You may think about your events as your own special snowflakes, but in reality, they have features, benefits, packaging, positioning, pricing, and promotion, just like any other product. And, as any product manager could tell you, the person who knows the most about that product’s customer wins.
That’s why your events have to be relevant to each individual you want to attract. That will drive success in the other five Rs that are the holy grail for most associations—reach that extends to the largest possible percentage of your target audience, retention of members and meeting participants, reputation of your organization, revenues earned, and the return on investment for both your meeting participants and your organization. That’s the message 360 Live Media founder and CEO Don Neal delivered during a 20-minute Accelerator session on the second day of the American Society for Association Executives’ Xperience Design Product, held May 23–24 in National Harbor, Md.
Of course, it’s easy to say, but it’s harder to actually suss out who your potential participants are, much less to discover what motivates each one individually to make the commitment to come to a meeting. “What motivates people is self interest, driven by their wants and needs,” said Neal. To uncover what those self interests are, he suggested looking at your potential audience through these six lenses.
1. Demographics. Any observable characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity. While this isn’t going to be the most helpful lens, you do need to know your group’s demographics before you can begin crafting an event that they will find compelling. In an article on the 360 Live Media website, Neal uses the example of soup to show how these filters work—in this case, maybe you tend to buy low-sodium soup because of age or genetic factors.
2. Geographics. Location is just as important to meetings as it is to real estate. Are they near to your annual meeting’s destination? Are there regional factors that are affecting their work? In the soup example, maybe you are willing to pay more for a can of soup from a nearby convenience store because it’s worth it to you not to have to trek to the grocery store five miles away.
3. Behavioral. “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” Neal said. They may say one thing, but the proof will be in what they actually do. Track their behavior with your organization—what do they do at your events, on social media, in their other interactions with you? Behavior is an indication of what they value, so pay attention to it. Maybe you’re buying soup from Amazon that’s being delivered the third week of every month—“that’s a behavioral characteristic,” Neal said in the post.
4. Attitudinal. Also called “psychographics,” this may be the hardest data to pin down, but attitudes drive behavior, so it is also among the most important to collect. You have to assure them that you’ll keep their information secure, and that there is something in it for them to share with you. Ask them about their beliefs and values—down to what kind of car they like to drive and whether they prefer dogs or cats, Neal said. The more you know, the better you can predict what will drive the behavior you desire—including participating in your event. Do you buy the same brand of soup your mom served when you were a child? That kind of nostalgia buying is an attitudinal characteristic.
5. Economics. Is your pricing in line with what they can afford? Are you devaluing your meeting by making it too affordable? Do you offer tiered pricing for those who are in different economic situations? You’ll never know if they can afford what you’re selling if you don’t know what’s in their wallets. Do you buy the highest priced, highest quality soup, or is the generic good enough?
6. Firmographics. For associations that cater to businesses, you need to know how many employees they have, annual revenues, the segment of the industry they serve, and other company-specific data.
Why You Need to Build Events Within Your Events
Of course, while they share some characteristics, no audience is going to be completely homogenous. “No one speaker or trade show is going to work for everyone,” said Neal. “Most associations know this, but they don’t know how to segment their audience.” It’s time to learn, he said.
You may want to create events within your events to give each major segment a connection point that resonates with their needs. For example, he said the American Institute of Architects discovered through their exploration of potential attendee firmographics that their potential audience had a large contingent of firms with 10 or fewer employees. “AIA created an event within the main event for small-firm practitioners, so when they showed up at the event for 20,000, we unpacked it for them.”
You may want to create a special event within your meeting for those who share attitudinal or behavioral traits. The Direct Marketing Association had been following the path of “better sameness” for 98 years but now wanted to attract a new generation of marketers. The association developed profiles of the five main types then created small events just for them. One of the segment profiles, which they called “Sarah,” represented the youngest potential attendees and was characterized as being career-driven and intellectual, so they tucked in a sub-event to meet those needs. Then there was the “Marcus” segment of people who are dealmakers looking to make connections and business opportunities. “So we built an event within the event for Marcus to make deals and find people to hire,” said Neal.
With so much competition for your potential audience’s attention—remember, that means not only competing events, but online offerings, even vacations or anything else that they may prefer to do other than go to your event—you have to be able to prove that your event is better than any of the alternatives. If you know what makes your audience tick, you’ll be able to do that by showing that it is relevant—with relevance based on their criteria, not yours.