Getting to know you…

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Like the medical profession, familiarity is a crime that many event organisers are guilty of.  Not in the sense of being over-friendly, but forgetting that the visitor does not experience an event every day, nor do they spend many waking hours planning, discussing or thinking about every minute detail of how the spectacle is created and produced.

Often our only communication with the visitor is via their credit card or post event survey. In the latter we are frequently more interested in creating statistics that look good on the sales brochure than actually finding out how the experience matched up to their expectations or what they would suggest to make things better.  After months of preparation, it’s all to easy to hide away in the organiser’s office during the live period, safely out of reach.

Events are unique in that there are very few jobs where staff come face to face with every single one of their customers. And, because of our tendency to hide ourselves away, it means that more often or not it is the ones with grumbles who force their way through. Sometimes it can feel like a constant barrage of complaints, and more often than not it is a junior member of the team with little or no customer relations training or experience left to deal with it.

Success comes with knowledge, and experience tells me that the best way to get this is by making yourself available. Interacting with visitors and exhibitors throughout the opening hours, making small talk and asking them what their motivation for attending is. It also gives you the opportunity to explain areas where they believe there are shortcomings. Nine times out of ten there are clear explanations for perceived issues which the visitor has not considered and is happy to accept.

But perhaps one of the key benefits of this approach is that you get to speak to happy people, those who are thoroughly enjoying every moment, who feel like they are getting value for money and an experience they will savour.

Hellen @missioncontrol

 

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Listen to the people who are talking sense

If you haven’t come across Michael Heipel yet, please let me introduce you…

Michael tweets, blogs and posts about all sorts of stuff, including marketing, events, social media and technology and I like what he has to say. (Sometimes he even likes what I have to say which is great!)

Today I found his blog post about social media and events.  It’s a topic very close to me since I spend most of my time trying to pursuade clients to focus in on their content and then work out what media they are going to use to tell their audience about it, rather than creating a social media presence and working out what they are going to put on it.

I would reproduce what Michael has said here, but I think you should go and read it for yourself.  It makes a lot of sense.

hellen @missioncontrol

Social media doesn’t work for your event? Here’s 5 reasons to think twice…

While at the big industry events like EIBTM or IMEX, social networks and the impact they have on event marketing are widely discussed, I sense that a lot of event organizers and associations are still not sure about how to deal with the topic or how much resources to invest.

Don’t be so afraid to embrace cannibalism…

Here’s a scenario for you to consider:

Your organisation runs an annual conference and exhibition.  The attendance figures are steady and you are attracting on average between five and ten per cent of your calculated total universe.  Exhibitor and sponsor numbers are holding up and revenue is on target.

So far so good

Two years ago you introduced a specialist pavilion for one of the sectors of the industry you serve.  It’s been a huge success and now attracts 15% of your total audience and generates 20% of your sales.  But there is a problem.  The companies and visitors involved want their own event.  They want to be the focus rather than a sideshow and they are getting very vocal about it.

What are you going to do?

  1. Stick to your guns, but pacify them by giving them a bit more space and a couple more sessions in the conference programme.
  2. Create a ‘mini’ co-located event.
  3. Grasp the opportunity and develop a second event.
  4. Nothing.  Very happy with the status quo thank you very much.

Why would anyone answer yes to the last question?

One simple reason – they can’t get past the cannibalisation problem.

It seems like forever that this thorny old issue has been hanging around, with the publishing and events industries particularly sensitive.  From whether a successful supplement should become a publication in its own right; to investment in websites and social media that would take readers away from the printed page; and currently whether or not a virtual conference or meeting space will reduce footfall at a live exhibition.

The main argument against developing a pluralist strategy is that it causes a reduction in revenue or perceived market share.  But the truth is that when carefully planned and executed such a strategy can result in a larger share of an increased total market.  Examples within the retail industry abound: when Coca Cola introduced Diet Coke, sales of Coke fell, but ultimately led to an expanded market for diet soft drinks.  Forward thinking and successful FMCG companies positively embrace the idea as Apple CEO Tim Cook explains:

“iPad has cannibalised some Mac sales. The way that we view cannibalisation is that we prefer to do it to ourselves than let someone else do it. We don’t want to hold back one of our teams from doing the greatest thing, even if it takes some sales from another product area. Our high-order bid is, ‘We want to please customers and we want them buying Apple stuff.'”

