attendee marketing


How to Master Attendee Acquisition When Launching a New Event

I have a few event launches under my belt, having been in the business for the past 28 years. Many elements of a launch are the same, regardless of the event, and there’s a proven formula for success. But first-time events are a different story. What is unique there is the need to get enough knowledge and ‘control’ over the prospective attendance. Oddly enough, the plan to get these future, first-time attendees is often the weakest part of a launch, with decisions based on gut feelings rather than a systematic approach. The irony is that quality attendance is one of the most important outcomes of an event, but actions often bely that importance. Frequently the philosophy is ‘if we build it, people will come.’

 

For me, that’s not good enough. So, I sought out one of the best event-marketing minds in Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes of mdg for comment on how the marketing of a launch should be done. She and her mdg Partner, Vinnie Polito, recently spent some time with me to discuss event launches in general, and their event marketing strategies more specifically.

 

Warwick Davies (WD): What’s your strategy in launching an event and what steps on the marketing side are necessary?

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes (KHG): The first step in launching a new event is writing a detailed, comprehensive strategic marketing plan. And I’m not talking about how many emails will go out or when your website will go live. That’s the tactical execution. I’m talking about identifying and quantifying the market opportunity that you perceive and how you plan to seize it. This is where you take a deep dive into the competition to see what needs aren’t being met. It’s where you’ll define and segment the target market. It’s where you’ll study the industry in terms of its size, growth, makeup, as well as the trends driving it, etc. You’ll talk to key suppliers, buyers, media, influencers, and ask a lot of questions. If you end up uncovering a solid opportunity, this plan will then serve as the foundation upon which the event will be built.

 

WD: How do you go about creating the attendee revenue and volume goals that will be necessary to have a successful launch?

KHG: We will usually get this from the clients with whom we work. They are usually familiar enough with the budgetary limits and revenue necessities to be able to calculate those. Actually, Warwick, that’s an area you are pretty well versed in. What would you say?

WD: You’re right about the budget and revenue side. I would say that giving a thumbs up on the quantity metric would depend on doing some testing of your database to see whether the concept you developed, at the date and time you picked, is compelling enough to calculate educated guesses on the number of paid/non-paid attendees and, therefore, your revenue and likely attendance numbers. There are various ways of doing that, and until you ‘know’ and feel confident about these numbers, it’s hard to get sufficient confidence to know whether the event will be well received. Best to do this before you spend lots of time, effort, and non-cancellable contracts with facilities, hotels, etc.

 

WD: What constitutes ‘research’ from other perspectives that can give the team a ‘thumbs up’ that the stated revenue and attendance goals will be met?

KHG: Let me bring in Vinnie to answer that.

WD: OK Vinnie, what do you think?

Vinnie Polito (VP): I think, as you well know, you can answer this a variety of ways.

For me, the key drivers are an ability to clearly answer ‘who is this for’? And what are the options for your target audience to garner this elusive “x”, whatever it might be, that represents the show’s focus? There obviously can’t be an easy alternative.

We counsel those managing these projects to achieve certain milestones prior to launching. These would be in the area of exhibitor participation, partners (media/association) willing to ‘actively’ support, and influencers/speakers demonstrating a desire to speak/actively promote to their networks. For each of those groups, a willingness to have their name attached to an event in some fashion is as strong or stronger indication than would be financial commitment during the pre-launch Although I wouldn’t refuse any pre-launch financial commitments either. Depending on the risk tolerance and size of the proposed event, the level of necessary commitment will vary.

Personally, I like a mildly crowded and fragmented marketplace. That tells me that the interest is there on both the attendee and exhibitor/sponsor side, but that no one has yet sorted out how to address the opportunity successfully.

 

VP: Other questions I’d like to know:

Why hasn’t someone else seized this opportunity – what’s the competitive landscape?

