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When Marketing Your Meetings, Demographics Aren’t Enough

Veteran marketer David Allison contends that values-focused campaigns will attract more attendees to association events. Here’s what that means.

In the association market, the multi-million-dollar question for 2022 is this: Will enough people return to in-person events to get associations back to financial stability?

According to David Allison, founder of market-research firm Valuegraphics, associations will be as responsible for creating the desired outcome as their potential attendees will be. For instance, if associations rely mainly on demographic data to build their events’ marketing campaigns, they are likely to fall short of their goal, he says. “Demographics are necessary but not sufficient to achieve the messaging accuracy you need.”

That’s especially true at this moment, when 25 percent of business professionals surveyed in fall 2021 said they will surely come back to in-person business events in 2022—but another 51 percent said they would return to in-person events but cannot say exactly when. While health security plays a partial role in their indecision, the superiority of engaging with the community in person versus online is not clear enough to that undecided segment.

Furthermore, demographics data is simply not revealing enough. “Not all millennials are the same, not all Gen Xers are the same, not all women are the same, and not all men are the same,” Allison says. In fact, he cites this finding by his firm: Even in individual demographic groups, agreement by more than two-thirds of the group on an issue or preference happens only about 11 percent of the time.

Instead of focusing on demographics, then, Allison asks this: “What are the values that unite the people who attend your sessions?” And by emphasizing those in an event’s marketing campaign, associations stand a much better chance of getting in-person attendance back to pre-pandemic levels.

Values Differ Around the World
During a session at the IMEX America show in Las Vegas in November, Allison identified the values that resonate in different regions of the world, based on nearly 600,000 surveys his firm conducted:

• Belonging, relationships, friendships, and community are common to all regions.

• Financial security, experiences, and personal growth are most important to professionals in the European Union.   

• Financial security and personal growth top the list for those in Asia (outside China).

• In China, harmony joins financial security and personal growth among the most important values.

• In the Middle East, the top values are morality, loyalty, and financial security.

• Religion/spirituality, job security, and financial security resonate most strongly in South and Central America.

• In North America (outside the U.S.), the top values are basic needs, spirituality, and job security.

• In the U.S., personal responsibility and growth, health and well-being, and basic needs are the top values.

“People will act on things that speak to their values,” Allison says. So, the messaging in an event’s marketing campaign “should promote the experiences of your event that match the desires associated with certain values.”

For instance, with job security and financial security, “emphasize that the cost of not being present at the event is real—it could make you less secure in your job and in your finances.” On the other hand, for those interested in health and well-being, don’t use scare tactics. Instead, “focus on what they can do at an event that will make a positive difference to them personally, or to their organization or industry or community.”

In conclusion, Allison noted that associations should redesign their member surveys to gain a better understanding of the values that are widely shared in their professional communities. By doing so, associations can build effective messaging for their event-marketing campaigns while developing better content and experiences for their meetings, too.

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