Too many associations market their meetings as if they were big box department stores with something for everyone, when they should be focusing their promotional efforts on getting targeted, loyal buyers in the door.
That was the premise of a session called “Strategies for Attracting and Growing the Right Conference Audience” at the Professional Convention Management Association’s Education Conference in San Antonio, June 10–13. The session was also streamed live to an online audience.
Associations should strive for a 70 percent return-attendee rate,” said presenter Jeff Hurt, executive vice president at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, Dallas. “If it is less, you are spinning your wheels to get new customers.” It costs six to seven times more to get a new customer than to keep an old one, says Hurt, who suggests calculating the lifetime value of an attendee (look at conference attendance in the past three years and how much revenue he or she has generated for the organization), then comparing that to the money spent on acquiring new customers over that same period. Attracting the right customer, Hurt says, is the key to the long-term profitability of an association, and a loyal, targeted attendee base gives the organization a strategic advantage over competitors.
Good customers, said Hurt, are decision-makers who have buying power and who are loyal to the association. And finding them, he says, starts with collecting data. Planners should look at past conferences. Are participants predominantly executives, middle management, or lower-level employees? If the association is not attracting the type of attendees it wants, then it needs to look at what it offers. Like the big box stores, is it offering discounted products for the masses?
A better approach is to construct a marketing plan aimed at the audience you want to attract. For many associations that will require a shift from a product-centric to a customer-centric approach, Hurt said.
Mostare product-centric, meaning they focus on selling product or content. The more content offered for all stakeholders, the thinking goes, the more likely people are to register. But times have changed—information is readily available via technology. Also, attendees have less free time and more choices, so they are demanding a better experience and a higher return on investment, added Hurt.
Meetings have to be customer-centric. “It’s not a philosophy and it’s not about customer service,” he said. It’s a strategy of aligning content with needs. “What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night?” asked Hurt. Those are the questions that should drive content. Discovering those needs requires surveys and other data-collection strategies. It calls for associations to be curators of content rather than aggregators and to provide content and solutions for the right customer instead of being everything to everyone.