Does this event have a life span worthy of the risk? I’d say if you don’t comfortably feel this has at least a 5-year run to it, other opportunities might be better.What likelihood is there that a category killer might change the game in ways that are to your disadvantage? Examples are plenty if you need them.What’s the likelihood of an economic incident changing the landscape? For example, cheap natural gas cost me $$$ when I was in the energy space.

 

WD: Great stuff, Vinnie. Now Kimberly, once the plan is set and you’ve made a decision to move forward, what’s next when launching an event?

KHG: Next comes the development of the brand or identity of the event – including the name, the event logo, the creative platform on which the campaign will be based, the messaging planks, etc. This step is essential in ensuring that attendee and exhibitor prospects receive the right messages, those that create the perceived value needed to drive their decision to participate. The importance of this step is often underestimated by event organizers, but it’s not easy building a compelling case to attend a brand-new event. Why take a chance on a new event when it’s so much easier not to? It’s easier to stay home, not travel, and not book a room, not leave the office that day, or not drive into the city, etc. Despite these hurdles, many organizers still don’t allocate enough budget and effort on attendee acquisition as compared with speaker acquisition, picking the right venue, and managing every other detail. And those details are HUGELY important, don’t get me wrong, because if the experience isn’t right, then we won’t get attendees to come back. But if we haven’t made the necessary investment in marketing, it’s unlikely we’re going to get them there in the first place.

 

WD: What do you believe are the required deliverables from the non-marketing team members to assure a successful launch?

KHG: Clearly, the roles of sales, content, operations, etc. are all vitally important to a launch. What’s even more important, though, is that the launch team takes a truly holistic approach to event planning and promotion. This means that if the sales team is selling a lot of space to exhibitors that want to see a certain kind of attendee, the marketing team should ensure they are making a concerted effort to attract those buyers. And the content team should be developing educational programming that will attract them. Teams need to be communicative, collaborative, and agile – as plans may change and several pivots may be required based on actual versus perceived performance.

 

WD: Are there any other tips to get outside support?

KHG: In addition to your internal team, it’s important to look to industry partners, too. We’ve learned that you can’t go it alone when launching new events. The more that groups out there – associations, industry suppliers, media brands, etc. – feel some sense of ownership in the new event, the more success you’re going to have in achieving critical mass. That’s why identifying strategic partners is an essential step in launching an event.

 

WD: I mentioned earlier about testing your database. In your opinion, how big should your database be for success?

KHG: It depends. mdg launched a successful conference aimed at brand marketers a few years ago with a tiny database. Instead of working to build a comprehensive network of prospects, we instead identified influencers who would be willing to serve as event evangelists. Once identified, we offered non-paid admission to the top 10% and variable admission rates based on influencer scores to the next 30%. We also used sophisticated digital tools that allowed us to provide the influencers with financial incentives for signing up members of their networks. The event was small (about 1,000 attendees) and the admission price was high, so this strategy ended up working well. For other events, I would assume a .5 to 1% rate of return on your database. So, you should expect one attendee for every two hundred in your database to show up, provided your list is of high quality.

 

WD: What is the optimal time frame from launch to the event?

KHG: In our history of marketing new events, I can assure you that we’ve never complained about having too much time to launch. Ideally, planning will start at least 18 months out. An awareness-generating campaign should begin about 12 months out, with a strong conversion campaign starting at about 4 months out.

 

WD: Any other items that I have missed?

KHG: I would just add that event launches aren’t for the faint of heart, the unimaginative, or the ‘traditional’ direct marketer. Launches require teams with special skills who can make fast-on-their-feet course corrections, who can craft messages that overcome objections and convince prospects to take a chance on attending an unproven, unknown entity. Being able to pivot when things need changing make all the difference.

 

WD: Great stuff! Thanks, Kimberly and Vinnie!

KHG: You are welcome. Good luck to those would-be launchers out there!

 

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https://www.mdg.agency/people/kimberly-hardcastle-geddes/

https://www.mdg.agency/people/vincent-polito/

 


Whose Attention is the New Currency?

