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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