Why then are B2B publishers and events organisers still struggling with the idea of creating virtual experiences in addition to their current physical and online activity?

Hybrid and standalone virtual conferences, training and meeting sessions may affect audiences but the truth is that they are likely to deliver more visitors, both from a wider geographic area and from a demographic that would normally be too time-poor to engage in a live event.  Detractors suggest that viewers online are not as engaged; but neither is every visitor at a conference (particularly at 2pm).

The bigger question is not how many visitors or delegates you are going to lose from your live event, but how many people from your total market universe are you failing to connect with?  Anecdotally we know that membership organisations attract on average 5% of their total membership to live events.  In commercial event organisations, marketers need to hit a target universe seven or eight times in order to pursuade between five and 10 per cent of them to attend.  Plus, if you only engage with this audience once a year you are putting up constant barriers to retaining and growing the audience and its levels of interaction, which in turn diminishes your opportunities to drive and grow your revenues and profit.

Tony Rossell from Marketing General, Inc. has done some excellent research on this subject in the context of Association Membership: his work shows that Associations which create multiple opportunities for engagement with their members, whether via annual meetings, professional development, webinars, social networking etc. are more likely to show increases in overall membership in both the long and the short term as well as an increase in new members and renewal rates.

It stands to reason that the more you engage with your audience, both exisiting and potential, then the more likely they are to engage with you.  Hybrid events don’t have to reproduce your live event verbatim and virtual events don’t have to be restricted to specific times and dates dictated by venue contraints.

Where virtual events are concerned, it’s time to put the issue of audience cannibalisation to bed once and for all and embrace the concept of market colonisation instead.

Hellen @missioncontrol

Time to wake up and smell the coffee chaps…

While rummaging through my email inbox this morning I stopped and read the one from the professional institute of which I am a member.

It’s compelling, and beautifully written, as it ought to be and it was asking me very nicely to attend the annual conference.  And offering me a discount.  What’s not to like about that?

What caught my eye though was that the early booking discount was £200 + vat.  If that’s the discount I thought, how much is the conference?  A mighty £445 + vat no less.  Which means that if I don’t book before the early bird discount runs out I’ll have to fork at a eye-watering £645 + vat to attend a conference run by the association I pay to be a member of.  Wow.

Possibly not for the right reasons, the organisation now had my full attention.  Surely this must be a two day event I thought… but no, this was for a one day 09:00 to 17:30 affair (with an hour and forty minutes of break time; you’ll be relieved to hear that lunch was provided) where I could attend ten sessions (if I had the fortitude to get through it all) of which there were some of only marginal interest.

The marketing line what smaller companies can learn from the “big boys” illicited a wry chortle. Because at that price how many small businesses are actually likely to attend.  The HMRC definition of a small company is if your turnover is £5.6million or less or have fewer than 50 employees.  In reality many small, and very dynamic, businesses fall well below these thresholds.  In the Marketing Week/Ball & Hoolahan marketing salary survey for 2012 the salary for a marketing manager is somewhere in the region of £36,000.  If you extrapolate down from this you can work out that this conference organiser is potentially asking a company to pay a quarter of an employee’s monthly take home pay to attend a one day conference from which there is marginal company-wide return on investment.

You don’t need to absorb much media in the UK to work out that these are straitened economic times.  There is many a managing director trying to work out whether they should pay the wage bill or the suppliers, and telling their employees that “we’re very sorry but there will be no wage increases this year”.  Training budgets may survive, just, but spending on expensive conference days out (we haven’t factored in travel and accommodation/lost productivity costs in all of this have we?) isn’t a priority for many.  And what about those who have embraced redundancy and become freelance marketers… if you take the cost of the conference and the loss of a day’s earnings why on earth would you even consider booking a place.

And conference organisers wonder why their attendance rates are down… Discriminating against large sectors of the audience by virtue of price isn’t going to help much is it? And membership organisations are more at risk than ever because we’re not even sure we need you any more guys.

It is in times like these that great innovation often occurs. Exhibition and live event organisers have recognised for years the need to add more and more value to their offerings, creating environments where visitors can get information or experiences that they just can’t get elsewhere.  It’s time that conference organisers did the same. There is no point telling a potential attendee that they will learn new things and network with their peers, because they can do this via LinkedIn without spending a bean or having to get up at 6:15am to get to the venue, and a day full of plenary sessions with tiny comfort breaks (because the programme is crammed to make it look like it is value for money) doesn’t deliver for many people.

