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.
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.
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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