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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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If one of the main benefits of your association or your annual conference is “networking” you have a problem. LinkedIn was made for networking. Sure it’s not industry specific and it’s not as personal, but it is free. Nearly every industry is represented there, so there’s bound to be individuals from your sector who are eager to connect and collaborate. There’s probably a special interest group too.

If another big benefit of your association or event is “thought leadership,” guess what? LinkedIn is giving you a run for your money there as well. LinkedIn is loaded with great ideas, insights, strategies, tips and tricks that could apply to your members’ businesses. Again, this content might not be 100% tailored to your specific space, but it’s free and it’s somewhat helpful.

What Am I Paying For?

For both networking and thought leadership, your potential members can invest precisely $0 and get a huge return in the form of somewhat relevant contacts and information. By comparison, your membership dues and event registration fees will seem like a big investment. People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?

Quite often, an association will answer this question by saying, “We’re focused exclusively on our sector! We’re unique and customized to our space!” Also quite often, that same association will host a conference featuring big-name experts from other industries. Suddenly your argument of “we’re unique and focused” doesn’t hold up.


People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?”


Payton Manning Won’t Cut It Anymore

A celebrity keynote speaker like Payton Manning, Erin Brockovich, or Steve Wozniak draws a crowd. They leave audiences feeling inspired and uplifted and, quite often, entertained. People go back to the office bragging about how they saw an A-lister live in the flesh. They might even have a notepad full of motivational quotes and pithy one-liners to share with their team. They likely also have a mittful of business cards from networking sessions and cocktail receptions.

Prior to 2020, these might have been reasons enough to invest time, money, and travel into your annual event. But they just don’t hold up any more. When faced with health and safety considerations, serious budget constraints, and a dire workforce shortage, your members and prospects are forced to prioritize their time and money. They simply can’t justify expensive entertainment, generic insights, and networking opportunities that they could get elsewhere—for cheap or free. 

Look Back Five Years

Look back at your annual conference agendas for the last five years. How many keynote speakers were from other industries? How many sessions featured presenters from other sectors? If a lot of your content isn’t specific to your industry, you will need a stronger answer to the question “What am I paying for?” If your strongest benefit is networking, then we’re back on LinkedIn where we started.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 6: Grit

Part 6: Grit

This is the final installment in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. Once you have a cause, a plan, assets, prospects, and engagement, you’re ready for Part 6: Grit.

Why your Association Needs More Grit (And How to Get it)

It turns out, the one thing that separates truly successful people from the rest of the pack isn’t money or intelligence or access to resources. It’s grit, says the Harvard Business Review. A culture of grit at your association could be the difference-maker that helps you reach your goals for membership, engagement and non-dues revenue.

What is grit?

Grit is passion to throw yourself behind a cause you believe in and the perseverance to see it through no matter the obstacles. Employees with grit roll up their sleeves, put in extra hours, and refuse to give up even when things get hard. They tirelessly pursue new ideas and explore possibilities that will improve your association and make your members’ lives better.


Why does your association need grit?

Your budget, time, and resources are limited, but grit is not. A gritty association can accomplish more than a lackluster or disinterested one regardless of available resources. Grit helps you get more out of what you’re already doing—your cause, marketing efforts, prospecting, and engagement. It makes your association more effective at fulfilling your mission, more appealing to members, and more sustainable in the long run.


Need more grit?

You can create a culture of grit to become a more successful organization by fueling passion and perseverance within your team. If your association already shows a good amount of grit, you can build on that to generate even greater outcomes.

To fuel passion, take a step back and reconnect with the “why” behind your organization. What is your purpose for existing? Why was your association created? Make sure your team understands the greater purpose behind what you’re doing. Next, check in with individuals to determine if they have what they need to be successful. Empowered employees who feel valued are more likely to show grit, voice their ideas, and go the extra mile.

When it comes to improving perseverance, simply stay the course. Don’t give up when a few marketing campaigns perform poorly. Learn from the past and make adjustments to improve in the future. It could take months or even years to get real results. While that might sound daunting, consider the lifetime value of an engaged member. How much will they pay in dues over 10 or 20 years? How many events will they attend? How many other members might they recruit? Be in for the long haul and reap the rewards.


CASE STUDY: Association of Corporate Council

Our client the Association of Corporate Counsel wanted to increase membership around the globe. However, their prospect list was out of date and not converting well. To increase the prospect pool, we used ACC’s existing brand resources—reports, surveys, and infographics—along with lead generation forms on social media. At first, the results were not especially impressive. However, we made some changes based on performance analytics, and we stuck to the plan. It paid off. Over 18 months, we generated 2,000 prospects and 1,100 new members.


Got grit?

When your association shows internal grit, your members will take notice. Because of your passion and perseverance, they’ll be inspired to go beyond as well—to attend your events, renew their dues, purchase additional products, and do whatever they can to support your cause.

Take the assessment to find out how much grit you have. Your results will determine how much passion and perseverance you might need to ignite within your association to achieve long-term success and sustainability.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs

Part 5: Events and Programs

This is the fifth post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. To get started, establish your cause, sketch out a marketing plan, find or create marketing assets, and build a list of high-quality prospects. Then you’re ready for Part 5: Engagement.

How to Drive Engagement with your Events and Programs

So your marketing efforts paid off and you have a list of high-quality prospects. Now what? How can you turn all that potential into actual outcomes for your association? You need to take deliberate steps to fuel engagement.

What is engagement and why do you need it?

Engagement is an emotional state that leads to a physical action. It’s when people care about your association so much that they feel compelled to attend your events and participate in your programs. But engagement is easier said than done. It’s a noisy world out there and people are busy and distracted. Your association must be so compelling and so valuable that people seek out your resources regardless of whatever else they’re dealing with.