So dear conference organisers I challenge you to do three things differently this year:

  1. Start your pricing strategy from how much you think your conference is worth and how much your delegate is willing to pay rather than from how much money you need to cover your venue costs.  If the answer is £99+vat then find a solution that fits.
  2. Stop trying to cram too much into a programme to justify the huge sum of money you are asking for.  Remember how exhausting it was to sit in a lecture theatre for a couple of hours as a student and ask yourself why you think people can endure it for eight hours or more now that they are older.
  3. Embrace some new technology to deliver to your audiences and members in a different, more inclusive and accessible way.  Get out of that traditionalist box right now.

At present most conference organisers (associations included) attract on average less than 5% of their target audiences to their events.  Which means that for every delegate you get there could be another 19 waiting to engage with your organisation. Time to go get them.

hellen @missioncontrol

Why ‘must’ I ‘attend’ your event?

Your brochure is finished.  The design is great (though you haven’t left a lot of white space because you’ve got to keep on giving those punters reasons to attend) and you think the copy covers all the bases.

Bet I can guess what phrase you have used to describe your conference/awards/expo?

… is the Must Attend Event for … professionals/lovers of jazz music etc. etc.

Oh how I wish I had a penny for every time that phrase is used.  Why not a pound? I hear you ask.  That’s because I am so confident of the number of times it has been used that I think I will still benefit financially.  And indeed I am proved correct: a Google search on the phrase ‘must attend event’ yields no fewer than 6,580,000 results! Even if I narrow the search criteria down to the last twelve months it yields 403,000 results.

It’s a facetious point well made.  Why do marketers describe their events in such hackneyed terms?

And is it marketing’s problem, or is it something more fundamental to do with the way we create events, particularly large scale exhibitions, multi-streamed conferences and awards ceremonies?

Probably a bit of both if the truth be told.

It’s easy(ish) to market a rock concert.  You know which band is playing, you tell their fans where and when and hopefully they will buy tickets.  Simple, single stage sell.   But how do you get 5,000 people to a medical device exhibition or 100 delegates to attend a conference on social networking? You could tell them what’s on offer, but you’ll need to present the message differently to each of your audience sectors, and that causes problems because you might not be able to offer them all the same super attractive package.  And then of course you might be the only marketer trying to cover off a number of events and your creative juices are spread too thinly.

So the easy option is to describe your product as the must attend event for ‘anyone involved in the medical device industry’ or ‘anyone who wants to use social networking to leverage their business’. Phew – got all the potential audience covered – can sign off on the copy.

Stop and look again though.  Instead of trying to find phrases that fit all, remember what motivates people to come to events.  There will be a core of people who attend because they come every year; the health services that buy medical devices perhaps, and they make up 40% of your audience.  You can clearly identify another 40%. So why not create copy that talks to these people?  Because I will miss the other 20% you reply.  But what makes that other 20% come along every year… they seek you out.  And it wasn’t because you kept harping on about the fact that you are the must attend event for…  it’s because they were looking for something and they found it in your copy/online content etc. and subsequently your event.

Be brave.  Stop trying to talk to everyone at once.  Create a series of miniture marketing pieces within your main message.  Create multiple calls to action (and if you are asking someone to spend £750 on a conference place please don’t use Book Now) that drive individuals to yet more compelling and targetted content.  Tell a small business in Irving why embracing Facebook could transform their sales performance; explain to a manufacturer what installing a clean-room could do to their business; encourage an advertising agency in Coventry to enter an industry award.

Then, and only then, will your event be truly must attend.

hellen @purerocketscience

Stop snacking… time to start eating properly again

Something unusual has been happening in the office over the last couple of months.  After years of seeing the volumes of free-circulation business press dwindle to almost nothing we have begun hearing the thud of magazines more frequently once again.

It started with Print Power, a publication produced by Lateral Group. The blurb at the front says that it is a European initiative dedicated to strengthening the position of print media in a multi-media world. That’s as may be, but what actually hit the desk was an extremely well thought out, beautifully designed and, most importantly, well written publication that not only made it out of the poly bag (got to open it to separate the recycling) but is still here for reference.

