspiring.

Organizations are doing a good job of informing their members about the conference, and their websites and direct mail pieces are great for reassuring the intent. However, the images and wording in the marketing messages lack inspiration. Content and imagery used in marketing materials, including direct mail and websites, must inspire the member to want to register for the conference.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Answer the question “Why should I attend?” with every message and image.
  • Build excitement through imagery and words.

2. Over reliance on email communications.

If we only had a penny for every time we heard an association executive say, “I’ll just email that info to our members.” Email marketing has become a central part of communications for many organizations. However, with an open rate of under 20% and a click thru of 3% – email marketing is not the most effective tool for reaching the membership.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Compare email marketing strategies to current best practices (segmentation, personalization, engaging subject lines, interactive content).

3. Lack of segmentation for marketing.

Most associations have their membership broken down into segments, however unique marketing messages are not created for each segment. Instead, one-size-fits all messaging is created for everyone – but in reality, it doesn’t fit all. It’s more likely not going to fit anyone.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Collaborate with the membership team to identify segments.
  • Play up the differences in each segment to create personalized marketing messages.

4. Poor analysis of conference survey results.

Many associations are missing out on great information, testimonials, marketing messages and ideas for the event because of poor strategies for reviewing attendee surveys.

Opportunity for 2011:
  • Surveys need to be analyzed by someone in marketing.
  • There is greater potential for an honest look by having someone outside the organization analyze the results.

Additional trends

Marketing team dropping the ball.

Attendee survey results show that annual meetings provide members with tools and information that assists them with their daily activities and larger challenges. It is the responsibility of the marketing team to create messaging about the conference that informs members of how the content at the event will affect potential attendees.


Missing word of mouth.

Marketing has changed dramatically. Word of mouth and conversations are very important for consumers when making a purchasing decision. Associations are missing out on this opportunity by not using testimonials and social media to the fullest extent.


Late registration.

Attendees do not need to register early for various reasons. Marketing teams need to combat this by having a marketing push towards the end of registration time. Two areas of control for you to leverage: money and availability.


Attempting social media.

Associations of various sizes are tip toeing into social media and attempting to use it to supplement conference marketing. However, few are seeing conference attendance numbers to be affected by social media because the content being shared over social media platforms tends to be very informational. Also, there is a disconnect between the social media strategy, overall marketing messages and the members actual needs and wants.


The Big Picture

Low attendance is a symptom – not the problem. The problem is that organizations have a weak foundation because their three most important elements do not connect:

  1. Brand Guidelines
  2. Strategic Plan
  3. Conference

It’s a constant battle for organizations to ensure they align strategy, identity, and capacity with vision, mission and values. And, members can sense when they fail to do so. Low attendance is simply a symptom of a larger problem – the disconnect between the strategic plan, brand and conference.


The 2011 Solution

Dust off the organization’s strategic plan, create branding guidelines that define what the association stands for, and remember to incorporate the conference into the strategic plan and brand.

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Is your conference purpose-driven?

A strategy to stand out and get noticed.

In the absence of a clear vision, association marketing staff members start second-guessing each other. The result is a cluttered mess of details about speakers, sessions, hotel accommodations, schedules and directions. It’s a hodgepodge of information that will go in one ear and out the other. So, in the “conference community” do you think your conference is purpose-driven? Then why do you still experience stress, lack of focus, complex decision-making processes and less-than-desired marketing results? You may already be focused in the language you use to describe and plan the event, but what really make a difference is being focused on what the conference has to offer.

A purpose-driven conference with a well-executed marketing plan will stand out among other events. Creating a purpose-driven conference will fill empty seats. It’s a journey—one that will allow you to see the big picture of what the conference means to attendees, then give you the ability to see how each detail fits together.

Keep reading for an example of one purpose-driven conference which sold out in 8 days, netting approximately $7 million.


Positioning.

The event community is overflowing with organizations competing in the same space with very similar messages. Potential attendees can’t determine (or even remember) the difference between the various events.


Differentiate or die.

Without proper positioning, your event will get lost in the crowd and simply disappear. Attendance will drop, money will be lost, sponsors will forget about you, the organization’s reputation will be damaged (maybe yours too) – in short, it will just fail as it becomes known as the conference not to attend.

Each year Apple holds a Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). They beautifully translate their purpose-driven operations to the world of conferencing, creating an experience that is known by web developers and geeks as the must-attend conference.

“So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many … rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try to make something better.”

Jon Ives, Senior, VP of Apple

By accepting that there is competition in the event community and positioning themselves to stand out from the crowd based on the purpose of their event, Apple’s WWDC event grows to be more successful each year. The most recent WWDC event sold out in just 8 days. With 5,000 attendees at $1,600 per seat, this event brought in an estimated $7 million in just about a week.


Still think your conference is purpose-driven?

Or, are you ready to explore making it better and truly experience success? Discovering the intent will allow you to see the conference through the eyes of a potential attendee, positioning you in a better place to make decisions that will result in filling empty seats.


Focus Conference Positioning

Take a few moments to complete the following reassuring statement and you’ll be on the right track for conference marketing success.

“We help _______ [target audience] to _______ [benefit] and _______ [benefit].”

For example, an association hosting a conference for teachers could say:
“We help educators to learn effective classroom management strategies and get access to current curriculum.”

A statement such as the one above can keep an entire marketing team on the same page while preparing for and promoting the event. It’s the first step in differentiating your event from the other conferences your potential attendees may attend.


Nitty Gritty of Conference Positioning

Now that you have a solid conference positioning statement, use that message to reign in some of the event details and vital decisions.

  • What unique attributes of your products or services distinguish your conference from those of your competitors?
  • How does your conference fit into the overall brand strategy of the association?
  • How does your conference solve a problem or meet a need for your target audience?
  • Why is your conference the best solution for them?
  • What is non-negotiable about your conference and must happen at all costs?

Solve a problem.

Besides competing with other conferences in the event community, your event also competes against various books, training programs and other “problem solving” avenues. How do you know what problems your potential attendees are facing?

How do you find out what other solutions are they considering? How do you find out what they think about what your conference has to offer? Simple – you ask them. Ah, but not so simple is how to ask them in a way that gets you the answers you need (even if they are not what you want to hear).

To help us get to the bottom of effective research techniques for member-based organizations, we reached out to Melissa Marcello, President of the well-respected independent opinion and marketing research firm Pursuant Research.


The Big No-No

RCG: What is the biggest mistake you see associations make when conducting research among their members?

Melissa: “Creating closed-ended questions based on knowledge gained only from highly engaged members is a mistake I see member organizations make often and unknowingly. Member organizations feel like they are in touch with their members’ needs because they have regular contact with some members who are board members and leaders within the organization. However, these are all highly engaged members, not the garden variety. They assume that what they know about this group of highly engaged members is true for everyone, and wrongly attempt to use research to quantify those thoughts.”


It’s easy to ask questions, the challenge lies in asking the right questions.

RCG: Obviously, it is important to ask the right questions when gathering feedback. What makes a good question?

Melissa: “It’s important to find balance. If a question is too narrow, it will not provide helpful information. However, if it is too broad it will be difficult to answer and the respondent will become frustrated. It’s important to remember that the members are people first, and second a professional. It’s natural for them to want to feel like they are giving you the ‘right’ answer.

I like questions that get inside their world and connect with them. For example, picking up the phone and asking members questions about their work week:

‘What happened at work this week that was a challenge? What was most satisfying? What was your greatest frustration?’

It may not seem direct, but you’ll discover some gems in their responses. Also, it builds an emotional connection between you and the member.”


Use what you’ve got.

RCG: What is one tip organizations can implement today to make their research efforts more successful?

Melissa: “Use data you already have to capture new, more detailed information. For example, segment surveys by member engagement. Each group will have unique needs and values.”

During our talk Melissa shared more tips that will help you discover why members would want to attend your conference:

  • Don’t assume you know what the member needs or wants.
  • Start with the easy questions so the respondent does not get frustrated, and to build trust that will result in more honest and helpful answers.
  • Gathering research through phone calls and focus groups should feel like a conversation. Members should feel comfortable enough to bring up a topic that is not necessarily on the script.

Memories drive behavior.

Now that you have identified a problem your conference can solve for potential attendees, put that information to use and guide individuals to registration.

Learning creates an impression. Impressions empower the ability to remember. Remembering compels behavior.

Great marketers understand this and intentionally market with strategic stimuli or prompts to remind their target audience of a particular event, time or piece of information stored in their memory. In the event community, you can use this theory to drive members into the actions you desire – event registration, membership renewal and purchasing publications.

First, take the positioning statement, answers to the positioning questions and some member feedback, then use that information to create content for a purpose-driven conference. That is the right kind of information you want to teach to potential attendees about the conference. Next, you can begin the use of strategic prompts to trigger memories that will drive behavior.


Let’s start with some memory basics:

What will potential attendees remember?

After reading an email about the upcoming conference or skimming the event’s website, what will potential attendees remember? Will the content and value of the conference stick with them?

How will they remember you?

Identify how potential attendees will feel when they remember you, and what you want them to think about when they encounter a triggering event. What should they think about your organization and offerings?

When will they remember you?

What real-life experiences serve as good triggers for potential attendees to remember you? These triggers can include activities at work, conversations with colleagues or experiences in their community and home.

Once you’ve determined when you want attendees to remember your organization or event, and you know what you want them to think and feel — get out of the way and do not distract them!

