I was reading the excellent post by Cara Tracy, CMP, CMM, on how annoying it is to be put on vendor e-mail lists to get promotional e-mails about products and services you may never want or use. In other words, spam. They don't qualify you in any way, or even try to get to know you. They just spam you until you scream, "enough!" and go to the trouble of unsubscribing (which, in my experience, often doesn't get you off the list. Which is why I still get lots of spam about heavy industrial equipment—not something most journalists are in urgent need of!). Instead of throwing a pot of promos at the electronic wall in hopes something will stick with someone, somewhere, Cara suggests marketing the old-fashioned way:
If you meet a planner at an industry function or connect with them on LinkedIn, send them a personal email or handwritten note. Give them a call every now and then or follow up with another personal email. ...Trust me, you aren’t going to get your next huge booking by sending spam.
And, of course, she's right. But then I have to wonder if we, particularly the "we" that plans meetings for the association side, doth protest a tad too much. After all, do you have a personal relationship with everyone in your potential-attendee database? I'm guessing not. How could you, really, especially if your show draws hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people? Humans are hard-wired to be able to really know only 150 people tops, which means we're all, at some level, in some way, spamming the very people we value most—and possibly turning them off to not just the meeting or event, but possibly even the organization as a whole. Yikes!
While it's not possible to develop relationships with everyone you hope will come to your conference, a promotion is only spam when it's not relevant or interesting to the recipient, right? See above industrial equipment reference—I feel very differently about unsolicited promos for the world's cutest cowboy boots I also get regularly. I haven't broken down and bought any yet, but I do skim through those promos every now and then and dream about buying a pair instead of opting out of their list...
You may not know each person individually, but chances are you can deduce some generalities from whatever data got them on your potential-attendee list to begin with, most likely at least their job title and employer. Use whatever data you do have to tailor your approach to at least the type of person you think they may be.
For returning attendees, you should have a wealth of information to draw on: the sessions they attended in the past, social functions they signed up for, whether they played your gamification activity or downloaded and used your conference app, etc., etc. What are you offering this year that that person's slice of your membership can relate to? Who else might they know who's coming? Or who else do they want to get to know?
What are you offering that will make their specific job easier/faster/better? Not how great your show is, but how they can use what you're providing—remember that it is, in fact, all about them! Show them that you get that by creating separate messages that highlight exactly what your event has for them, specifically, even if the best you can do to personalize it is to tailor your messages to different segments of your target audience.
Let's act more like humans and less like spambots when it comes to marketing, even though it is more work. It's worth it.