And then, starting the new year with a bang, along came the January issue of B2B marketing. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this magazine for a while, which is a pity because it’s a smasher.  Lots of varied content, once again well written, great layout and a tone which didn’t make the reader feel like they were on the periphary of a rather exclusive club, or reading something fresh out of the mouth of a PR assistant.

So, this got me thinking about two things: how important it is for B2B magazines that they are written properly; and secondly how we need to find time to sit, absorb and process information.

Many business magazine operations (and one of the above is not innocent of the offence) have embraced technology and decided that the way to keep their readers and consequently their circulations is to develop regular email newsletters. And then send them out to their database. Every Day.  Event magazine  went even further and sent out two email bulletins a day. Thank goodness they have stopped that.  It seemed like a great plan at the time, but it forgot something very fundamental about human behaviour: that if you give us snacks we will graze rather than engage; and that most people switch off when they feel they are being nagged.

What’s more, readers don’t even have to let on that they have stopped engaging.  While the email administrator always ensures that the unsubscribe information is included, all the recipient has to do is to classify the message as unwanted and it will forever be consigned to the junk folder.

In creating this constant stream of bitesize snippets we have created a culture of having to write something to a timetable rather than to an editorial plan.  In doing so, we resemble budgerigars: saying anything for the sake of it, not because we believe it is something that will interest the recipient or even that they will make time to read it.  So they lose interest, stop reading, and they are off to find someone who they think will give them what they want. Our marketing messages become bland, our products uninviting.

As consumers of information we are not without blame either.  This veritable cornucopia of new media has us flitting from place to place searching out the information we think we need.  But, time to ‘fess up: it’s exhausting isnt’ it? There’s a reason why hummingbirds drink pure sugar…

If we want to make good business/marketing/communications decisions, then we must pause to nourish ourselves with high quality information devoured slowly and with relish.  We must create time to sit down and consider what is in front of us without constant interruption from screen based applications, or the pressure of having to tell an audience of disinterested individuals streams  of minutiae. And noone is better placed to provide this michelin-starred content than the quality end of the B2B press.

So come on chaps… put the chips away and start cooking up some roasties.

hellen @missioncontrol

So you think you own me?

The previous post You’ve got to deliver what the audience really  wants has provoked discussion in a number of forums and the responses have made for interesting reading, not least because of the seeming inability to move on from old arguments.

So let’s look at the topic from a different angle, by considering two industries closely related to producing live events; so closely related in fact that you would consider them siblings; i.e. publishing and broadcasting.

In both of these industries, the key players are referred to as Media Owners. Because they own the medium through which the content is broadcast. And for years this is exactly what they have done; decided when, where and what information and entertainment their audiences or readerships were going to consume.  They have made and broken many a star, politician or company profit, simply through the editorial decisions they have taken which have influenced the masses.

Conference and exhibition organisers, be they commercial operations, industry bodies or associations, continue to believe that they must operate in a similar way.  Developing programmes of content that they perceive the audience wants, choosing speakers and selecting participating exhibitors (via an economic filter it is true) and presenting a finished product to the visitors at a time, date and venue over which the latter has no control.

Then along came the Internet and social media and the shift in power from owner to audience was seismic.

Because the concept of expertise ownership by a few large corporations doesn’t fit any more.  You can’t tell me what I should be watching, what information I need, or who I should be networking with.  You can’t stop me finding organisations who can’t afford to exhibit at your event or who haven’t got a charismatic speaker, because if their Search and SM strategies are good I can do this on my own.  And, you can’t stop me telling people, a lot of people, about the experience your organisation offers me, within minutes if I so choose.

So let’s bin the argument about virtual not replacing face-to-face; because we all know it won’t.  Let’s stop finding fault with virtual technologies, because frankly some of them are pretty amazing.  And let’s stop pretending that we still own audiences and industries because of the events we produce because we don’t. Let’s embrace the new to enhance the old rather than dismissing it as a fad that has nothing to do with us.

What we need to be doing, with or without the help of virtual technologies, is to work out how we build and maintain relationships with our communities; how we facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals both through a single live day and an online presence; and how we use the unfettered enthusiasm of our audiences to create a profitable business model for the future.

hellen @missioncontrol