A recent session on negotiating holds several lessons for attendee marketing. Event organizers are battling inertia: Why should I click here and register? Why should I open my wallet and travel to XYZ Conference? Even once attendees come to town, we battle a preconceived way of doing things, a battle within ourselves and among our stakeholders, consisting of exhibitors, sponsors, speakers and vendors.
“Too often,” says Harvard Business School Professor Deepak Malhotra, ” we try to change people before they’re ready. And then we let them slip back to old ways.”
It is a tale as old as time, a marketing challenge exacerbated in the modern day by multitudinous distractions and alternative offerings. You have to be on the prospective attendee’s mind at the right time, with the right message… all the time.
Ten steps from Professor Malhotra, delivered at the recent Professional Convention Management Association Education Conference, can help us through the deliberateness of essentially negotiating with an attendee, in the face of resistance, to attend your XYZ Conference.
Snapshot of Professor Malhrotra at the PCMA Education Conference
1. Negotiate over Interests, not Positions
This is a big mistake we often see in attendee marketing. Focus on What’s In It for Them, not You. It is vital to understand your attendees and outline the true benefits, not what you as an organizer might want to gain. This is where you get strong messaging.
2. Sell to Them, not to Everyone.
Personalization rules the day, and it doesn’t have to be calling out their name on a cheesy postcard. Break down attendee targets by type and see how what’s in it for them is different than what’s in it for the next group, then message to those positions. This also involves understanding perhaps your XYZ Conference is not for everybody.
3. Pre-empt their Argument.
Address the concerns they may have about coming. If one of those is cost, express your extreme value. If one of those is time out of office, think about how you can construct a schedule or show where time spent with you can save them hours in the long run.
4. Increase the Attractiveness of the Desired Default Option.
Talk as if the default option is to register and attend, not stay home. Positive messaging around this should be sent early and often. Have an “everybody’s coming” mentality but craft more clever messaging than that.
5. Use the Power of Social Proof.
We follow the behavior of others. It is that simple. Publish attendee lists, rock your event hashtag, use testimonials — all to demonstrate that their peers understand the benefits.
6. Create Powerful Reference Points.
As event marketers, we can shift the reference point on which a mind rests, a key in resetting the desired default. No one makes a decision in a vacuum, so all these tips provide contextual evidence within a prospective attendee’s brain.
7. Don’t Give Them a License to Haggle.
Know your value and know their interests in order to communicate your value. Discount deadlines, by their nature, invite doubt as to their value if their reasoning cannot be perceived. Think about that.
8. Normalize the Process.
Now we step into new territory — these last three tips are after the registration has been processed. Continue to communicate value as well as tactical offerings, work to give your event easy access points for a newcomer, and use technology to achieve this objective.
9. Strategize Across the Negotiation Space.
Consider their entire journey to, at and from XYZ Conference. How can you improve it? How can you help attendees glean the most vital information to achieve their objectives? This is how we begin on day one to re-market for the next event, by creating the most engaging current event.
10. Stay at the Table.
We talk a lot about the 365-day conference. No one wants to be engaged with you every single day, but using content and building community will make your next trip through these 10 steps much easier. Keep their mindshare.
Professor Malhotra’s sessions was packed at PCMA, for good reason. His book, Negotiating the Impossible, goes into more detail but certainly not as it relates to attendee marketing. These tips were adapted just for you. What has been the biggest impact for you in your marketing?
Dana Freker Doody is the VP of Corporate Communications at The Expo Group.