The more attention you can commit to things, the more value you will derive. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of awareness; attention spans are now shorter than ever and paying attention is a challenge. With the many information inputs available, people are easily distracted in ways that interfere with the focus needed to understand what they are seeing.

 

What’s the impact? You are making decisions with ‘shallower’ information than before. Thus, the chance of making a bad decision is proportionately greater.

 

Let’s look at this “attention economy” differently: as a way to create competitive advantage. How about this? I challenge you to find ways to devote more attention to the things that are important, assuming you can distinguish between what’s important and what’s not. That means avoiding the often guilty pleasure of distractions. A complementary skill would be to train yourself to focus on a fewer number of things. That could mean you are spending less time overall, but a getting the bonus of making better decisions.

 

How do you put yourself in such a ‘resource-rich’ position?

 

Put away the phone, turn off internet access, and do something in disconnected mode. Change things up by finding opportunities to do things in completely different ways. Maybe it’s having a business meeting outside while walking around the block or your office campus. Or perhaps it’s reading a book that has nothing to do with your day to day work activities, but gives you a perspective that extends beyond the here and now. Meditate. Find ways to force yourself to pay attention to (or think about) something without distractions for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.

 

Try it for a week and see if your attention span is longer and, as a result, your understanding is deeper. Having done some of these things myself, I’ve certainly seen huge improvement…..

 

Extra Credit articles on the Attention Economy:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/attention-is-the-new-currency_us_58ef947ee4b04cae050dc526

https://www.cuinsight.com/attention-is-our-new-currency-pay-attention-to-what-matters-most.html

https://www.hrchitects.net/attention-new-currency/


How to Get Your Freebies to Pay

Many of my publisher clients offering events have found that one of the main hurdles they face when launching an event is the challenge of converting customers – often accustomed to free content – into paying conference attendees. You may have also have this problem as a non-publisher if you are trying to upgrade expo visitors to conference delegates.

How is it possible to get freebies to pay?

Getting people to pay for something that once was free is always a challenge. But it’s possible if you follow the right plan. My prescription for making it happen is:

 

Get to know them

When connected digitally with clients, it’s usually a one-way conversation. To earn your revenue- growing chops requires getting to know the prospective spenders. That means picking up the phone or getting on the plane and visiting. What do you have in your event that offers value for which it is worth paying? It might be an event where they can mingle with like-minded people is enough to get them to come, or it might be specific information they need to know delivered by experts. But be clear as to what problem your content is targeted to solve and focus on those for whom that is an issue.

 

Know Your Target Personas and Personalize Your Messaging

Do you know your prospective customers and what they want? How are you going to start the awareness stream that shows your event has value and motivates those people to register? Make sure that you’ve built customer archetypes (known as “target personas”) and that you are segmenting and personalizing your messaging in ways that communicate like you are having a one-to-one conversation every time consistently with an expert ‘voice’, not an intern who doesn’t know what they are talking about…

 

Have a one-page value sheet

If you’ve done all the above work, it should be easy to build a one-page value sheet, specific to each target persona, and ensure that it’s easily available to those targets. That tool is what will help them convince their bosses to attend. Make sure it’s easily found and communicated.

 

Build exclusivity

Everyone wants to feel special and believe that they are getting something that their peers cannot get. Build this into your offer and reward people for the behavior you want to encourage (e.g. registering early.) That means offering discounts, private meetings with key speakers, tchotchkes, etc. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know the likely targets and what these offers should be.

 

Getting freebies to pay requires both thought and a commitment to a make it happen. But it’s very doable. So, get it done!

 


The secret to success is……

The secret to success is the ability to stand in another person’s shoes. That’s particularly true if you are trying to do business with that person.

 

An Old Tale Still Rings True

Remember the story of the two brothers who had to share a piece of cake? The elder brother managed the situation in a way that ensured his younger sibling got the smaller piece. When the situation repeated itself with the same result, the younger brother complained to their mother. In her wisdom, she advised the elder brother that he could continue to divide their treats into portions, but “from now on, your little brother gets to pick the piece he wants.” From that point on, you can imagine they got equal pieces.