If you want attendees to think of you when faced with a problem at work and you want them to remember your event as being something that helped them come up with solutions, then do not distract them from this memory by promoting your event as being at a “fabulous and fun destination!” You completely ruin the memory cycle and confuse the potential attendees when you promote the venue over the value.

Does it sound too good to be true – a conference marketing experience that reduces stress, focuses energy, simplifies the decision making process, gives meaning to your event, and prepares for successful competition in the conference community.

It does happen, as seen by Apple’s WWDC annual event. And, it can happen for your organization, as well, when following a successful strategy for positioning, research and marketing.

For those of you attending ASAE’s 2010 Marketing & Membership Conference next week in DC, be sure to check out Gary’s session – Rethinking Conference Marketing: From Web 2.0 and Beyond. He’ll be talking about how to develop a conference marketing plan based on positioning and how to differentiate yourself from the pack, including ways to implement social networking strategies into your conference marketing.

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Get your attendees to the edge of their seats!

What’s your story?

Have you ever had a chance to watch kids during story time? A good storyteller can captivate young audience members all the way till Happily Ever After, which is not an easy task because these young listeners are often found running around, incapable of sitting still and definitely not able to stay quiet.Yet, they can be hypnotized by a good story.

Seated in one place, eyes glued to the storyteller and pictures on the pages, they are quiet except for the occasional “WOW.”

They are a tough audience to reach, but once the storyteller has their attention the reward is great. However, these young lovers of a good story are not the hardest audience to captivate. No, that would their parents.

Possibly the people you are trying to engage through conference marketing efforts. Just like their children, your potential attendees can generally be found running from place to place, hardly ever finding a moment to be still, and are so overwhelmed with responsibilities and distractions, their time is rarely quiet. Yet, you are challenged with the task of getting their attention and holding it while you give them all the information they need about your upcoming event.

I’m here to tell you that it just simply won’t happen. Save the date cards that kick off the same marketing campaign you’ve been using for the last five years will not capture the attention of nor engage your audience.

Stop marketing, and start telling a story, a story that gets your audience to the edge of their seats, eyes glued on your organization and when at the peak of the story all they can do is say “WOW.”

Specifically, we are going to talk about telling a story through your event Website, Offer and Webinars. Seriously, throw away your marketing to-do list, we are going to replace it with a vision and a story.


Website

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

A great story demands a strong opening line.

Just like a great event demands a strong first impression. But, when does the first impression occur? At what point does the potential attendee read that opening line? At registration? At check-in?

No, the first impression occurs once potential registrants visit the event website. That experience is when they start to put together the story of who you are, what your brand means to them and what the event will be like. What story are you telling and how are you telling it through the event website? How are site visitors experiencing your brand while on the site?

  • Does confusing navigation make it difficult for them to find the information they want?
  • Do they feel overwhelmed because there is too much content on the site?
  • Do they view your lack of social media integration as a sign that you are not keeping up with the times?
  • Does the list of facts about the location, date and speakers seem impersonal?

You may have a great SEO strategy or marketing plan that drives thousands of potential attendees to the website – but if you don’t tell an engaging story you’ll never get the users through the front door and to the registration page.

So, stop marketing, and start telling the story of your event. Create an experience with engaging graphics, inspiring text and a story that tells the site visitor why they should attend your event.


How to WOW them:

The event website is the perfect opportunity to wow potential attendees. Interacting with a website that tells a passionate story will IMPACT attendees, CHANGE them and CONNECT them. It will “WOW” them all the way to the registration page.


Here are some tips to get you started:

Gain perspective.
Let this statement guide your digital communications:

As a result of going to our event website, people will do/think/feel _. (fill in the blank)

Use examples to illustrate your points.
In the weeks leading up to the event have a registered attendee (maybe a member you know well) write a weekly blog post or create a video blog as they prepare for the conference.


Blog topics can include:

  • what they find out when researching the speakers
  • how they identify who they want to meet while at the conference
  • what vendors they are excited to see (and the potential swag!)
  • places of interest they discover while researching the location
  • plans they make for socializing with other attendees
Switch up the homepage for the day of the event.

How well does your web presence serve the needs of attendees during the meeting? Once the event approaches, transform the homepage of the event website to become a real time guide to what’s happening. Synchronizing Twitter, Flickr and other social media platforms can keep everyone in the loop. It’s important that if the site is enhanced for the day of the conference, then it should have a quality mobile version.


Offer

What is the goal of the offer you create to let potential attendees know about the event? Is your goal to educate them on the event details? Or, to persuade them to register? Listen up: People do not want to be inundated with facts or sold on something. They want to be inspired.

The goal of the offer should be to a create a change in the person – a change of behavior, thinking or feeling.

The change you should strive to create is one that helps the audience believe that your event will solve a problem for them. This is a change that will lead to event registration.

And because stories have the power to simultaneously engage the listener both cognitively AND emotionally, they are highly effective in getting your point across.

If the goal of the offer is to create a change in the reader’s belief system so that they trust your event will benefit them – then you must begin with that in mind and work backwards from there to design the story you tell through the offer.


How to WOW them:

Getting started.
Similar fill-in-the-blank question to get your team started down the right path.

“As a result of reading our offer, people will do/think/feel_________ “(fill in the blank).

Video. Video. Video.
Testimonials are a great addition to any offer you post about the event. But, a stagnant paragraph next to a picture doesn’t do anything. You’re not fooling the reader, they know that the paragraph of italicized text next to the picture of the nice lady is a testimonial geared to persuade them to attend your event. Again, people don’t want to be sold. They want to be inspired.

That’s why video is vital to every offer you create. Thanks to television, movies and YouTube, we still believe that Video = Good Story. Make your story come alive through video. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a video of a person talking. There are many affordable ways to create video using motion graphics, text and music that will engage an audience more that plain text on a site.


Webinars

Quick – grab a pencil and post-it note. You should jot down this conference marketing secret…Good webinars will increase attendance more than any Save the Date card could dream possible.

Webinars are a fantastic way to continue telling the story of your event through your website. A great webinar doesn’t have to be a 60-minute long presentation, it could be just 15-30 minutes in length. But, it does have to be engaging and inspiring.

Webinars featuring speakers, presenters and vendors giving sneak peaks into their specialty can be quite engaging. Also, webinars about the experience and location from staff members and previous attendees can inspire people on the fence to take the leap and register.


Check out these handy-dandy webinar facts:

FACT: Webinars save money.

Many organizations are using webinars to reduce the number of in-person events. Studies say that some organizations who launched webinar programs saved 75% on event expenses and that webinars can cost less than 25 cents per minute.

FACT: Webinars require less time.

Webinars require less time to all involved. It is easier to get attendees to commit to attending your webinar when it is only about an hour long. This is way more appealing than sitting through a daunting conference that can last for hours.

FACT: Webinars are good for consumers (potential attendees).

A recent survey found that 86% of all viewers will watch as many or more webinars in the next year than they did in the past year. Another survey performed showed 83% found webinars convenient; and 66% time effective and only 7% found webinars a waste of time. These surveys clearly show that webinars are highly effective and convenient for consumers.

FACT: Webinars increase sales.

Webinars create an efficient and quick way to educate, inspire and convince those interested in registering for your event.


How to WOW them:

Again, it’s all about telling the story. If your goal is to get listeners to do something (i.e. register), your story needs to inspire them by appealing to their values, self-interest, or some combination of both. Recently I read Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers and this quote from the book is the ideal direction for these stories. You must appeal, “not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be.”

Webninar stats were graciously shared by Business Knowledge Source.

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Glanced at, tossed and forgotten?

Little, three word statements can get you in trouble. Take “I love you”, for instance. Said too soon, too often, not enough, or not at all can sink a relationship. How about every kid’s favorite: “Clean your room!” An allowance might be withheld, a cell phone might be held hostage, or, in an extreme case, piles of stuff might be shoveled in the trash can if mom’s forceful request is ignored.

Then there are the three word statements that cause you to do the exact opposite of their intention. “Walk, don’t run!” is a command that is pretty much impossible for little kids to obey when they’re excited. “Nothing new here” and “Pay no attention,” on the other hand, immediately piques curiosity. Obviously, you are hiding something and I’d like to know what. Telling Dorothy and her friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain didn’t work for the Wizard of Oz after Toto unveiled him, and it won’t work for you either.

Finally we come to “Save the date,” a favorite of event planners. Use that often? If you do, cease, desist, stop immediately! Those are probably the three most overused words in event planning, and using them is the best way to make a bad first impression.

Think about it: you have 3 seconds to make a good first impression. Three! A quick glance is all a person needs to form an opinion. Once that impression has been made, it’s nearly impossible to undo. Show up for a first date in a favorite outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks with your hair and makeup just so and a huge smile plastered to your face, and you are already one step towards a second date. Enter the shabby, dreary lobby of what was billed as a boutique hotel, and you might walk right out and seek accommodations elsewhere—and then tell the readers of Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Zagat about it.

Save the date notices that simply list the date and venue are tired, overused, and totally ineffective. They immediately send the message that there’s no need to rush, no need to do anything right now, no need to take action because more information is coming…eventually. Your save the date notice is glanced at, tossed, and forgotten. What kind of first impression is your “save the date” notice making for your organization’s big event?

Whether you are attempting to make a good first impression in your career or social life, it’s very important to know how to create one every time. This article will provide a few useful tips on how to do just that when planning an event. As they like to say, a picture is worth a thousand words. With extra thought and preparation, your picture—or event marketing materials, in this case—could be worth a thousand and one words.


