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July 27, 2022

Conference & Meeting Marketing: What Does Innovation Look Like?

Co-authored by: Meena Dayak, M.A. and Emily Larson

Many associations are seeing a keen desire among their members to get back to in-person meetings. On the flip side, virtual offerings — which reached a new level of sophistication over the past two years  — attracted new customers and made it cheaper and easier to participate from home.

Meetings and networking events are no longer the domain of associations. Media companies, foundations, universities, and a whole array of for-profit entities with massive resources are increasingly giving associations a run for their money. While associations often have the benefits of credibility, a loyal following and affordable fees, they are not always positioned with the extensive reach and aggressive marketing tactics employed by their competitors.

There is an urgent need for a revised approach to how events are marketed. Four trends to note are data-driven marketing, expanding the universe of prospects, omni-channel digital marketing, and leveraging social media ambassadors and influencers.

Targeting efforts with data-driven marketing

The predominantly tactical approach to event marketing is no longer yielding desired results. Simply sending a weekly email and doing three social media posts a month is no longer going to cut it. Marketing campaigns need to have a strategic and data-data driven approach. Metrics can better inform audience segmentation and targeting, the marketing channel mix, and refinement of key messages and content for promotions.

Anthony Priore, chief marketing and membership officer at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons said, “Data mining and business intelligence are critical for better decision making. Our marketing team members are becoming mini-analysts. We monitor response and registration metrics on a continual basis to tweak and improve our marketing approaches.”

Mining the data to create personas and better understand customers is the foundation of event marketing strategy at the Association of Supply Chain Management, underscored Sherri Goodlove, executive vice president, marketing, communications and ecommerce.

Expanding the customer universe

Over the past few years, the uptick in virtual offerings — and the increased activity from for-profit competitors — has opened up new audiences for association events. Think allied professionals and adjacent industry representatives, students and other new prospects. This means associations have to look beyond members and their own databases to bring in never-before attendees to their events.

Reaching new prospects requires targeted efforts through new channels and a strategic approach to lead generation. For example, associations could attract new audiences by offering free content initially, and capturing their contact information so they can nurture interest and “convert” them to customers over a period of time.

Enhancing the reach through digital channels

Marketing is about meeting customers and prospects where they are, and today that means thinking beyond email to a range of digital options such as third-party advertising, paid online search and social media marketing, app notifications, etc. Changing privacy laws and analytics parameters which will limit reach and response metrics, are also driving the need to diversify marketing channels.

Priore emphasized the need for advance planning to expand digital reach. “We are looking at options like text-based marketing and voicemail drops. However, it takes time to build opt-ins and work through the legal ramifications. So it can’t happen overnight,” he cautioned.

Letting influencers work their networks

While the use of organic and paid social media as a marketing channel is not new, it’s time to focus on content-driven posts and to mobilize influencer-driven social media marketing. Equipping speakers, board and planning committee members, exhibitors, sponsors and attendees with the right messages and tools to spread the word among their online networks is more engaging and effective than the message constantly coming directly from the association.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists launched a social media champions influencer group that gives feedback on marketing plans. Susan Carlson, chief learning officer at the American Society of Anesthesiologists shared, “We have a social media champions group that we use as a sounding board for our marketing plans. They are active in spreading the word ahead of time and also live coverage during the event, which is highly effective.”

With a strategic, data-driven and holistic approach to content planning and marketing, associations can upgrade and innovate their event strategy and event marketing to significantly grow revenue and reach.

Next steps

Get in touch with McKinley Advisors to find out how we can help you evaluate your event portfolio and develop an effective marketing strategy. Join us in-person or virtually for a Community Conversation about the trends and challenges in marketing association meetings and events on Wednesday, August 3. 



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