You need to have a strategy for association event marketing to drive attendance and communicate the benefits of sponsorships. As in all marketing, consistency is key and multiple touches are needed to get your message through.
The most important factor in developing and evolving effective strategies—whether the goal is to increase membership, event attendance or sponsorship dollars—is a thorough analysis and understanding of your associations’ marketplace, target audiences and the competitive and organizational influences. A well-thought out event marketing plan gives your association a competitive advantage, helping to identify and analyze the relationship between your association, your competitors and the criteria used by your members and prospects in making membership, attendance and sponsorship decisions.
Take the time to look at the marketing plans for your events and determine which tactics have been working so far and which ones haven’t.
While it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the various components of planning successful events, don’t forget the two items that will make your job a lot easier: marketing and public relations. To help guide you through the comprehensive marketing and public relations process that inevitably precedes any successful event, we’re here to help.
“Teasing” or a systematic approach to promoting something, is a lot like fishing. Both skills require patience, expertise and luck. While one is a marketing technique and the other a pastime, they are quite similar in that each uses bait they want their target audience to bite. Just like fishing, teasers are meant to generate interest and arouse curiosity. When teasers are successful, we’re left wanting more, anxiously waiting for the next association event marketing announcement.
Timing is everything. Anglers typically have better odds catching fish when it’s feeding time. Same goes for teasers. For instance, a “Back to School” sale teaser would be more effective in late July and August rather than May or June. Marketers have to know when people are hungry for specific products and services to get the most from teasers. Also, knowing how long to advertise a teaser is key. Campaigns lasting too long run the risk of losing the target audience’s interest.
Aim for the right target audience. Some anglers prefer to catch specific fish. Other anglers are happy to catch just about anything. Each angler uses the correct equipment and bait to ensure the greatest probability of success. The same is true for a marketing teaser. Associations should learn from the best practices of top marketers who believe that the winning formula for success is to focus 70 percent of your campaign strategy on having the right target audience (the remainder is focused 20 percent on your creative approach and 10 percent on message). The thinking is if the target audience isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what you tease them with!
Be memorable. An integral part of the marketing teaser is ensuring your creative is equal to the task. Serious anglers use detailed lures to attract their target fish and the same rule applies for the teaser. Psychologically, the brain processes images and colors long before the message is read. That’s why subliminal advertising works so well. Our brain tunes into the message subconsciously before we can comprehend the message in its entirety. Powerful images stimulate the mind and bland images don’t.
When used effectively, association event marketing teasers can help you surpass your goals by building anticipation. Putting these steps in place can mean the difference between experiencing the thrill of the catch or going home empty-handed.
Build an event promotion timeline. Work with your team of marketing professionals to determine what materials are needed to promote your events as well as increase awareness. Do you need a save the date postcard or e-blast? How about a promotional brochure? Does promotion on your social networks make sense? Should you issue a press release? All of these questions are vital in determining you have the right message and vehicle that will speak to your target audience, reaching them at the right time to make the decision to attend your event.
12-18 Months Out: Announce the date, location and city of your upcoming event to your target attendees as far in advance as possible. Note, it is especially important to announce these details at the prior year’s event as well (if possible). This will spur excitement from your attendees about the upcoming event and get them looking forward to it, while they are already in “conference-mode.”
9 Months Out: Mail a “Save the Date” postcard to members, exhibitors and prospective members that graphically ties in your conference theme. In addition to location and time, the postcards should include a call for speakers, if applicable.
6 Months Out: The next step in your association event marketing is to send a “teaser” brochure which includes the schedule (at a glance), hotel information, dates and any key information you want attendees to be made aware of. At this stage, you may want to encourage your prospective attendees to begin booking their travel arrangements—for this reason, be sure to include specific start and end times for the different sessions.
3-4 Months Out: Ensure all event details are finalized including sessions, speakers, optional events, tours, etc. so that registration can be opened for interested attendees.
All Hands on Deck: Following all the above milestones, the next three months leading up to the conference should be focused on weekly promotions through dedicated e-blasts, social media, industry publications, press releases, website updates, etc. Get the word out any way you can!
In addition to traditional promotional strategies like e-newsletters and mailers, use your smaller lead-up events as promotional vehicles for your event. Make sure the hosts or moderators mention in their remarks, upcoming event flyers are on tables and save-the-dates are in the programs, as well as post-event surveys and communications. Put flyers in welcome packages, swag bags and include all hand out materials.
Leveraging networks is one key to successfully marketing events.
Thank sponsors and promote them as early as possible. Also, ask your event sponsors to help spread the word within their networks. Ask your associations’ board to help spread the word about the upcoming events and task them with sharing on social media and among their networks.
Social media is another association event marketing tool. Consider using a hashtag on social media specifically for your event. Several months prior, reveal the social media hashtags for your event. Consistently use them and talk about them in all event communications.
Association members and conference attendees will use this hashtag around the event to build excitement — such as passport arrivals, photo contests and excitement from reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. By creating a hashtag you can get attendees involved in posting, tweeting, sharing and promotion.
Hashtags, words or phrases preceded with the pound sign, are used on social media to connect comments on a specific topic and spark conversation. They are a way to communicate with your conference during any point of the event through most social media platforms. An event hashtag means users can do a search on social media and see the history of the event as the same hashtag ties all of the events together, similar to an online social media scrapbook. Some choose to use their event name and the year to start engaging users for each specific event.
Once you have a specific hashtag, it is important to communicate the conference’s official hashtag with all attendees. Launch the hashtag by posting it on the conference site and using it in official posts. Create a wide array of posts on different social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. According to HubSpot, tweets that include hashtags are 200 percent more likely to receive engagement than those without. By pushing the conference hashtag before the event and during, you will be able to get those conversations started immediately.