If your meeting takes place annually, you can market to your current attendee base for next year’s event. You can and should take advantage of this captured audience to increase attendee retention, which should be an objective of your marketing plan and a task on your timeline from year to year. Here are five steps to help you boost attendee retention:
1. One of the biggest draws for attendees is the destination. If yours changes yearly, then you have a prime marketing message to promote to the current year’s attendees. One technique is to keep the destination a secret and reveal it at the final night’s function. Consider using a destination theme for your decor or dessert and having the group guess its location.
Mike Chandler, managing director of events for USA Volleyball, has the host for the next year promote their city to attendees at the current event. Inviting a representative from the convention and visitors bureau or a city leader is a great way to elevate hype for the destination. CVBs have slick videos promoting the highlights of their destination, and sometimes will provide attendee gifts or city-themed decor for your tables.
2. If you meet in the same location year after year, try generating excitement by announcing the keynote speaker or a new feature. And if you don’t have your keynote selected a year in advance, follow up later using social media to get the information out quickly. “I send out lots of messages (via Facebook and Twitter) with the dates and location added,” says Kent Watson, executive director of PubWest. “I always include the date and location in my signature line for all emails.” Chandler uses the discounts he’s negotiated with hotels and restaurants as a promotional tool as well.
3. As an additional incentive, consider offering returning attendees a discount on their registration fee, but be sure to include a deadline. It’s important to make this discount exclusive to returning attendees and separate from any early-bird discount you might offer the general public. The more important you can make returning attendees feel, the more likely they are to buy in to early registration. Set up an alumni club and offer an additional incentive for them to register such as a free guest pass for the welcome reception. Create alumni ribbons for their badges listing the number of years they’ve attended.
4. Once you’ve successfully marketed at the current conference, it’s time to put the post-event marketing plan in place. Even if your agenda is not ready, immediately change your conference website to list the new dates and location, and give an approximate date when registration will open. Send all past attendees information on the registration discount, even if they haven’t attended in the past few years. Also, consider setting up a separate referral discount whereby a returning attendee can refer a new participant and receive a further discount if that person signs up.
5. Let your destination’s CVB do some of the work for you. They can list your show on their calendar of events and promote your conference to members. Their promotional video can also be embedded on your website to further generate excitement for the destination.