Marvelous Marketing

Have you ever received several marketing pieces for a meeting and thought, ‘Gee, that's all I really needed’? Have you ever attended a religious meeting that had multiple messages and said to yourself, ‘I still don't know what the purpose of the meeting is’?

This is where attention to a marketing plan saves money and pays off in the long run. Once you've determined that a face-to-face meeting is the best fit for your communication needs, you need bodies to make it happen. The solution: Create a marketing plan that includes techniques that will attract your target audience to the meeting.

Tip 1: Why Are We Meeting Like This?

In a recent survey, organization leaders said the promise of education and networking were their top two reasons for attending a meeting. But what is the organization's meeting objective?

You need to determine that before you decide whether to go forward with a face-to-face meeting and, ultimately, how to market. For example, is the purpose to increase attendance or increase revenue? Are you trying to get a new audience? Are you delivering a message? Are you motivating, educating, or training?

The objective must be stated clearly in the marketing plan and be understood by everyone involved in the development of the marketing pieces. Clarity prevents confusion in the marketing messages. Avoiding conflicting objectives and messages is critical to your marketing success.

Tip 2: Getting to Know You

Who is being invited? Internal prospects — employees, a board members, or agents for the organization — often must attend board meetings, training programs, committee meetings, retreats, and department planning sessions. Or is the target market an external prospect who might pay to attend a conference, seminar, or symposium? Even if there's no fee attached, you have to vie for that person's valuable time. Getting to know your attendees is critical. The target market drives the type of marketing techniques you choose.

Tip 3: Both Sides

Marketing to an internal prospect requires a more personal approach. An invitation in the mail, an announcement in the organization's newsletter, an e-mail invitation, or a board report with minutes announcing the upcoming meeting have become standard. Marketing to an internal prospect does not require as many marketing pieces, but the ones you use should have a personal touch, even if the meeting is mandatory.

When marketing to an external prospect, you have to provide specific information up front. Clearly state the benefits of attending (return on investment). You have to put yourself in the attendee's shoes and ask: “What will this meeting do for me?”

Some marketing plans use technology to its fullest. Most successful events are marketed with a combination of techniques that build upon one another.

A combination might begin with a postcard inviting attendees to the meeting's Web site for information or to register online. The postcard might include a clever photograph or a cartoon that an attendee can post on a bulletin board.

This is followed with an e-mail blast outlining an incentive for registering early. The message must have the organization's name and meeting name clearly stated in the subject line to avoid being deleted. If you have an organization e-newsletter or e-zine, place the link to the page where the meeting information is listed in the very first paragraph. Add a testimonial from a respected past attendee. Follow the e-zine with a mailing of a printed brochure highlighting sessions, speakers, or social activities.

Combining marketing techniques reminds the receiver/reader of your event. By using creativity and technology, you pique the curiosity of the potential attendee.

Tip 4: Do the Research

Now that you have identified the target market, it is important to research your audience. What will draw attendees to the meeting? In the survey mentioned under Tip 1, organization leaders said the promise of education and networking were their top two reasons for attending. Low on the list were a great destination, speakers, and leisure time. The leaders also indicated that a guarantee for a successful meeting is a well-crafted agenda, reasonable cost, and helpful information. Great entertainment and food ranked low in the survey.

Here are the questions to ask while deciding which marketing pieces to use.

  • Does this piece reflect what the current research says?

  • Does the meeting focus on educating attendees?

  • Does the meeting encourage networking?

  • Is the agenda well-designed?

  • Have you provided helpful information for the attendee?

  • Is the cost reasonable?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, don't use the marketing piece!

The meeting industry has focused on the “experience” economy in recent years. Meeting planners must market to what the attendee is looking for, but planners also must answer the question: “Is the cost reasonable, both in dollars and in time?”

Tip 5: Be Current with Techniques

Recently, I surveyed meeting planners involved in the development of their meetings' marketing plans to see what they are using. The planners most often listed the techniques below.

  • Creative mail pieces: four-color pieces, postcards with photographs, cut-outs, 3-D shapes, CD-ROMs, holograms, CD business cards, PDAs, cubes (a stack of Post-It notes), meeting fact sheets, and product samples with tear-off coupons.

  • Online: e-mail blasts that download quickly, virtual tours, e-newsletters (e-zines), interactive games, online postcards, online coupons, teasers to visit a Web site, and surveys with rewards.

  • Special deals: early bird prices, frequent-attendee programs, matching donations, partnering with another person to attend at a discounted rate, loyalty programs, and Web discounts.

  • Networking: E-mail, online education, after-hours socials, referral partnerships, open houses, sponsorships, handwritten notes, special events, greeters at registration, and chat rooms.

  • Advertising: nostalgia in black and white, simple messages, testimonials, streaming video, music, online malls, moving billboard, corporate-sponsored cards, billboards, sponsorship programs, and kiosks at related meetings.

  • Open Houses: exclusive invitations to the target market. Open houses can include hands-on experiences, education, entertainment, and food.

  • Telemarketing: phone-a-thons, thank-a-thons, fax blasts, gift with sales pitch, conference calls, and surveys.

Tip 6: Use Your Identity

Be sure to place your logo in a prominent position on every marketing piece, not just on printed materials. Let your organization's identity help to sell the meeting.