The First Impression

In this day and age, everything is interactive. To grab someone’s attention and leave a really great first impression, you need to wow them, engage them, get them talking. Social media is everywhere these days, and for good reason. With it, you can start a conversation with your audience, whoever and wherever they are. People are not numbers anymore; they’re not a boring set of statistics and demographic information laid out in a chart. They’re individuals with personalities, and you want to offer them substance, value, excitement and a positive impression of your brand.

Making a good first impression relies on three little rules rather than three little words. When you are planning an event, your marketing materials must:

  • Promote the event’s value
  • Inspire the unaware
  • Enhance the brand

Promote the event’s value

Use common sense when making that first impression. You need to answer these important questions: Why should I attend your event? What new things will I learn, see, do? What is available to me at this event that I cannot find or get elsewhere? Basically, what’s in it for me?


Inspire the unaware to attend

Be thought-provoking and inspirational in your messaging, especially during these days when everyone is doing more with less: less time, less people, less money. Make a strong argument for why someone should leave the busy day-to-day of their jobs to go to your event. What will be new, fun, interactive, a once-in-a-blue-moon experience? How was last year’s event such a smashing success, and what will make this year’s better?


Enhance the brand

Put on your strategy hat and remember that you’re not selling an event, you’re selling an entire brand experience.

You’re event adds value to your brand, and you’re putting on this event so members will think more highly of your brand.

After all, your ultimate goal is to ensure attendees become members, renew their membership, or increase their donation, not because you like to throw a big party.

This is a great quote that I read somewhere, and I am sorry I don’t remember where, but it’s very apropos to this discussion: “Your event should be a memorable experience that adds value to your brand, but if your first impression is of the same old-same old, then what is that really doing?”

You need to do something new, so break out of your box, ditch the playbook, and approach your event with fresh eyes. Armen Gharabegian, CEO of Design Ethos in LA, contributed some relevant advice in a column that appeared in Corporate Events Magazine. He really stressed the impact your event has on your brand. We couldn’t agree more. If the marketing materials you use before, during, and after the event look the same every year, your organization looks irrelevant, out of touch, stodgy, and boring. But don’t just focus on the design and how your brand looks; the content matters even more. Your marketing materials must resonate with people and tell your brand’s story.

Gharabegian also urges you to think about the key takeaways of your event: How will you get your attendees to remember the information you are sharing with them? Encircle your attendees in messaging that drives home those points. What emotions do you want to trigger? Go beyond a new look and message in your signage and staging; take it to the flooring, seating, walls, ceiling. Incorporate everything into your branding efforts.

Making a great first impression while planning your event starts with thought, preparation, and relevance. In those three, very fast seconds someone spends glancing at your event marketing materials, pull out all the stops to grab their attention. By adding inspiration, excitement, and value, and your brand will grow and flourish.

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Last year, associations saw a 25-50% to drop in conference attendance. Surveys show the outlook for this year isn't much better. Yet we're seeing associations use the same approach to marketing their conference year after year. That’s like writing your own one-way ticket to failure! If you're reusing the same tired strategies and hoping that people will attend, then we have news for you: Hope alone doesn't sell seats at a conference. People who have attended in the past and see the same marketing approach will assume that you're spitting out the same info as the year before. And for those who haven't attended, well, if your marketing pieces didn't win them over last year, then why would this year be any different? Here's another dose of tough love: associations like yours are feeling the pinch both from the economy and from social media, which is breaking down geographic barriers and allowing like-minded people to connect without shelling out for a conference. Don't believe us? Just look at SuperComm, which was one of the biggest technology trade shows in the early 2000s with over 50,000 attendees in 2001. Attendance dropped to 6,400 last year and the two associations that sponsor the trade show decided to cancel the 2010 event altogether. When members don't attend your conference, it's reflects poorly on your association's brand, which can translate to poor member retention. The fact is that associations planning conferences need to do more with fewer resources and fewer staff people in order to survive in this dog-eat-dog climate. And the secret to getting more bang for that hard-earned buck can be summed up in two simple words: BRAND EXPERIENCE. So, what is this elusive brand experience? A positive brand experience reinforces your association's reputation and strengthens relationships with your members. When they log onto the conference website or get a postcard and see something memorable that conveys passion for your organization, that's a positive brand experience. It's a gut feeling, like love at first sight. (OK, let's not get too carried away.) The experience reignites members' interest and inspires them to attend the conference. It might also inspire them to become your brand ambassador and share the info with an unaware colleague. Score! OK, smart guys. So, how can we create a good brand experience? First, don't think about how that postcard or website or banner should look. Think about the feelings it should create and the actions it should motivate. Do you want members to think, "wow, this is exactly what I need to take our fundraising to the next level! I'm going to register right now!"? Or maybe, "this medical conference could connect me with important researchers – why haven't I gone before?" Notice that in both of these instances the branding experience is effective, because it speaks to the members' needs and plays up the value of attendance. Being different is all well and good, but it's more important to be relevant to members. In the first case, our friendly fundraising professional needs to learn some new strategies. He gets a postcard in the mail, checks out the website, and *BAM* he's sold! It helps wth a need for him, because the association understands its members and created an easy-to-navigate site that content that's useful to them. The other hypothetical attendee gets her needs met, because the association emphasizes the connections that members can make to boost their research. They chose a story that resonates with her, and it worked! Wait! How do we figure out what our members really want? If only it were as easy as Mel Gibson made it look in What Women Want. It takes some time to get inside your members' heads, but that time is an investment that will pay off down the road. Remember, building a successful and sustainable brand isn't a sprint to the finish line. It's a marathon that never quite ends, because your brand needs to evolve over time as needs change and the marketplace changes. Here's how to examine your members' needs: Look at your current members – Why did they join? What do they get out of membership? What social media platforms do they use? What will motive them to renew? Look at the kind of new members you want to reach – What keeps them from joining your association or attending your conference? What needs are not being met? Look inward to your organization – Are you already doing great things that nobody knows about? That could be part of your brand's promise! Look at competitors to see how they position themselves – What resonates with their members? What doesn't? You can't possibly talk to every single member, so you'll need to extrapolate information from those you do reach. Then you can create personas that speak to their needs and help you hone in on a branding strategy. I'm passionate and I think I understand members' needs. How do I communicate that? 

 Hiring a skywriter to fly over a major sporting event usually does the trick for us. Just kidding! Use this checklist to ensure that your conference materials reflect the right message and fulfill the appropriate needs. What story are you telling? What problems are you solving? What needs are you meeting? Are you including a clear call to action? Do you encourage open communications with your members? Are you promoting value over venue? What unique attributes of your product or service distinguishes your conference? All of these areas are related, but they point back to numero uno: storytelling. Find the right story to tell and the appropriate actions, problems, and needs will become crystal clear. And if you do a really good job solving the right problem and telling the right story, then members will be so jazzed they'll tell your story, too, perhaps using tools like email, blogs, and Twitter. All the more reason for your association to embrace these tools, too. But remember that the story should focus on the value attendees will get out of your conference, not all the cool amenities of your conference venue. Over the years, we've seen a few too many associations get caught up in promoting the venue to the exclusion of their conference, which creates brand conflict and confusion. Conference venues have their own marketing staff; it's your job to find the unique selling point of your conference and share that story. But isn't good branding expensive? Conferences and other events offer you an opportunity to engage members, reaching out to unaware prospects and strengthening the bond with existing members so they'll renew membership. In fact, a 2009 survey of senior marketing and sales executives found that respondents believe event marketing is the channel that provides the greatest return on investment. Of course, that's assuming that you create a strong, memorable brand for the event. But you don't need fireworks or skywriting to lure attendees. Focus your conference design and marketing on the purpose of the event and the brand experience you want to convey. When marketing choices are strategic, everything supports the brand, ensuring that nothing is wasted. It also gives your association the best return on investment possible. Besides, the alternative (laziness or just plain bad branding) will cost your association even more. Low attendance translates to lost revenue, lost members, and, in some cases, lost jobs.
Last year, associations saw a 25-50% to drop in conference attendance.

Surveys show the outlook for this year isn’t much better. Yet we’re seeing associations use the same approach to marketing their conference year after year.

That’s like writing your own one-way ticket to failure!

If you’re reusing the same tired strategies and hoping that people will attend, then we have news for you: Hope alone doesn’t sell seats at a conference. People who have attended in the past and see the same marketing approach will assume that you’re spitting out the same info as the year before. And for those who haven’t attended, well, if your marketing pieces didn’t win them over last year, then why would this year be any different?

Here’s another dose of tough love: associations like yours are feeling the pinch both from the economy and from social media, which is breaking down geographic barriers and allowing like-minded people to connect without shelling out for a conference.

Don’t believe us? Just look at SuperComm, which was one of the biggest technology trade shows in the early 2000s with over 50,000 attendees in 2001. Attendance dropped to 6,400 last year and the two associations that sponsor the trade show decided to cancel the 2010 event altogether. When members don’t attend your conference, it’s reflects poorly on your association’s brand, which can translate to poor member retention.

The fact is that associations planning conferences need to do more with fewer resources and fewer staff people in order to survive in this dog-eat-dog climate. And the secret to getting more bang for that hard-earned buck can be summed up in two simple words: BRAND EXPERIENCE.

So, what is this elusive brand experience?

A positive brand experience reinforces your association’s reputation and strengthens relationships with your members.

When they log onto the conference website or get a postcard and see something memorable that conveys passion for your organization, that’s a positive brand experience. It’s a gut feeling, like love at first sight. (OK, let’s not get too carried away.)

