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 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, 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:
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.
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.
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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