 

Transaction or Relationship?

It’s the same in business. If you are going to try to take advantage of every situation, then you’ll always be doing individual transactions where you try to maximize your advantage. But those transactions will rarely lead to long-lasting relationships that are mutually beneficial. Building relationships requires both sides to let down their guard and trust the other party in the long term, and to go into a transaction not expecting the other to take advantage.

 

Business is not a zero sum game where the gains of one participant must be achieved at the expense of another. If you take the long view where each transaction is part of a relationship to be developed and nurtured, then a concession is not a concession, but rather an investment in the relationship. Conversely, it’s usually a struggle if you are always engaged in transactional business.

 

Which would prefer? Are you willing to stand in the other person’s shoes?

 

For extra reading on this kind of thinking, I’d encourage you to check this out.

 


Six things that you must do between shows

The show is over, and you can breathe a sigh of relief. If you are smart, you’ll also do these things before taking too long of a pause.

 

1. Clean your database

You’d be shocked how many event companies don’t ‘sanitize’ their contact lists on a regular basis. Cleaning out the bounced emails and returned mail (if you do direct mail) is critical, particularly if you want to improve the open and click-through rates in your next campaign. If GDPR is a concern(and you should have a plan here), you also should consider removing the contacts in your database from whom you’ve had no activity in the last five years. You also may be considering plans to add new contacts that can be implemented later.

 

 2. Finish your rebook for the following event

If you know in advance that you are going to repeat an event, you should have prepared and implemented a rebook or resign process for the following year’s event. At the very least, try to get feedback on how you are doing, as well as information on your client’s budget cycles, any changes of decision makers, etc. Successful rebooks can save you hundreds of sales hours since you will have already taken care of the low-hanging fruit and can focus on newer companies.

 

 3. Survey your attendees, including making outbound calls for feedback

Most companies conduct on-site and/or post-show surveys. What I am suggesting   is that you make a shortlist of the changes/improvements you already are committed to make for the next event. That list can be part of your marketing effort to this year’s attendees   and it also signals your continuing effort to improve your program.

 

 4. Check in with your suppliers for event feedback

We event organizers tend to treat suppliers like ‘red-headed stepchildren’, failing to pay as much attention to their opinions. That’s a big mistake. Many have worked on hundreds of events and can offer valuable feedback on an event, both independently, as well as in comparison with others. Thanks to Nicole Peck for this one.


5.  Find 10 more influencers and figure out what to do now

Though buzzing from a recent show, you may know a number of key people who didn’t attend. They might be influencers who could have helped attract more exhibitors or attendees. Make a list of these people and start working on getting them involved – sooner rather than later.

 

 6. Write up and implement strategic and tactical changes to make for the next show

In addition to the above-referenced feedback from attendees and exhibitors, you likely have also compiled structured feedback from your on-site team regarding what went well, what didn’t, and what you can change for the next one. Make a list of these ideas, with a deadline regarding when you will decide on the actions to take.

 

 

Although what I suggest might be wearying to contemplate so soon after the conclusion to a [hopefully] successful event, all the above recommendations will save you hours and money when you begin planning the next one. Wouldn’t it be great to start things off and find that you are way in front of the starting line?


Is There an Attendee Acquisition Disaster in Your Future?

Having just read an article on GDPR that suggests a silver lining for the events business can be found in that new EU regulation, I’ve concluded that the author is right for the most part, if you have a solid data strategy. But if you don’t, welcome to the nightmare.

Why?  If you follow good marketing practices, then everyone to whom you are actively marketing is either a past customer or those who’ve opted in to receive your messages. That means, presuming that if you have multiple events and/or multiple modes of communication, you are only sending outreaches to your prospects in ways to which they’ve explicitly agreed and about matters for which they’ve agreed to be contacted. For example, you would not be sending emails promoting an event to those who have only opted in for a newsletter.