The experience reignites members’ interest and inspires them to attend the conference. It might also inspire them to become your brand ambassador and share the info with an unaware colleague. Score!


OK, smart guys. So, how can we create a good brand experience?

First, don’t think about how that postcard or website or banner should look. Think about the feelings it should create and the actions it should motivate. Do you want members to think, “wow, this is exactly what I need to take our fundraising to the next level! I’m going to register right now!”? Or maybe, “this medical conference could connect me with important researchers – why haven’t I gone before?”

Notice that in both of these instances the branding experience is effective, because it speaks to the members’ needs and plays up the value of attendance. Being different is all well and good, but it’s more important to be relevant to members.

In the first case, our friendly fundraising professional needs to learn some new strategies. He gets a postcard in the mail, checks out the website, and BAM he’s sold! It helps wth a need for him, because the association understands its members and created an easy-to-navigate site that content that’s useful to them. The other hypothetical attendee gets her needs met, because the association emphasizes the connections that members can make to boost their research. They chose a story that resonates with her, and it worked!


Wait! How do we figure out what our members really want?

If only it were as easy as Mel Gibson made it look in What Women Want. It takes some time to get inside your members’ heads, but that time is an investment that will pay off down the road. Remember, building a successful and sustainable brand isn’t a sprint to the finish line. It’s a marathon that never quite ends, because your brand needs to evolve over time as needs change and the marketplace changes.

Here’s how to examine your members’ needs:
  • Look at your current members – Why did they join? What do they get out of membership? What social media platforms do they use? What will motive them to renew?
  • Look at the kind of new members you want to reach – What keeps them from joining your association or attending your conference? What needs are not being met?
  • Look inward to your organization – Are you already doing great things that nobody knows about? That could be part of your brand’s promise!
  • Look at competitors to see how they position themselves – What resonates with their members? What doesn’t?

You can’t possibly talk to every single member, so you’ll need to extrapolate information from those you do reach. Then you can create personas that speak to their needs and help you hone in on a branding strategy.

I’m passionate and I think I understand members’ needs. How do I communicate that?

Hiring a skywriter to fly over a major sporting event usually does the trick for us. Just kidding! Use this checklist to ensure that your conference materials reflect the right message and fulfill the appropriate needs.

  • What story are you telling?
  • What problems are you solving?
  • What needs are you meeting?
  • Are you including a clear call to action?
  • Do you encourage open communications with your members?
  • Are you promoting value over venue?
  • What unique attributes of your product or service distinguishes your conference?

All of these areas are related, but they point back to numero uno: storytelling.

Find the right story to tell and the appropriate actions, problems, and needs will become crystal clear.

And if you do a really good job solving the right problem and telling the right story, then members will be so jazzed they’ll tell your story, too, perhaps using tools like email, blogs, and Twitter. All the more reason for your association to embrace these tools, too.

But remember that the story should focus on the value attendees will get out of your conference, not all the cool amenities of your conference venue. Over the years, we’ve seen a few too many associations get caught up in promoting the venue to the exclusion of their conference, which creates brand conflict and confusion. Conference venues have their own marketing staff; it’s your job to find the unique selling point of your conference and share that story.


But isn’t good branding expensive?

Conferences and other events offer you an opportunity to engage members, reaching out to unaware prospects and strengthening the bond with existing members so they’ll renew membership. In fact, a 2009 survey of senior marketing and sales executives found that respondents believe event marketing is the channel that provides the greatest return on investment. Of course, that’s assuming that you create a strong, memorable brand for the event.

But you don’t need fireworks or skywriting to lure attendees. Focus your conference design and marketing on the purpose of the event and the brand experience you want to convey. When marketing choices are strategic, everything supports the brand, ensuring that nothing is wasted. It also gives your association the best return on investment possible.

Besides, the alternative (laziness or just plain bad branding) will cost your association even more. Low attendance translates to lost revenue, lost members, and, in some cases, lost jobs.

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Get it right this year.

Focus on 4 crucial areas to increase attendance.

And, no, we’re not talking about losing weight, writing that novel, or learning how to “deal” with your mother-in-law.

Turning to the internet to find information and answer questions has become quite natural for many of us. Why waste valuable energy, brain cells and time when you can just turn to Google for all your questions.

Directions, recipes, dog training tips, how to manage teenagers, what books to read, what clothes to wear, how to fix my hair, ways to save money, ways to spend money. It’s all on the internet.

Periodically, we take a few moments to scour the internet and see what other people are saying about conference marketing.

Regardless of our Google inquiry, we always come back with the same result: “there’s a whole lotta stuff out there!”

Articles, blog posts, surveys, webinars, podcasts, tweets. Very little good, some bad, and mostly ugly.

Whenever I overhear one my kids trying to sweet talk their dear grandmother into spoiling them with something more than usual, I’m remind of a phrase I heard from her many times in my youth, but have yet heard her say to her sweet grandkids.

“You need that like you need another hole in your head.”

That phrase comes to mind when reading all the junk in cyberspace on conference marketing.

You guys need another boring newsletter like you need another hole in your head.

Here are four, just four, and only four areas you need to focus on with conference marketing. Forget all the bad, trivial stuff you’ve read, and follow these four crucial rules for marketing success in 2010.


1. Develop and use personas.

If you’re looking for one big, new thing to shake up your marketing plan and make it more effective, this is it. (You can thank us later for laying this golden nugget at your feet….or, in your inbox.)

Developing and using personas is based on a well-known, and widely-practiced philosophy that some of us may be known to have shouted at retail clerks and customer service reps:

“The customer is always right.” For you, we’ll tweak it to: “The conference attendee is always right.”

Hopefully, you understand that if you don’t give conference attendees what they need, they’ll find some other way to get it. That’s very much what you do when a company isn’t providing the service/product you need, right?

Creating a persona allows you (and your communications team) to get into the mind of your members.

Developing a persona will transform you into an expert on your members. Not only will you know who they are, what they like, but you’ll also learn how to communicate in a way that resonates with them. You’ll unlock the secret to inspiring them.

All of that information can then be used to create a member-centered communications plan.

The primary persona is a fictional character that mirrors real conference attendees. It includes creating a name, photo, bio, business objectives and other attributes. You can use the persona to navigate through scenarios conference attendees may encounter before deciding to register for the annual meeting. And the fun doesn’t stop here, you then move on to developing a secondary persona.


Why do it?

Developing a persona and using it can have the following causes and effects:

CAUSEEFFECT

Understand their communication style.

Potential attendees receive and digest your message.

Understanding their decision making process.

Overcome (or prevent) objections for attending.

Pinpoint communications.

Messages stick to targeted members.

Discover their pressure points.

Potential attendees emotionally connect with messaging, making it more compelling.

How to get started:

  1. Realize that conference attendance depends on inspiring members.
    Duh.
  2. Recognize that you are not your members.
    In other words, your members might be different than you. (Again, duh.)
  3. Research your members.
    Learn about your members. I mean, really learn about them – favorite websites, tv shows, what their home life is like, etc. Don’t be scared to interact with them, I doubt they bite. Find out what they like, what inspires them, who they are, etc.
  4. Develop.
    Make the findings of this research understandable and actionable. Develop personas using descriptions, picture and scenarios.
  5. Segment marketing communications.
    Make member-focused marketing decisions. Plan conference marketing based on primary and secondary personas of potential attendees.
  6. Measure the results.
    Be ready to capture the results from this new, more effective way of communicating with your members.

2. Use social media, the correct way.

Do you know what’s worse than not using social media? Using social media incorrectly.

It’s way worse, because it’s public! People are going to see that you don’t know what your are doing. They will either laugh at you, quickly become annoyed with you….or if you are lucky, they’ll never notice you.

But, if used correctly social media can make you seem hip, informed, accessible and trustworthy as an expert in your industry.

Also, according to Mashable, during December 2009, global users spent an average of five hours on social networking sites, up from three hours in December 2008. That’s an 82% increase.


Why do it?

CAUSEEFFECT

Learn how to use social media.

Members think you are hip, informed and know they can easily reach out to you.

Increase web presence.

Reach more potential attendees.

Create easy-to-share content.

Followers and fans spread your content with their friends and colleagues.

Two-way communications with potential attendees.

Strengthen relationships and get valuable feedback.

How to get started:

  1. Based on primary persona, decide what content and information conference attendees may want to share with their networks.
    Pictures, videos, presentations, handouts, speaker bios, podcasts, etc – are all content that attendees will want to use when sharing their reflections on the event over blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
  2. Create a social media strategy and policy.
    Your’re luck, we’ve already told you how to do that in some of our recent blog posts. (Creating a Social Media Policy, Developing a Social Media Strategy)
  3. Integrate social media into the live event.
    Something as simple as creating a TwitterFountain would be a great tool.
  4. Integrate with other communication efforts.
    Pull it all together so you don’t seem like a schizophrenic marketer. Check out a previous newsletter we wrote about purposefully integrating communication.
  5. Show some personality!
    Nobody likes a boring tweeter.

3. Video, video, and more video.

From the big screen to the small screen and now to the smart screen, video and motion graphics have become what the people like.

We’re not just talking about video’s made with your flip camera or with a production studio, we’re also talking about motion graphics. Clips with audio, movement and text can dramatically help define the story being told. It brings life to inanimate words and images.

Consumers are overwhelmed with information, news. After a while it becomes too noisy and they can’t receive the information.

But, motion graphics can change that because video appeals to more senses than just text.

The Nielsen Company reported increases in online video usage during 2009, and the prediction is that 2010 will see greater use of online video.

