There’s been some talk of hiding your prospective attendee numbers from your exhibitors/attendees, given that almost the attendance for most events is down due to COVID-19. I don’t think that’s the right perspective and I’d like to take a different approach. What are the strategies which should be used to bring attendees back, both now when uncertainty reigns, and in a future when [presumably] some semblance of normality has returned?
I believe that event organizers have three groups of attendees, each of whom will need specific targeting strategies:
1) Loyal Attendees
This attendee doesn’t need as much convincing as others might. If they can come, they will. What might interfere with their plans would be corporate restrictions about travel, the personal fear of becoming ill, or other COVID-related circumstances. The messaging for them will need to be high in content and event logistics (what, where, when, how, etc.) and less on the “sell”. This is your core audience; when your numbers are down, they will comprise most of the people who show up. Treat them well and communicate with them honestly. Ensure they understand your health and safety protocols, as it will help your numbers!
2) Former Attendees, But Not Now
These are the attendees who previously attended your event but are not a given to return. When your numbers are down, the biggest reason is that this segment is absent. They may have health concerns and, given those concerns, they may take a “wait and see” approach to your event before committing to return. It might be that they didn’t get a lot of tangibles from the last event they attended, and now require some convincing. Marketing themes to this segment should include specifics about your COVID-19 safety protocols, the rich conference program, the professional and person value and joy of attending face-to-face events, the chance to temporarily escape from a world of Zoom-only meetings, etc. Your near-term business success may well depend upon your effectiveness in attracting these folks.
3) Never Attendees
You may say “I’ve never landed these people before, why would I get them now?” Well, the world is different. As I write this, I am in a hotel, attending my first event in 18 months. How refreshing is it to see my colleagues for the first time in 2 years? The age of COVID-19 has changed business – perhaps forever. What drives decisions about the business is likely to change, as well. Make sure you develop programs that you see people are enjoying elsewhere and incorporate them into your events. Tap into that momentum and you may find you are able to attract the audiences of the future.
I remind you, however, that each of these audiences require a different approach. If you opt to do only one theme in your messaging, expect that the majority of your attendees will be from the first group. Ensure that you think through your messaging for the second and third groups, making it authentic and clear. After all, you want to consider your attendees (and exhibitors) as if you are on the same team, rather than consider them only as sales prospects from whom you hide information.
As difficult as the last 18 months have been, we event organizers must take the initiative to create the future. The business is still there, and your attendees are finding what they need outside of face to face events, outside of your offerings. What are you going to do about it?
Adapt or perish….