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Don’t Miss Out: 7 Key Strategies to Grow Attendance

Use these data-driven methods to re-up prior attendees, attract new audiences, and keep loyal participants coming back for more.

In today’s increasingly competitive attendee marketplace, data can be an event marketer’s best friend. But are you taking full advantage of the data you collect to help you retain current attendees and lure in new ones?

Diane Tiberio, director of Conference and Marketing with Reed Exhibitions, shared seven ways to do just that in a recent MeetingsNet webinar. Here are some of the strategies Tiberio uses in her role as the marketing and conference director for the 30,000-attendee Vision Expo, which also includes a concurrent 8,000-attendee conference.

Strategies that Work
“We need to understand the behavior of first-time attendees at our meetings, versus those who are loyal return attendees,” Tiberio said. Begin by segmenting your database into different registrant profiles based on demographic data. Then develop personas for the different registrant profile types for current attendees and the target audience they’re looking to attract. 

One example of the benefits of data analytics: In Tiberio’s case, say she had a practice that is only sending one of its three optometrists to the meeting on any specific year. But is it the same optometrist every year, or do they rotate attendance among the three because they can’t all leave the practice at the same time to come to the meeting? Tiberio’s proprietary database is organized at the practice or company level as well as at the individual level, “so we are able to sort and segment so we know if we have a very active practice, and we know relationally how many doctors or staff we are getting from any single location.” This enables her to detect that pattern and differentiate retention at the practice level from retention at the individual level.

Some of the strategies she uses include:

• Loyalty programs. Tiberio uses the information she gleans from her database to develop loyalty programs similar to those used in the consumer world. It could be a program that includes meals during the day if they’re coming with staff or a co-worker, or it could include hosting for high-status individuals. One caveat: Some in the healthcare industry are restricted from providing individual incentives due to compliance limitations and Tiberio cautions planners to be very careful of any potential compliance issues when designing loyalty programs, or other types of incentives, if they plan meetings for healthcare professionals.

Refer-a-Friend programs. Tiberio also said her organization is getting good results with refer-a-friend programs on social media platforms. “Peer-to-peer seems to be working for us on LinkedIn, and that is something we’re going to continue to leverage,” she said. “We have been doing some surveying, particularly among our speakers, to find ways we can work with them to leverage their social communities.”

To find ways to encourage practices to send more of their staff to her events, she employs a refer-a-friend incentive they can redeem at the meeting—usually a voucher or coupon for some sort of food event, she said. “We don’t get as good a result if we simply discount the price for purchasing education.” Sending special formal invitations for alumni events, or events where they can socialize with colleagues in a lunch-and-learn session led by a key opinion leader, also helps to attract more attendees from a practice, she said. Refer-a-friend and other peer-to-peer programs also are good ways to attract new potential attendees, she said.

• Partnering with other organizations. Tiberio also partners with associations, societies, and other professional organizations to offer their members a credit or discount off the society’s annual membership fee for attending her events. She also advises reaching out to industry advisory boards. “We went to different industry advisory boards—in our case, they also exhibit on our show floor—to see if they had any content or key opinion leaders or subject matter experts that we could leverage to infuse more relevant and more meaningful content into our programs.” This can be an especially effective way to reach new potential audiences for your event, she said.

• Understanding content trends. Do some research pre- and post-meeting to test your assumptions about why people choose to attend. “In our case, keeping up with new technologies and trends seem to trump any of the hot topics or speakers,” she said. “Many people can go to local meetings to hear speakers in their local community talk on the same topics. Be able to get the necessary credits is also high on their radar.”

But also use that research to find new areas of opportunity, she said. “When we saw in our post-meeting research that attendees coming out of school are looking for courses on how to run their businesses, we focused on that.”

Tiberio’s organization also is delivering the content her attendees say they want, in ways they won’t find elsewhere, by developing branded education. For example, Reed recently partnered with Google to provide a day with 12, 30-minute tracks on Google’s digital and market penetration strategies. They also partnered with Disney to provide “a total office experience of everything from check-in through coding and billing to ensure the entire practice was adhering to some of the Disney principles,” she said. They also partnered with Ritz-Carlton to deliver that company’s “extreme customer care” education at their event on three occasions. “That provides a very robust quality of customer care education that these clinicians don’t get at any other forum,” she said.

• Pacing the program. Tiberio said they look at what attendees in different job title categories were interested in attending so they could disperse the information throughout the four-day program to boost pre-conference and last-day attendance drivers. “As is the case with most meetings, the last day can tend to be slow, so we were looking to position some of the business information [attendees said they wanted] on the last day when it would not compete with some of the more traditional or clinical sessions that these clinicians also were coming to hear.”

• Knowing what motivates attendees. Tiberio says her organization now asks questions as part of the registration process that will help them better understand what motivates people to come to their events. Are they looking to build a network of new people and create new business opportunities? Are they looking for new and interesting products? Do they want to learn about the profession and industry trends through educational sessions or product demonstrations on the show floor? Are they looking to reconnect with current vendors and suppliers? Are they looking to meet up with friends or colleagues?

“It’s important for us to understand their mindset before they enter the trade show floor or come to our meetings, so we can develop content and help ensure their experience at our show meets or exceeds their expectations,” she said.

Her team integrates the behavioral information they collect during registration into their marketing campaign messaging to drive awareness of how the event will meet those needs. For example, an email campaign would link to very specific information geared toward those who are interested in simply exploring, or those who are targeting, or who are looking to reconnect. “We’re able to make an assessment in a post-show research effort to see if there are pre-determining factors, and if we’ve met those expectations. That helps to shape future events.”

• Delivering valuable and meaningful experiences. Adult learning preferences are shifting, so Tiberio’s organization also tests new learning formats and uses the resulting data to shape its events. “Our young professionals have told us they’re keenly interested in learning, but they do not want to sit in meeting rooms for 60 or 120 minutes.” While those who need traditional continuing education credit may still require those longer seat times, they are getting good results with many of the new formats they are testing. Among them are 30-minute crash courses where attendees stay in the same room while speakers rotate every 10 minutes. “This keeps the conversation flowing and they learn a great deal of information in a short amount of time,” she said. 

Reed also is connecting the trade show floor to education with well-received pop-up talks where they invite their media partners to engage small groups of attendees in a 20-minute conversation in some of the labs on the show floor. After the talk, attendees can experience the exhibitors’ products to continue learning more about the topic.

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