Would you announce the annual conference without using email marketing? No way!

Email marketing has become a staple in communications, and video and motion graphics are becoming necessities, as well. Your members are on board with online video, it’s time for you to jump on board, too – or, you’ll be left at the station. And you know what happens to people left at the station? They are forgotten.

Every message sent to potential attendees should have a video, this includes (but does not exclude) save-the-date emails, registration offers, speaker bios and more.


WHY DO IT?

CAUSEEFFECT

Videos showing images and/or testimonies of last year’s attendees.

Potential attendees see event as fun and exciting, as well as informative.

Include video and motion graphics in communications.

Members will absorb your message.

Inspirational Videos.

Potential attendees remember it, and/or share with others.

How to get started:

  1. Learn to walk before you run.
    Start with something small, like an animation of the conference brand mark.
  2. Enhance valuable information with animation.
    Animate key findings that highlight the most important part of your message.
  3. Testimonials.
    Create videos with previous attendees giving testimonials about their experience. Videos should open with animated brand mark (created in step 1), and they should be less than three minutes long.
  4. Simply do a screen grab of the video you are using and place it in email with a link back to the site to watch the video.
    Ask your web guy to explain.

If content is king, then video is his queen. We’ve got lots more to come about video and motion graphics. Stay tuned to our blog.

4. Let’s get virtual.

Incorporating virtual events with the real event can make you seem like the coolest cat ever, oh, and it can make your conference more valuable.

Don’t freak out, the technology for virtual events has gotten better, easier to use and more affordable. In fact, it’s so easy to use and widespread, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t taken an online class or webinar. Again, don’t get left at station – the virtual train is loaded up with your members and about to pull out any second. You best get virtual, and quick!

CAUSEEFFECT

Regional conferences have virtual events with other regions.

Increase interest in national events.

Pre-event virtual meetings.

Attendees get more value out of break-out sessions and overall content.

Post-event virtual meetings.

Attendees receive more information and have a higher perceived value of event.

How to get started:

  1. Again, start with baby steps.
    Host a webinar or play a podcast at the live event.
  2. Do an interactive, virtual breakout session.
    Members will love another option for receiving content.
  3. Learn the technology and options for virtual events.
    We’ll be sharing more info about virtual events on our blog. Or, as we said at the beginning of this newsletter, just Google it.

If you think our recommendation are wrong, then you can try this (http://www.gorilla-robot.com/) at your next event.

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Crowdsourcing & Conferencing

Harness the power of a crowd to reach your attendance goals.

We know it has happened to you. You can deny it if you want, but we know the truth. We know you pour hours of work and thousands of dollars into your annual conference, and you are let down when you don’t meet attendance goals.

So you look for the silver lining – the post-event surveys! Reading comments from attendees on why they LOVED the event will definitely cheer you up, and make all your hard work seem worthwhile. But, then it happens. Surveys pour in, bringing complaints and comments of disappointment.

“What a shame that the exhibit hall lacked a vendor to help me with…”

“It was a good event, but really didn’t help me.”

“I wish the main speaker had spent more time talking about…”

“Why wasn’t there a break-out session about…”

“Maybe next year you can do this differently.”

We know you’ve received feedback like this, and with declining membership numbers and attendance goals you simply can’t ignore it.


Stop hiding in shame. Do something different!

The association and members can’t take you shrugging off these comments any longer. It’s time to retire the saying, “hindsight is 20/20,” and find a solution. Lucky for you – we’ve got the solution!! Making it’s first appearance in WhiteSpace…..(Drumroll please)

Crowdsourcing!

Crowdsourcing is the act of sending out a challenge or request to an unknown, undefined group. The goal is to gather as many solutions as possible in hopes that one will be the perfect solution.

Even though you don’t realize it, crowdsourcing is part of your every day life.

When you get home tonight you may either ask, or be asked this question, “What would you like for dinner?”

Kids and spouses give various responses and you sift through the bad answers, like the ever-standing request for pizza, hoping for a clue on what you could fix for dinner that could work for the whole family.

That is crowdsourcing on a very small scale, but it can also work when addressing a very large, unknown community – especially when using the Internet. Crowdsourcing embodies what we truly desire from technology – to make us better at what we do.

And, we’ve got great news for you – crowdsourcing can help associations. Through crowdsourcing you can prevent those depressing post-event surveys, and in a way that will increase membership and conference attendance.

Alright, we know that right now you might be thinking, “Geez, I’m too busy to add one more thing to my to-do list!” Just like you, our days move at a rapid pace and there is never enough time to get everything done. Heck, most days it seems like a miracle that the kids get to the bus stop on time – even though the bus stop is just at the end of the driveway.

We want new ways to make our job easier and help us save time – not more tasks to add to our day.

And, that is one reason why we became such big fans of crowdsourcing. Ever catch yourself thinking that if you had a bigger staff, an assistant, a clone, or a third arm, you might actually be able to get everything done? Well, crowdsourcing can’t give you any of those, but it can give you a large group of (free!) volunteers to help out.


4 Irresistible Reasons Why You Need to Learn About Crowdsourcing

1. Provides targeted solutions in less time.

Think of crowdsourcing as a great way to get a large group of skilled, intelligent people to brainstorm for you. Throw out a question to your members about conference topics, and while you are moving on with your day-to-day tasks, ideas will start pouring in. One of these ideas may work, but if not, then at least your team has a place to start when you have your internal brainstorming session.

2. Lowers costs and adds value.

Many organizations and companies who use crowdsourcing for event planning save money on market research, while also getting more bang for their buck. In addition to tapping into a broader network, crowdsourcing builds strong relationships with potential attendees because they helped set the agenda. This also results in attracting more passionate members who really want to make their mark.

3. Gives attendees a better experience.

Attendees will be happier and more fulfilled if given the input power to set the agenda and determine the content. Through crowdsourcing, participants get to collaborate before the annual conference, which will add more value to the content shared at the event.

4. Results in higher attendance.

Crowdsourcing is a simple and effective way to engage knowledgeable members, and make the event more valuable to them. Very few people would skip an event that they helped plan!

How to Get Started

Now that you’re interested in crowdsourcing, you might need some direction on where to get started. The beauty of crowdsourcing is that it is limitless.

All you need is imagination, and a little bit of technology. To get your headed in the right direction, ask yourself these questions:


What kind of relationship do we have with our attendees?

Do you provide any opportunities for them to feel the excitement of being a partner for any of your events, programs or services?


What kind of relationship do we want with our attendees?

Think about the skills and knowledge your members have – how could your organization benefit from them? It might also be helpful to ask yourself what type of relationship you think your attendees want with you.


What do we want to learn from the attendees?

In addition to learning from their expertise, crowdsourcing is great for market research.


What kind of opportunity do we want to give attendees?

Look at your upcoming annual conference and identify at least one opportunity for opening up the conversation with attendees through crowdsourcing.


Four Easy-to-implement Ideas for Crowdsourcing & Conferencing

Bringing together a large, unknown group of volunteers and using their talents and imagination to come with new ideas, isn’t as hard as you think.

1. Q&A During Event

One easy-to-implement idea is to pose questions during the event and allow attendees to respond via text message. Those results can automatically be published on a screen in the main session to guide conversation, or saved as research for future use.

2. Pre-event Voting

Allow participants to submit ideas for any aspect of the conference ranging from session topics to social activities, then allow them to vote for the ideas they like the best. This is most effective if a deadline is set for submitting ideas, then another deadline set for ending the voting. Also, it’s easy to set up a RSS feed so that participants can get updates on new submissions.

3. Use Social Media

Social media and crowdsourcing are the perfect couple! Whether you want to share a video over YouTube, a short question over Twitter, or get expert advice in a LinkedIn forum – social media sites are designed to help you engage the audience and get valuable feedback.

4. Start a Contest

A huge motivating force behind the success of crowdsourcing is our competitive spirit. Even if there isn’t a monetary prize, participants will jump on the chance to be the one with the solution. Contest ideas can range from submitting the best solution for integrating technology at the event to best theme-party idea for the big social.

Crowdsourcing is an effective, and cost-efficient way to collect a dynamic cross-section of ideas. And, even if you get several submissions, but only a few usable ideas, it is still a worthwhile venture, because it makes sense.

Just like asking the family what is for dinner each night, not every response is a winner. But, you still ask because you know they at least have the right to make a suggestion. The same is true for your members, and if you don’t give them the opportunity they will go somewhere else to find it.

The term crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 issue of Wired magazine.

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What Personal Touches Are You Doing To Increase Attendance At Your Conference or Events?

There are many ways to communicate with your potential conference attendees that it’s very easy for the information being communicated to be lost or forgotten because of the use of traditional communication methods. To separate your communications from the traditional ways, personalize the information. Incorporating personalized information into your communication efforts will help with increasing attendance at your conference. Encourage potential attendees to engage with the information they are receiving by using pURL’s, twitter, and facebook.


PURL’s

Personal URLs are perfect for potential attendees to interact with the marketing materials. For example, as you send out your save the date postcard, you can send along with it a PURL for the recipient to log on to. On their personal page, you can have them register early, fill out a questionnaire, or have them choose or suggest topics that they would like to have covered during the conference. By allowing the attendee to participate during the pre-conference stage, the conference value and attendance will increase.


Twitter

During the pre-conference stage, you can begin to setup #hashtags for your conference on Twitter. Invite possible attendees to follow your conference twitter account to receive instant updates about the conference and to begin conversations about what they would like to see at the conference and to start networking with other attendees.

