Even though I'm a complete klutz as a do-it-yourselfer, my weekend misadventures in home repair have taught me a few valuable lessons. For instance, when you're hanging a door and you don't have a chisel handy, you can try to use a screwdriver instead. But use a tool the wrong way or expect it to perform too many functions, and you make a mess of the job--and ruin the tool while you're at it.
The same principle applies when associations use a single site to perform different functions for different audiences. A site that tries to do too much ends up doing nothing well. And every member who has a bad experience with a site will be less likely to log on again. That undermines the effectiveness of the Web as a marketing tool. With that in mind, I propose the following five rules for marketing a meeting on the Web.
1. Integrate the Web with the whole campaign. If you treat the site as an afterthought, so will your audience. All of the elements in a campaign should reinforce the message, whether the prospective attendee reads a full-page ad, picks up a brochure, or surfs to the Web site.
2. Focus on your audience. Using one site to sell both exhibitors and attendees works as well as using a screwdriver to plane wood and drive screws. Treat them as separate audiences. You may want to start with an "umbrella" message about the show that would appeal to both audiences. Beyond that, send each audience its own message. The content, the selling points, and even the tone of each message could differ greatly. Recently, Kircher created a Web site for a large retailer association's upcoming. The main site posted information useful to the broadest audience of attendees. It also directed exhibitors to a "micro-site," containing booth and cost information of interest only to exhibitors.
3. Keep repeating, "It's the content, stupid." Prospective attendees want practical information about registration, accommodations, workshops, speakers, etc. Confine the ads to the section listing exhibitors. The same goes for full-motion tours of virtual exhibit halls and other flashy visuals. Unless they enhance content, these options just slow down and annoy an information-hungry audience.
4. Build excitement. Exploit the Web's immediacy to keep your audience coming back for more. By constantly updating the site throughout the year with additional speakers and exhibitors, late-breaking details on the educational program, and new discounts and other deals, you make the site the source of choice for current information, encourage frequent visits, and build anticipation.
5. Test and retest for user-friendliness. Little things mean a lot. Easy-to-interpret icons, easy-to-navigate organization, and easy-to-complete registration forms are a must. Recently, the Kircher-designed site for the National Plastics Exposition won an industry award as a "Most Comprehensive Site" of the year. It didn't use flashy graphics, animation, or streaming video. It did, however, use clean, simple icons, intuitive organization, and very forgiving registration forms to help prospective attendees get the most out of a content-rich site.