 

Bad Practices Will Cost You

This means there should be no unauthorized adding of names to a database, nor the harvesting or scraping of names from different web sources to populate lists. It also means there’s no sharing of names between partners (without explicit permission of the prospect) nor the adding of names obtained via business cards or LinkedIn profiles, etc. More proactively, how diligent are you about cleaning your database (at least twice a year?) to remove those who have changed companies, retired, or otherwise are no longer where they once were? What about the practice of ensuring that you have full contact data for each person in your database, rather than just the email address?

 

Being Smart About Following Best Practices

Who actually follows such guidelines? My guess is very few since it is quite hard, time-consuming, and expensive to do so. But if that’s true, your marketing department might well be in trouble. Many people are sick of the onslaught of emails and other modes of harassment they must endure without having provided permission to be contacted. If you have European prospects, GDPR now means they can react to such activities with complaints to the authorities that might result in the levy of huge fines that can total as 4% of your annual revenues or $24M, whichever is larger. And though the US is less rigorous in its protections, the State of California has recently passed legislation that mimics GDPR in significant ways.

Consider one company I heard of which has a prospect database that numbers 40-50K names, 80% of which have only an email address as the mode of contact. Their marketing strategy is to send everyone in their database an email about the latest webinar, event, or white paper – doing so as many as five-to-seven times a week. With an annual opt-out rate of 30% per year, what’s their future likely to be?

How can a smart event organizer launch a new event if the pool of existing clients, together with opt-ins, is not substantial enough to support the new venture? You’ll have to ‘cheat’ to get started.

 

The Future Could Be Bright

it’s imperative to start thinking about how to navigate the challenges that are ahead. The future of the event business will depend on those who invest in sound marketing strategies vs. isolated marketing tactics.  Who wants to react to this week’s poor attendee numbers in panic and cross into the ‘gray’ area? Without a long term and market endorsed strategy you are heading for trouble as year after year it’s only going to get tougher.

If GDPR helps event organizers at all, it will force you to come up with long term data acquisition strategies, with smart enabled staff to implement them. You’ll use your tools and the available content in ways that attract attendees based on what they want to experience at an event and how it will contribute to their business success. This approach is the antithesis of trying to extract money through the bombardment of unknowing prospects with a frequency more determined by weekly registration goals than customer needs.

 

Welcome To The Winners Circle

Who will be the winners? They will:

 

  • Have a current opt-in database that is segmented by product line.
  • Have a staff responsible for devising and executing the marketing strategy and who can change and pivot as needed, using the tools that are available.
  • Have content that is worth the investment of time and money of the paying attendees.
  • Be able to crystallize the right message to send to the right person by the right means at the right time.
  • Have a frequent, two-way dialogue with the audience so that client needs are identified and addressed on an ongoing basis.
  • Have the ability to monetize all of the above by attracting the right audiences, which in turn attracts the right sponsors (doing so without foolishly spending.)
  • Use analytics to identify opportunities and exploit market gaps.
  • Have a passion to serve a market that will get you through the tough bits.

 

 

The companies that do this are few and far between, particularly in terms of doing it at scale. But given the iceberg that is approaching, it’s time to get your house in order or face the disaster….

 


Are You Running a Reactive Event?

Unfortunately, the answer is likely to be ‘yes.’ If so, it’s likely that your event will be entirely forgettable for your attendees as soon as they leave. They’ll have learned nothing new and will be dreading the meeting with their boss when they must explain why they’ve spent $2 – 3K of the company’s money to attend.

 

Consider an attendee’s perspective:

You’ve committed both the time and money to attend. The event might be part of a circuit in which one show is fairly indistinguishable from others or it might be a top industry show. Or perhaps it’s a new show with some potential, but also a risk that it will disappoint. Experience suggests that these kinds of events fail to meet expectations and you wish you’d never left the office. After all, it will take two weeks to catch up on the work that you’ve missed. And that does not consider the hotel’s terrible mattress, the delayed flight, the lost bag, etc. As everyone knows, business travel has lost much of its luster.