Twitter can be used during the conference as well to let attendees provide their own personal views on subjects and to strike up hot topics throughout the conference. Have the speakers setup their own accounts so they can get involved with conversations through twitter.

For more information, check out our newsletter on Twittering your Annual Conference.


Facebook

Setting up a group on Facebook for your conference is a great tool. As you add friends to the group, you can gauge the potential for attendees at your conference. Utilizing the upcoming events tool, the group will be notified about key dates for the conference.


Registration Offers

Who does not like a discount or special offer? Why not offer a discount for early registration using PURL’s? Provide special offers to your Facebook Fans who participate in discussions. Conduct contests through Twitter during the conference where you provide information or clues only seen through your Twitter updates. Providing more options for early registration and participation in pre and post conference sessions will encourage members to take advantage of the situation and in turn it will help with conference attendance and late registration because we know “it’s not just a trend, it’s a fact.”

By incorporating these personalization tools, you will help with the overall value of the conference, but more importantly it will help increase your attendance.

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Fill Your Empty Seats with RCG's Exclusive Marketing Planning Package

We’ve been giving you guys tons of tips and how-tos about conference marketing, and now its time to help you put it all together and fill those empty seats at your next conference.

“We cannot adjust the wind… but we can adjust the sails.“

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This marketing plan package equips association and non-profit executives with the tools and knowledge to fill the empty seats. This package is especially designed for:
  • Associations and non-profits with a limited staff
  • Organizations not meeting their attendance goals
  • Organizations with an In-house marketing team that needs a fresh set of eyes to review currents strategie


We are only offering this special package in the first quarter of 2010. If you want to reach your conference attendance goals for next year, then check out the details and special price for the workday sessions and remote guidance provided in our exclusive Marketing Planning Package.

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Not meeting your conference attendance goals?

Adapt or Fail.

A plan for survival.

Under attended. Under funded. Under staffed.
Does that describe your last conference?

It’s time to adapt, or your conference will be 6 feet under…..along with your job. History has taught us that the inability to adapt to change, will result in extinction. “Survival of the fittest” is not just a theory for the animal kingdom, it also applies to businesses, organizations and even annual conferences.

The first conference I helped promote was way back in 1988 for the United Way of American. Amazingly, we see associations using the same approach to conference marketing today. The same preliminary offers and save-the-date postcards that were being used 21 years ago, are staples in many organization marketing efforts today. But, there have been drastic changes in communication and lifestyle. Therefore, can this still be the best way to market a conference?!


Adapting for survival, and success.

In previous editions of White Space, we have given you plenty of tips on effective conference marketing.

  • We’ve covered the importance of positioning your conference as a unique offering.
  • We’ve climbed onto our soapbox many times to stress value over venue.
  • Like a newsboy standing on the corner yelling the day’s headlines, we’ve harped about changes in communication and social networking.
  • We’ve written do’s and don’ts about marketing to younger members and integrating offline and online communications.
  • And, we’ve warned you of deadly myths, like the misconception that late conference registration is just a trend of 2009.

You are now equipped with some of the best ideas in the industry about conference marketing. These ingredients can be combined to help you adapt and achieve attendance success. But, are you still missing one thing?


The recipe.

Even with all the ingredients, you can’t make a delicious cake without the directions. You can try winging it, but without the recipe you won’t know how much of each ingredient to include, the order, the purpose or the timing.

The same is true for conference marketing. You can read our newsletters and blog posts to learn about the strategies and activities that are resulting in sold-out conferences, but without a conference marketing plan, you won’t get it right, especially with the constant changes in communication and the economy.

  • Do you develop a new plan each year based on last year’s event?
  • What method or role does research have on your planning?
  • Does your marketing strategy stress value over venue?
  • Does your marketing plan take into account the ever-changing way your members want to receive and access information?

If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, then you need to call us.


Filling empty seats.

There is one thing that will fill those empty seats, and that is a marketing plan that is a schedule of strategic activities designed to guide behavior.

Let me reiterate, the only way to fill the empty seats is to follow a strategic marketing plan based on research, the audience’s needs and the organization’s mission.

We’ve told you about the ingredients, and now we’re going to give you the recipe. For the first time, we are going to offer a special package for organizations who want to adapt for survival and success.


A one-day, on site hands-on marketing planning session, followed by 4 weeks of remote support that will provide your team with a plan on how to fill empty seats at your next conference.

This special offer is only available for the first quarter of 2010, call or email for details and to reserve your spot.

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Benefits That Have Helped Associations Meet Conference Attendance Goals

Our most recent edition of White Space covered positioning annual conferences for greater attendance. One of the topics we touched on was the importance of identifying your niche market, what they desire and then showing them how you can meet their needs. Association executives have tried various creative ways to promote benefits, some have worked, and others didn’t produce a satisfying ROI.

Here’s a list of pricing tactics that have been working for associations so far this year:
  1. Offering quarterly dues payment
  2. Promoting a “dues relief” program
  3. Discounting registration rates to their annual meeting
  4. “Two for one” dues payments
  5. Local resident discounts to the annual meeting
  6. Increasing travel grants for members to attend conferences
  7. Providing free conference registration when attendees pay travel expenses and stay at HQ hotels
  8. Offering conference attendees a payment plan

Each of these benefits will appeal to a specific group of potential attendees, and of course, when it comes to pricing you are appealing to something that they care about.

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Positioning Your Annual Conference for Greater Attendance

What exactly are you promoting?

Let’s pretend that you are promoting a conference in Washington DC for middle-school teachers about using online curriculum. After going through your typical strategy and marketing plans, you end up with some great collateral pieces. The campaign begins and your first direct mail piece lands in the hands of a busy, first-year, middle-school science teacher. She glances at your shiny postcard for only a few seconds before going back to class. What will she walk away thinking about your event?

A) This is a conference for teachers.
B) This is a conference in DC.
C) This is a conference about teaching using technology.

The answer to that question is key.

Even if the economy was great. Even if all school teachers received a raise this year, and airfare was the lowest it’s been in years, and your conference was in the perfect location. The answer to that question will determine your conference’s attendance.

The answer you want in our little scenario is C, and the way you get it is by positioning your conference as a unique offering. If you fail to do so, then you are simply selling a conference. The young teacher in our example receives direct mail, emails and invitations from other professional organizations each week. You have joined the rest of them in reinforcing her thoughts of joining a professional group, or maybe attending a conference some day. But, without correct positioning you failed to tell her about your conference. Without correct positioning you are wasting a lot of time and money on marketing.


Beating out the competition.

You are correct in saying that the recession has affected your conference attendance numbers, but solely chalking it up to small budgets is a shortsighted conclusion. Other factors have created a tougher, more competitive environment. Consolidation has happened in many industries, plus other organizations and for-profit shows are looking to survive by expanding their audiences to include your niche markets. A lack of positioning, will result in a continued drop in attendance. And as your share of the market slips away it will be your fault, not the economy’s.


We’re changing the way organizations market their conference – one conference at a time.

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.

Let’s step away from the marketing talk, speak human, and get down to do some practical tips.

Tips on successfully positioning a conference.


1. Be unique.

You must differentiate or take the chance of becoming irrelevant. An effective brand has separated itself from its competitors by finding a unique selling position in the marketplace. If you position yourself without differentiation, you’re selling a category; you are simply selling another conference, and you will not be remembered or recognized. One of the biggest mistakes we see associations make is promoting their conference based on the venue location, which says nothing unique about the organization or the conference.

Questions to ask:
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What unique attributes of your products or services distinguish your conference from those of your competitors?
  • How do you view your association–if your conference was a car brand what would it be? Why?

2. Stay focused on the association’s brand strategy.

Before you tell the world about your brand, you should have buy-in within your organization. You should have champions of the brand in your organization. (If you don’t, well…Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And, use your one phone call to call us.)

Questions to ask:
  • How do you see your brand (conference) in 5 years?
  • How does your conference fit into the over all brand strategy of the association?
  • How do you want your members to feel, think and act?

3. Talk about the benefits.

In our niche-oriented society, brands are successful when they are created for the consumer. Identify what your niche market desires and show them how your conference meets their needs.

Questions to ask:
  • How does your conference solve a problem or meet a need for your target audience?
  • Why is your conference the best solution for them?

4. Identify the purpose of the conference.

Before any work can be done in marketing your event, you have to discover the true purpose of the conference. Think about what it brings to your attendees and to the association.

Questions to ask:
  • Is the purpose to increase attendance or revenue?
  • Is your main goal to recruit new members, new sponsors and new exhibitors?
  • Are you launching a new product?
  • Are you motivating, collaborating, educating or training?

5. Push the right information.

Your conference’s positioning will inform potential members about the most important and valuable information. You can not tell potential attendees everything about your association conference in one direct mail piece, instead pick out the most important information for them. Sometimes this may mean leaving out details that you think they need to have, but the goal is to position the conference so that they will be enticed to discover those details.

Questions to ask:
  • What is non-negotiable about your conference, and must happen at all costs?
  • If you had to change one thing from your conference what would it be?
  • If you had to trash one thing from your conference what would it be?

Think about all the sales pitches, emails, and phone calls you receive each day. Which ones stick with you? The ones that were unique and made an impression on you – whether good or bad. A lack of positioning for your conference means that for the potential attendees reviewing your postcards, brochures and websites, your association will not make an impression on them.

This is not the time to practice The Three Musketeers style of conference marketing that promotes the category of professional conferences instead of your conference. We are not all for one, or one for all. Your association has a distinct identity. Your annual conference is a unique experience. Tell that story, instead of the story about how DC is a lovely city.

