Turn Conference Attendees from One-Timers to Loyalists
Just last week I was meeting with a prospective client in the Software as a Service (SaaS) business and we talked about her upcoming user conference. Her question to me was one that we get often from clients and events teams, and one that any strategic marketing team will be asking themselves as they plan their next conference:
“What makes a person loyal to a conference? What makes them come back year after year? What makes them want to travel to a conference that happens in various locations, perhaps multiple times throughout the year?”
To answer this question, we need to not just think about the marketer’s goals, but also the attendees’ need. The crux of this concept is centered around delivering value to attendees: People will come to your conference if it is a valuable use of their time and money (with time being more valuable than money).
Creation of Tangible ROI + Exclusive Access
The question then becomes, “How can I, as a an event marketing professional, create moments of measurable value exchange during my client’s conference?” While thinking about this question, keep in mind that it is critical to deliver something tangible or actionable that attendees can take home. If you do this well, attendees will see the ROI from your conference as soon as they start implementing their newly acquired knowledge.
In order to create value, you need to solve one of their problems. Surprisingly, however, the secret to doing this isn’t necessarily to have all of the answers. The secret to creating ROI is to create an environment that fosters problem-solving conversations. Give attendees access to people outside of their typical ecosystem who have the answers to their questions, can offer them a solution, or can be a partner to create impact.
Putting that Concept into Action
Going back to the conversation with my potential client, we started brainstorming ways she could create tangible ROI and foster an environment that primes all participants for hands-on solution thinking.
Not a Break-out…a Breakthrough
I suggested that she consider a “Breakthrough Session” at the beginning of the conference. In order to ensure it feels curated, the session would be by invitation only and embody the spirit of a combination of an Executive 1:1, Hands on Learning Lab, and Breakout Session all in one. The session would be designed primarily for top clients who have demonstrated their loyalty to the brand and have a trusted relationship in place that accelerates the learning path. The remaining seats would be filled with qualified “A list target clients” seeking similar solutions.
We would start the session with a presentation to the entire group, showcasing a successful implementation case study for an existing client, since we know that conference attendees need a bit of a warm-up to get them engaged and thinking. In the case study we’d be sure to quantify the client’s challenge in terms of costs expended due to lack of efficiencies, missed revenue opportunities, etc. It is important that an absolute monetary value is attached to the problem’s cost to the company today, as well as potential future loss of revenues. The solution the SaaS company implements would then be offered, along with a quantifiable monetary return on investment. This allows us to not only measure how successful the solution was, but also starts to pave the path for financial justification of purchasing the solution for those “A list target clients” watching.
From there, we would disperse the group into interactive break-through sessions. When creating an environment to encourage innovation, networking, or connection — we have to think of how the setup is either going to support or detract from that goal. I suggested that we use whiteboard conference tables with executive swivel chairs, flip charts, and a plasma screen to create small group “Think Tank Stations.” Multiple stations would be set up in the room to leverage the collective energy of the explosive brain power happening.
Access to the Experts
The client would include a facilitator from the SaaS company at each table, along with the appropriate product teams and implementation teams, and ideally a Senior Executive whose expertise is highly sought after and therefore demonstrates the commitment of the company to the client’s success.
In these groups, attendees would be prompted to share their quantified problem. For example, an attendee might say, “We need to be able to take our concepts to reality within a couple of days versus a couple of weeks. Every day we wait to publish means a loss of ad revenue.”
These groups are where you are actually positing value. It is not the conference’s job to solve each attendee’s problem, but rather to facilitate meaningful conversation through creating access to new groups of people who can creatively shed insights to their problem. And, often times, in these environments clients make significant headway in solving their own problem given exposure to new perspectives.
Going back to our example, if that attendee was to connect with another attendee in a similar industry who was able to shed light on their issue, now you’re delivering value. Even better if that attendee was able to come home with a PO for a solution that can help solve their challenge — now you’re positioning that person to be a problem solver in their organization. They’re primed to go to their CTO & CFO and make a quantifiable argument to their leadership team about how to make an impact in their business. “We’re losing $25,000 in ad revenues each month from not sharing our content fast enough. We lack speed and agility. By signing this PO for $9,000 a month, within three months we’ll be up and running and have rectified that revenue loss.” This would not only help the attendee create a breakthrough in their own business problem, but positions the conference as a place where breakthroughs happen.
As the conference creator, it should be your job to pool the talent in the room to help connect attendees to other people who can join the solution conversations. By doing so you are creating a valuable transaction between attendees at the conference with quantifiable results. With this sort of exchange, it’s much more likely that your attendees are going to lobby to come year-over-year and even multiple times within a year.
We would love to talk to you about your goals for your next conference, and discuss ways we can help you make one-timer attendees into loyalists.
Karen DeTemple is the Founder of Ideas with Impact, a brand communications and event marketing company based in San Francisco. With a background that spans from brand marketing to psychology studies, Karen understands what it takes to motivate people and shift behaviors—for both client teams and her own. Known for her candor and wit, Karen ensures every attendee journey has both big and small moments for people to learn, absorb and take action. Karen is a natural team orchestrator, bringing together the right mix of people, inspiration and process so that everyone can shine to the fullest.