But you begin, perhaps with a bad night’s sleep that precedes the 8:30 AM keynote, followed by a walk to a first session – at which you learn nothing new. Then there’s a trek down the hallway and up the stairs to another session at which you again are told nothing you have not heard previously. Next, you stand in line to grab a bun and some coffee. And the day continues: rinse and repeat.

When the exhibit floor opens, you walk the floor with hundreds of others. Untrained vendor staff either try to cajole you into their booth or exhibit a posture of disdain that makes clear their disinterest. It’s not clear who has the products and services you want. And, despite the lanyard that displays your name and company, nobody seems to know anything about you.

The late afternoon/evening reception is full of cliques. People from the same company or who have history from past events seem content to speak with each other. If you are not part of one of the cliques you grab a beer and end up speaking with someone trying quite hard to sell you something. The beer is free, but is your time?

Then you leave for the evening, but with an expectation that the same sequence of events will be repeated the following day.

 

Why is it like this? Because event organizer profits are good. And events can’t possibly cater to every attendee and their unique needs. The job of an event organizer is to create the same comprehensive experience for everyone. So, you copy what has worked for you previously or you mimic someone else.
What do I mean by “reactive”? It means your event copies the formula of thousands of others. All the principals – advisory board, speakers, sponsors, media partners – have an agenda and want what’s best for themselves. Given that mindset, are you strong enough (or smart enough) to do what’s best for everyone given all these others trying to drive your event?

 

It’s easy to do what has been done before and/or copy what’s been done by a major player. But ultimately, you must decide: are you a market leader or a market follower?

 

Some questions to ask yourself:

What are the takeaways you expect for your attendees? Do you know why they are of value? Who is in charge of assuring that they are delivered and is there alignment amongst all parties? And I really hope that you are not marketing deliverables without actually having any.

Can you incorporate industry events within your conference agenda, even if the conference program was established many months earlier? Have you allocated open spots, so you have the flexibility to plug in last-minute things?

Is there something unique that you are doing with your event that you HAVEN’T copied from another?

Are you courageous enough to change major elements of your event the week before it happens – if the situation warrants doing so?

 

It’s easy to do what has been done before and/or copy what’s been done by a major player. But ultimately, you must decide: are you a market leader or a market follower?


Are Event Marketers About to Become Extinct?

 

Imagine that you’ve missed another attendee goal for an event. Or, possibly worse, your attendee revenue number is short of the target. Why?

Some questions to ask are:

  • Did you do the same things that you did the previous year?
  • Was that because your marketing staff chose the familiar route rather than changing things up?
  • Are they skilled enough to know how and when to change strategies or can they only work to the original plan?
  • Were they wary of new strategies because they were afraid to fail?
  • Are they attuned enough to what’s happening in marketing to explore the latest tactics?

 

I know many marketing people who were cutting edge ten years ago, but no longer are. Why? They’ve not done what’s needed to update their knowledge and skills or they’ve not worked at companies that offered such training and they have drifted.

Is it their fault?

 

I would estimate that 90% of all event marketing professionals have learned “by doing”, rather than having undergone specific training. In truth, there is no “formal” marketing training that is designed for event professionals. Nor is there the higher-level skills training for those who have some industry experience but need to update their capabilities as new tools and techniques and market trends have emerged. That means that over time your event staff is likely to become less and less proficient in executing the marketing tasks in ways that can deliver results. There’s a skills atrophy. This in a time where getting attendance is proving harder and harder every year.

 

Are our Trainers up to Scratch?

And, given the inverse correlation between “time in the industry” and “familiarity with the latest in marketing,” those with the most experience, who might be considered the likely source for knowledge and expertise – and could serve as trainers – are likely to be the least able to do it well for what’s needed now….