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Late Registration - It's not just a trend, it's a fact.

It’s time for old dogs to learn a few new tricks.

Forty percent.

If a school teacher had 40% of his class fail, he would find himself in the principal’s office trying to save his job.

If an accountant couldn’t report for 40% of the budget, she’d quickly be asked to pack her things and leave.

If we lost 40% of our clients, we’d be out of business.

Recently we had a talk with an association executive who saw a 40% decline in attendance from their 2008 to 2009 conference. Yet, this association’s marketing team is using the EXACT SAME “marketing plan” for next year.

Einstein’s infamous quote defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result comes to mind. By that definition, we could start filling up therapy offices across the country with association executives who are marketing their conferences the same way year after year, hoping for a greater attendance.

In the course of interviewing association execs about conference attendance we heard stories like this one that baffled us to the point of tears. Let’s just get this out there. You guys are great. You’re organizations do great work. We love ya. But, seriously, some of you don’t have a clue about conference marketing! You’re using the same marketing plan from 1998 (with the addition of email marketing), despite conference attendance rates falling faster than newspaper subscriptions.

If you choose to stay with the same system you have been using for years and reject change you are choosing tradition over success and greater ROI. However, if you have a vision for growth, the energy for new beginnings and want to see a growth in conference attendance, please stay with us and keep reading.

Late Registration

Many of you have told us that late conference registration has become a problem when planning your annual conference, and that you’ll be happy when this trend is over. Well, we’ve got some bad news for you. Unlike fanny packs and mullets, late conference registration is here to stay. So, throw a tantrum, have a little cry, reach for the office liquor cabinet…whatever you need to do to shake the fear so we can move on.

We’ve been talking to association execs about this, doing some research, analyzing human behavior and compiled all our findings here into one easy-to-read, easy-to-share, and easy-to-love edition of White Space. Just like when you’re kids told you they wouldn’t be seen with you in public if you wore that oh-so-handy fanny pack, we’re going to have a tough-love conversation about you’re outdated, unfashionable conference marketing efforts.


Top 4 Reasons Why Late Registration is Here to Stay

We’ve come to the conclusion that late registration is a result of shifts within our culture, it’s not a fad that people are doing to appear cool to their peers, or to prove that they are too important to register on someone else’s timeline. It’s just the way life is these days.

First: Online Registration! It’s the way of the future!

Thanks to online registration, gone are the days of having to walk up-hill both ways with no shoes to get to the post office and mail in a form. Without the worries of finding a stamp, or getting a paper cut, attendees can quickly and easily register for your conference with just a few clicks. Your attendees’ reaction to the addition of online registration has evolved from, “Wow, you guys are so hip and cool to put this on your website! I can’t wait to sign up using that fancy online form!” into, “Ah, I need to register for that conference, but I can do it online…later.”
(Please don’t be foolish and think that we are recommending dumping online registration. Keep reading to find our tips, how-tos and what-nots.)

Second: Travel

A strong motivating factor in previous years for early registration was the necessity to make proper travel arrangements. However, if you’ve done any traveling in the last, um, decade, you know how quick and easy it has become to arrange all your travel plans online. It only takes a few moments for potential attendees to book their flights, hotel and car rental. Plus, with all the various discount travel websites available, it’s possible to still get a great deal on airfare just a couple weeks away from the event.

Third: The Economy

Here’s the hard truth, people just aren’t sure what’s going to be happening over the next few months, and many of your potential attendees may question their job security. Of course this affects future planning of larger expenses such as trips. Families are opting for camping trips and staycations instead of the grand trip to Disney World. And, for you it means that potential attendees are hesitant to commit early. They want to wait until the last possible minute to ensure the conference still fits in their budget.

Fourth: Oh, those young whippersnappers!

Young people these days, sheesh, who understands them and their lightening fast texting, addiction to Facebook, and complete ignorance on how to use the Yellow Pages! You may not completely understand why they do the things they do, but you know they are full of energy and you want them to be more involved with your organization. And, you really want them to come to your annual conference. But, here’s the thing, young people these days don’t give two cents about early registration. Your early-bird specials might draw in the older, more established bunch, but the movers and the shakers would gladly pay a higher registration fee to maintain the flexible schedule they dearly love. Also, your younger attendees are not going to register until they are convinced that their investment of money and time is worth it. It’s going to take a lot more than a postcard and an email to woo them.

Are any of these fads?

No, they are shifts in culture. (Well, hopefully the economy will strengthen, soon, but consumers will be leery for a while.) Anyway, take a lesson from these cultural shifts as they show that just because things have been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t mean it is the right way to do things now.

WE NEED TO REPEAT THIS:
Just because things have been done a certain way for a really long time, and worked in the past, does not mean they are the right things to do now.

Take what you know about conference marketing, or at least what you think you know, and forget it. Those ideas are more outdates than big hair and tie-dye, especially when faced with the reality of late registration and declining attendance rates.

Deal with it.

You don’t really have any control over the reasons why conference attendees are growing more and more comfortable with late registration, but you do have the power to expand your marketing vision to see this as an opportunity. Which means you must adapt your conference marketing plan.


1. Take your “marketing plan”, shred it and start all over.

Honestly, you’re falling down on the job if you’re not adapting your conference marketing plan each and every year based on shifts in attendee behavior (like late registration), changes in communication and last year’s results. Some of you are light-years behind because you are still using a marketing plan that worked back in ’95, with the addition of some poorly planned email marketing.


2. Forget the Vendor-Do list.

A marketing plan is not a vendor-do list of brochures, direct mail and emails to be created, it is a schedule of strategic actions each designed with a specific purpose in mind, and supported by research or logic. For example, the Vendor-Do list might include a pretty direct mail piece that will be sent to all potential attendees. However, an effective marketing plan will include research to support how the direct mail piece should be segmented to various groups of the potential attendees to increase response and ROI.


3. Use multi-media late in the game.

The closer you get to the date of your conference, the more personal, interactive and content-heavy your communication should get with potential attendees. Multi-media such as podcasts and videos are great ways to easily share this valuable information. Stop you’re groaning that you don’t know how to do this, or that you’re not tech-savvy enough to do it – worst case scenario is that you’ll have to ask your teenager to help you upload your videos on YouTube.

  • Let exhibitors create podcasts and videos.
  • Have one of the presenters or break-out session leaders create a webinar on the topic they will be discussing.
  • Ask a few of last year’s attendees to do short video testimonials.

Share each of these on your website, through social media sites and over email in the last few weeks leading up to the event.


4. Get over your fear or apathy towards social media.

Can you think of any successful person or organization who achieved their goals by submitting to fear, procrastination or ignorance? Those are not qualities that tend to lead to success, yet, they are the reasons why many associations avoid social media.

Word of mouth is strong, powerful advertising, and social media is the most effective tool available to encourage people to start talking about your event. So, what’s the problem here? If you’re afraid, just jump. If you don’t understand social media, read our blog for information and tips. If you’re just overwhelmed then hire someone to manager social media for you. You are shooting yourself in the foot by not engaging with potential attendees online through social media and networking. Plus, the longer you wait to join the conversation, the farther behind you will be.

Using social networking/media is key to adapting your conference marketing plan for late registration because it may take a few weeks for the conversations to get going, plus potential attendees will be more likely to engage in online conversations with you as the event approaches. Not sure how you could use social media in conference marketing? Well, we’ve got tons of ideas, here are just a few:

  • Create Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter profiles so attendees can easily share their conference experience with you and others.
  • Create a Facebook fan page and update it daily to build excitement about the event, and answer any questions potential attendees may have.
  • Give all presenters, speakers, breakout session leaders and exhibitors the chance to interact with potential attendees via video, audio, Twitter, blog, Facebook or LinkedIn.
  • Use Twitter and your Facebook fan page to encourage attendees to communicate with each other before the event. The more they publically share their excitement about the event, the more enticing it will sound to those on the fence about attending.
  • Upload videos on YouTube of key association staff members sharing their excitement about the planning process, i.e. how they are deciding on speakers, topics and the schedule.

Late registration is not a trend, and you have to adapt your conference marketing plan for it. For most of you, this is going to mean a major overhaul as your conference marketing plans were already lacking strategy and logic.

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Integrating Direct Mail and Online Marketing

Tips for correctly integrating direct mail and online marketing to increase conference attendance.

As social networking has become more popular, the science of social media marketing has evolved. In fact, if you Google “social media marketing”, you will be overwhelmed with tips, how-to videos, case studies and sales pitches. But, like many professionals you may wonder, with all of that information, how do you decide what is valuable and will really work?

The big secret to effective social media marketing is to view it as a new strategy to integrate into your existing marketing plan.

Much like how advertising and marketing changed when homes across the nation started arranging their living rooms around a TV, you must consider how to adapt to consumers spending hours each day at their computers. It is a new avenue for communicating with your audience. And, it is more dynamic than other marketing tools because it allows consumers to talk back and share info with their friends, family and colleagues.

To demonstrate how to effectively and tastefully integrate social media marketing into existing marketing plans, we are going to break down the specifics of combining direct mail and social networking for association conference marketing. This can be tricky since direct mail tends to be a push oriented message, and most social media marketing takes the pull approach. We are going to focus on increasing visibility and awareness by integrating social media/networking, such as:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Blog

Specifically, we are going to discuss integrating those channels of communication with the standard save-the-date notification and the conference overview piece.

Plan, plan and then plan some more.