As with prospecting, engagement doesn’t happen overnight. You must first build trust by nurturing your prospects over time with value-added content that solves their problems. An effective workflow might include a digital ad that leads to a landing page where visitors can download a piece of content. Once you capture an email address, you can follow up with an email drip campaign.

Start with free, ungated content

Giving away useful content is a powerful way to establish trust with your prospects. To drive event attendance, consider using one of these proven formats:

  • Behind-the-scenes video of your event setup
  • An interview with a past attendee
  • Case stories that show the ROI of your event
  • Photo collage of last year’s conference
  • FAQ sheet to address common inquiries
  • Article published by one of your speakers
  • Event ROI toolkit

Capture leads with gated content

Eventually you will need to capture an email address so you can follow up with a nurturing email drip campaign. Here too, you should lead with helpful content, not your event or programs. For example, you can offer a tip sheet with key takeaways from your event. At the end of the tip sheet, you can include a call to action. For example: Interested in gaining more insights like these? Attend our annual conference.


Don’t be a time suck

There is a perception across industries that trade associations take up too much time. People believe they must read lengthy content, volunteer for committees, travel, and invest time and money to get the most value from membership. And busy professionals, especially senior executives, just don’t have time for all that.

Because of this perceived burden, many will not even consider engaging with your organization. To combat this, you need to show that your association isn’t a time suck. In fact, you must prove that you can save people time through your resources, connections, events, and other opportunities.


Keep it short and sweet

The first step in saving people time is to keep your communications brief. Here are a few strategies to get you started:
  • Craft emails with two or three yes-or-no questions and a clear call to action button.
  • Create infographics with few words and lots of visuals.
  • Summarize report findings with concise bullet points.
  • Write whitepapers and articles with clear subheadings to help readers skim for key details.
  • Consider checklists and tip sheets instead of lengthier content.
  • Keep videos to 30 seconds or less.

Case Study: Plant tour promotion

Our client, the Manufacturing Leadership Council, offers exclusive plant tours as a member benefit. When traditional emails to promote the tours didn’t perform as well as expected, we switched our strategy. Instead of making a hard sell to sign up for a tour, we offered a useful download on how to improve company culture, which was one of the themes of an upcoming tour. The idea was that once the user downloaded the content, they would see firsthand the value of a plant tour and be inspired to sign up. As a result, the Council’s plant tour emails had the highest open and clickthrough rates of any campaign sent to members this year.


Ready to turn your prospect list into engaged event attendees and program participants? Download this free engagement workflow to get started. It will show you how to get attention, nurture your prospects, and generate actions using digital ads, landing pages, content, and emails.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 4: Prospecting

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 3: Marketing Assets

PART 3: Marketing Assets

This is the third post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. If you missed our earlier posts, you can read about your cause and your marketing plan to catch up.

How to Attract Prospects and Members with Marketing Assets

People are more likely to engage with your brand in exchange for something tangible and beneficial. That’s why a good content-based digital marketing plan requires supporting assets to maximize outcomes.

What is a marketing asset?

A marketing asset, often referred to generally as “content,” can be almost anything from your association that offers value to your audience. Traditional marketing assets include whitepapers, infographics, how-to guides, e-books, webinars, videos, checklists, podcasts, survey results, industry reports, and many more. Thanks to new technology, marketing assets also include interactive content, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, chatbots, apps, and others.


What’s the right asset?

With so many types of marketing assets to choose from, how do you know which ones will work for your audience? The answer: the ones that give people what they need when they need it. Personalization is key to a successful content-based digital marketing campaign.

Here are a few considerations when determining your marketing assets:
  • Where are individuals in the customer journey? New prospects need different information than long-term members.
  • What’s going on in your industry? Tailor assets around current trends, technology, and industry events.
  • What are their goals? Offer tools that enable goals, help them develop professionally, or assist in planning for future growth and success.
  • What are their pain points? Provide information that will save them time and money, make their lives easier, or help them overcome obstacles.

How to personalize marketing assets

To effectively personalize your campaign, you may need to segment your list into two or three meaningful groups. For example, members, nonmembers, and sales reps. You can also use marketing automation to determine who gets what. For example, a workflow based on a series of if-then statements could trigger various marketing assets and follow-up communications depending on user behavior.

While personalization requires a little more work and forethought, the results are well worth your time. One research study from Experian showed that personalized email campaigns receive 29% higher open rates and 41% higher clickthrough rates than generic emails. Personalized marketing improves customer experience, which ultimately drives membership, non-dues revenue, and member engagement.


When in doubt, go visual and be quick

While your audience will have its own preferences, the current trend in marketing assets is to lean heavily on visual components. Additionally, keep in mind that time is always a concern for your members. Resources that save people time and are quick to digest are the most likely to generate outcomes.


Gated or ungated?

Gated marketing assets are those you give away in exchange for an action, such as providing an email address or starting an account. Gated content is a great way to build your prospect list. However, people won’t hand over their email address to just anyone. First, they need to trust that you offer value and that you won’t just spam them with more time-consuming emails.

When you give away your marketing assets with no strings attached, that’s known as ungated content. Ungated marketing assets demonstrate to your audience that you’re here to help, that you offer credible resources, and that you’re worthy of their trust. A good strategy to is to give away ungated content initially and eventually gate content to capture contact info.


How to get started

To get started using marketing assets to attract prospects and members, take a look at your existing materials. You might already have a stash of articles, interviews, infographics, podcasts, and more that can be used as-is or repurposed to support your cause and your marketing plan. If you need to create new materials, be sure they’re aligned with your existing brand’s look and feel for consistency.

Need more ideas for marketing assets? Download the checklist for 50+ ideas.

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