 

Given the importance of marketing – it’s the foundation to getting attendees to an event, and the gateway to attracting exhibitors – I find it difficult to reconcile myself to this situation people less well equipped to handle tougher circumstances. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that marketing staff has the most up-to-date skills?

 

In principle, I’d argue that it’s the individual who must take personal ownership of keeping their skills current rather than rely on the company for whom they work. But, if event marketers learn primarily by doing, then they need the opportunity to “do.” However, going to training or a learning experience ‘to learn’ is frequently seen as a reward and not considered something that all staff should have the chance to do.

 

Should you Outsource your Strategy to Technology?

Much of the marketing training that is available focuses on developing skills with specific marketing software packages that can, if you believe the claims, do everything for you. Readers can probably identify many examples of sales pitches that urge attendance at webinars or classes with suggestions that mastery of a certain product will make things right. The reality is that software can help execute decisions once they are made but less suited as a tool for determining what those decisions should be.

 

I would argue that we, as an industry, need to start figuring out how to train (and retrain) our marketing people so that they are self-sufficient, strategic assets within our companies, rather than just the staff we need to operate software programs. Otherwise, we will regress to the point where we hand decision-making and execution of critical attendance acquisition plans to technicians who operate analytics programs rather rely on smart, multi-resourced marketing teams.

 

If we proceed in the direction that ‘technology solves all marketing problems’, the question to ask is whether these marketing jobs will become extinct since you will just need to be an ‘operator’ to do the work…..

 

I see a business opportunity for someone….


Brace Yourself for the Analytics Nightmare

There’s considerable talk within the events industry about analytics and how it can be used to attract and convert prospects into attendees and exhibitors. Much of the discussion is quite enlightening. Creating content that is of interest to your targets can engage them in ways that can get them to register. The event becomes a logical extension of online interactions, a physical venue for learning about the topics that have been explored online. And seeing what people click on – tracking their web behavior – is a great way to identify the topics that matter to your audience. In short, it makes great sense to use analytics to attempt to build an audience and fill your exhibit hall. We’re all doing it now.

 

Beware! You Are Being Watched and Tracked

But those who seek to benefit from such analytics should recognize it in action. Your own experience should give you a sense of what it’s like to be tracked and segmented. Have you ever been called while you were in the middle of something, cornered at the wrong time by people who really have no idea who you are, but speak to you as if they do know you?

I recently attended a digital revenue conference during which I asked one of the speakers if they understood what it was like to be a ‘hunted’ prospect and whether such understanding affected how they conducted their marketing efforts. My intention was not to embarrass the speaker; I truly presumed that he would have thought this through. But all I got was a blank stare; he had no idea what I was talking about. The answer I received was pretty much equivalent to “this one goes to eleven.” (Check out this YouTube clip if you’re not a Spinal Tap fan and don’t know what I mean.) ie I never considered what you are describing and have no intention of understanding what you are talking about.

 

Technology Solves Everything?

Unfortunately, despite the technology that is available to connect with prospective customers, many event organizers still don’t get it. In their minds it’s all about transactions and getting people to hit the register button. It’s not about forming relationships at any level for the long term. It’s often a simplistic view of customers: if someone is spending big, we will pay attention. If not, then automate an email blast with the right message based on their past behavior and have someone who does this work do it without any innate understanding of the prospect.

As an event manager, are you defaulting to dashboards and spreadsheets, delegating action to technology tools and numbers? If so, consider your own behavior when, as a prospect, you are the recipient of such attacks. What actions do you take to repel the effort?

 

Build Your Wall and You Can’t Be Ensnared

If you’re like me, you erect barriers so that you can’t be reached: spam folders that are rarely checked, cold call voice mailboxes that are often ignored, and executive assistants who are trained to find and delete junk emails, filter incoming calls, and toss out direct mail. Quite often websites no longer provide phone numbers that encourage inbound calls; they offer forms to be completed as a mechanism to vet the contact requests(and ignore them).

 

Should There Be a Marketing Code of Conduct?