Before we fill your head with lots of wonderful ideas, we must stress the importance of scheduling each marketing effort for integration into the overall plan. Poor planning can take a perfectly fine message and make it seem fragmented and confusing.

Tips for planning an integrated direct mail and social media marketing schedule:
  • Create a calendar that you can easily reference. It should include a date for every single marketing effort from direct mail to tweets.
  • Plan corresponding messages for each direct mail piece and social networking effort/announcement, such as including a blurb about Twitter on the save-the-date card.
  • Start with what you know best. If you are more familiar with direct mail pieces should be scheduled to go out, start there and then fill in social networking.
  • Content strategy for social networking and print pieces should be planned before anything is published to your audience.

Time to execute: Save-the-Date postcards.

The easiest place to start with integrating direct mail and social media are the save-the-date notifications, whether they are a postcard or email.

Before:

A couple of days before the save-the-date notifications are sent, make postings on Facebook and LinkedIn that will be visible to association members and others who may be interested in the conference. The post can be short and sweet with a link to a video featuring highlights and testimonials from the previous year’s event.

Here’s an example:
  • “It’s conference time again. Check out highlights from last year and what you can expect from us this year.”

Be sure to also put the highlight video on your YouTube stream.

Day of Mailing:

Start using Twitter for the campaign. We recommend putting up an interactive PDF file on the association website, and directing tweets to that page. (To see the advantages of using an interactive PDF, check out our newsletter on the “Five Advantages of the Interactive PDF.”)

Some tweets can include:
  • “What are you doing on November 10th?
  • “VIP save-the-date postcard coming your way.”
  • “Where will you be on November 10th? Hopefully with us! More info coming to your mailbox this week.”

During the planning phase keywords should be established that will be used during the campaign and actual event as Twitter hash tags. Include them in these tweets, and make mention of Twitter on the save-the-date postcard/email.

After:

One week after postcards have been mailed out, post on the association blog some background information about the save-the-date postcard. Specifically, this is a great opportunity to discuss how and why the conference theme was chosen. Besides informing members about the importance of this topic, you can build excitement by passionately explaining the reasoning behind the visual elements such as the conference brandmark.

This blog post is pivotal in the overall plan because it starts the transition from announcing the date and theme, to building value in the event. Here are a few tips to remember while creating the post:

  • Create an outline for this blog post while the visual elements for the conference are being created and tweaked. Or, at least refer to your notes from those discussions while writing the post.
  • Don’t shy away from displaying excitement and emotion about the theme and why the association finds it important.
  • Don’t distract or confuse readers by listing all the options you were considering but ruled out.

Next up: Conference overview piece.

Before:

A few days before sending out the conference overview piece start dropping hints to followers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. These can include short posts that tease the readers into guessing or wondering about what to expect at the conference. The goal is to put them on alert and peak their curiosity before receiving a direct mail piece that is longer and more intensive than previous pieces in the campaign.

These teasers can be fun riddles – include prizes for anyone who guesses correctly.

Day of Mailing:

Hit up Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn again to announce to potential attendees that you’ve just placed all the answers to the previous days’ questions in the mail, and they will be receiving it soon.

After:

Post a couple of polls on the association blog and social networking channels asking potential attendees what interests them the most about the event. This can include polls about breakout group discussions, planned social activities or event speakers.

These polls do two things:
  • They encourage potential attendees to start thinking about the value of the conference;
  • They give you a wealth of information about what attendees are expecting.

Thinking on your feet.

Since this integrated plan includes communicating with your audience through dynamic, social media/networking tools, you need to prepare for receiving instant feedback from the people you contact. They may respond with questions, excitement about the conference or offer their opinion on how to improve the event. We recommend deciding how this feedback will be handled; and if it can be used to build value in the event, then share it through other mediums.

Let’s say a member who attended last year’s conference leaves a comment on the association blog post about how and why this year’s theme was chosen, saying that they greatly enjoyed last year’s event because they left with a wealth of information and new friends. This is a great testimonial that should be shared with potential attendees on the website and printed pieces.

These tips can provide rewarding ROI for associations who take them seriously and use them correctly. But, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to integrating direct mail and social media. Basically, we’ve covered the importance of planning, given some examples of scheduling, and thrown some fun, different ideas out there. But, there is a lot more to cover. Like how do you keep a consistent message throughout these mediums, but still get the best use of them, because you can’t use the same message on a direct mail piece and on Twitter and expect the same success. Why? Well for those answers, and many more, you will simply have to stay posted.

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How to increase conference attendance.

Do’s & Don’ts of Conference Marketing

Do's & Don'ts of Conference Marketing

For associations of various sizes and missions, conference attendance has been down and many association executives are feverishly looking for new ways to increase attendance. We believe the key to this may lie in conference marketing that effectively emphasizes conference value, instead of, let’s say, conference venue.

We recently participated in a webinar about membership retention that opened our eyes to a possible weakness, or a possible opportunity, for growth. In this webinar we learned that members who attend the annual meeting are 20% more likely to renew their membership compared to members who did not attend. In the same webinar, we learned that members who make a purchase (publication or product) from a website are 30% more likely to renew their membership than members who do not make a purchase.

Is it just us, or should these statistics be reversed? Annual conferences are huge events packed with informational key speakers, dynamic learning experiences and great networking opportunities for members. Why are members not making the connection of conference value to membership renewal as strongly as they do with purchasing a publication/product?

It all starts with developing a conference marketing plan that showcases the value of the event. Communicating the value will result in higher attendance, and also increase an attendee’s perceived value of their membership. But, how do you do that? (Hint: keep reading.)


Conference Theme

One of the first, and most important, steps in marketing your next conference is deciding on a conference theme. Wise planners can see that this is more than coming up with a catchy slogan and a logo; instead, it’s a challenge to pack the value of your conference into one statement, image and strategy.

Don’ts:
  • All too often we see associations create a conference brandmark based on the event venue. If the most compelling aspect of the conference is the location, then maybe you should just encourage your members to take a vacation there. But, if there is value to your conference other than the city in which you’re gathering, then you must convey that to your members at every chance possible – especially with the conference brandmark.
  • Relying on what’s worked in the past is not the way to inspire newer, younger members. Challenge yourself to learn more about them and how your conference theme and brandmark can inspire the younger members.
Dos:
  • Create a short, powerful, inspiring statement that captures the conference value for members. Use 6-12 words to bridge the gap between strategy and creative as you develop the conference brandmark. Revisit this value statement in every single step of marketing your conference.
  • Create a conference brandmark that is versatile enough to be used over various mediums.

Pre-Conference Materials

After creating a dynamic brandmark that communicates the true value of your conference, put it to use with pre-conference materials. Each eye-catching piece that falls in this category has great potential for effectively inspiring potential attendees to register for the conference; but without proper strategy, each piece also has the potential to quickly hit the trashcan.

Don’ts:
  • Bombarding potential attendees with multiple, ineffective direct mail pieces guarantees that you will become junk mail that goes straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin. This can easily be avoided by segmenting the recipients and targeting them with tailored messages, following a strategic schedule.
  • Email marketing is a great way to inform potential attendees about conference events; however, misguided attempts that flood inboxes with generic, one-size-fits-all messages will turn away potential attendees instead of catching their attention.
  • Trying to utilize all of your favorite images, fonts, colors, quotes into each pre-conference piece will turn into a huge mess that confuses your target audience.
Dos:
  • Several months before the event, send out a Save the Date postcard or email with a strong message about the conference value that inspires the recipient to want to know more about the event.
  • Segment the recipients of all pre-conference marketing pieces into groups based upon their interests; create and send personalized, targeted messages to each group. This is much more effective than sending a generic message to everyone.
  • Follow these basic rules for email marketing:
    > Use a template that reflects your conference brandmark
    > Create a subject line that entices readers
    > Make the most of the preview pane
    > Design each email to be easy on the eyes – looks good and is easy to read
    > Ensure that the message shows up, even if images don’t
    > Give it a personal touch with testimonials from last year’s attendees
    > For the best success, send it out on a Tuesday morning
  • Make PDFs of your exhibitor prospective, ad spec, and exhibitors’ hall sign-up that can be downloaded from your website, or sent via email.
  • Connect strategy and creative for a smooth message by giving the conference registration website the same look and feel as all marketing materials.
  • Explore ways to use social media during your conference and get it set up before hand. For example, encourage attendees to Twitter their conference experience, or share photos on Flickr. Set up the searchable tags or groups so that all the content can be easily found.

Post-Conference

Post-conference communication is a great way to gather information that may help with planning next year’s conference. It’s also an opportunity to help members recap their experience and see the value of attending…it will also build excitement for next year’s event.

Don’t:
  • There are two extremes of post-conference communication; saying nothing, and overwhelming attendees with a parade of post-conference emails. Falling into either extreme can decrease the attendee’s perceived value of the experience.
Dos:
  • Keep attendees engaged after the conference by posting podcasts of the keynote speakers or converting the best of breakout groups into webinars.
  • Continue the conversations by giving attendees a place to ask questions, share their experiences and compare notes. This can easily be done through Twitter, a forum, or your blog.
  • Ask for feedback by emailing attendees a short, easy-to-use questionnaire that carries the same brandmark as all other conference materials.

Making a mission-based strategy come alive in creative marketing is a stumbling block for many associations, which is supported by the fact that every week we see conference brandmarks with the image of Seattle, Chicago or New York. If you still think your conference brandmark should be an image of your venue’s city skyline, be sure to include a list of nearby attractions and info on the tourist center – maybe that will entice your members to register for your conference, or at least take a vacation there.

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