Why has this happened? Because we, as an industry, have abused email. Analytics is not a silver bullet unless you have sound customer practices behind it that reflect that you really care about – and know – your customer. Trying to use analytics to automate a company philosophy that’s poorly conceived or outdated will not succeed. Automating poor practices just means you are doing the wrong things more quickly and more often. And that’s a proven way to annoy those who you are trying to attract.

 

Do you like to be hunted? If not, don’t do it to your prospects….

 


Is Your Event Leaving Money On the Table?

When I launch an event, one of my goals is to ensure that, from the very beginning, we are doing everything possible to maximize profitability. Given that goal, I’ve become pretty savvy about identifying opportunities where an event could generate a greater gross margin. The trick, of course, is to go beyond that step and take the necessary actions that avoid leaving any money on the table.

There are a number of signs that an event’s not operating to its full profit potential. Often, it’s a matter of being attuned to situations where things might be going “fine”, but your experience and expertise suggest that there are opportunities to do better. Here are five scenarios:

 

1) You lack a crisp value proposition

If you can’t explain in a concise and compelling manner why exhibitors or attendees should come to your event, then you’re really operating with the hope that your prospects can figure it out for themselves and then act. And, as the saying goes: “hope is not a strategy.” Garbled, unclear messaging will leave some of your prospects confused and uncertain. Uncertainty is not a pathway to maximizing sponsorship and attendance fees. It’s the road to lost revenue.

 

2) Exhibitors and attendees are wildly enthusiastic

This might seem counter-intuitive. When your target prospects are clamoring to sign up for booth space and conference registrations – and not balking at the fees – that’s obviously a good sign. Consider it as validation of your value proposition in terms of why your event is worthy of the investment and different from – and better than – others.

But also consider whether it’s a signal that your fees might not be priced appropriately for the demand. Is there an opportunity to raise prices (how much is up to you) the next time? Consider this year’s event as an investment in knowledge that should inform next year’s plan. Otherwise, the money you don’t make is just lost forever.

 

3) There’s a lack of urgency in actions or communications

It’s difficult to imagine anyone who would take on the risk of running an event, but not figure out how to instill the necessary sense of urgency about getting the money needed to pay all those incoming bills. But that cavalier attitude about cash flow often exists! The maxim I followed at my first events job was that you wanted 80% of the exhibitor money collected at the time you announced the conference program. Admittedly, that is a high bar to meet but doable if it’s your discipline.

More typically, for an existing event, you should try to rebook as many previous exhibitors as possible and attempt to get attendees to commit to the next year (If you can). And the ideal time is while the event is happening or shortly thereafter. From this, it follows that you want to have incentives (e.g. money-back guarantees for attendees, free stuff they can’t get otherwise) that make it worthwhile for exhibitors/attendees to commit early.

 

4) You don’t reach out, either in person or on the phone, to your attendees

This indicates an ‘I don’t care to know my audience’ attitude and it’s an unforgivable flaw to be found in any event professional who doesn’t personally know at least 10 attendees. Engaging personally with your customers is the best way – the only way – to know what they care about. And what they care about is what drives where they will spend their money.

Perhaps this is illustrated by a recent argument I had with someone at an industry event where concerns were raised about where her industry was going. Yet, at the same time, she argued that she had no time to speak with 10 attendees a month. To me, that kind of time spent is an investment that will pay off in the future. Ask the right questions and you’ll know where your industry is going. And you’ll be well positioned with the right offer to take advantage.

 

5) Your event isn’t making enough money

This is the toughest situation because it’s real, tangible, and has an urgency that requires prompt action, especially when you have other choices to make money. It could be attributed to a variety of reasons, some of which I have already listed above. If this is your scenario, you should probably hire someone from outside who can give you a fresh perspective on the likely causes and the prospective remedies that may not be obvious to someone inside who works on the event daily.

 

Whatever the situation, leaving money on the table is a bad strategy. It leaves opportunities both for new and old competitors. So why would you do that?