Category Archives: Attendee behaviour
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?
- Stick to your guns, but pacify them by giving them a bit more space and a couple more sessions in the conference programme.
- Create a ‘mini’ co-located event.
- Grasp the opportunity and develop a second event.
- 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.
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.
It seems like the technology has finally been toppled from its place at the top of the virtual events debate and we are, at last, getting back to the basics of looking at the needs of the client. We are once again talking about the multi-faceted communications approach that engages all sectors of an audience. There is no sense in trying to shoehorn all comms activity into a one-size-fits-all solution, when every other sector of business is constantly trying to find new niches to occupy.
The evolution of virtual events is being driven by one major factor: as more virtual events happen, more people are participating in them and the better we can measure their behaviour. So rather than making assumptions and creating technology in a vaccuum, we are delivering the goods the customer ordered.
Two research studies* have been released recently which serve to confirm just how quickly behaviour is changing in the physical and virtual meeting industry; their core findings make for interesting reading, not least because of the gulf of expectation between event organisers and their audiences:
- Live content, be it video or webcasts, is the most popular on a virtual site, and yet only 43% of physical events capture any of their content to post online, and where they do it is often less than 10%.
- There is as yet little commercialisation of virtual events, whether this is a conscious business decision, a resistance from the marketplace or the resource issue below is as yet unknown.
- Organisations worry about the additional staff time needed to execute a virtual event to the cost, the quality of the experiencefor the visitor and the complexity of technology.
The benefits for the organiser though are seen quite clearly; more than 82% of past users of virtual events and 84 %of future users questioned in the Tagoras study mentioned the potential increase in audience numbers, an important consideration where physical events were only enabling them to reach a fraction of their total target audience.
So why are event organisers still so reluctant to embrace virtual technologies.
Meanwhile, the potential audience shows no such reticence:
While organisers of physical events continually state that people want to do business with real people, the Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events study found that:
- 80 percent of respondents are comfortable connecting and networking with strangers.
- 70 percent are comfortable using a video/webcam to chat and meet others.
- 33 percent share information by instant messaging at online events, while 28 percent do so at in-person events.
- 41 percent use Twitter at online events, while 51 percent do so at in-person events.
Another objection often raised by physical event organisers is that online attendees are easily distracted. But attendees in real time also check their emails, text, tweet, phone and message while sitting in an auditorium. The only difference is that the virtual attendees can come back to it later.
Respondents seek similar information from exhibitors whether booths are live or virtual: more than half want to see what a company does and how it can help them, and nearly half of respondents want to get company, product or solution information for review or want to see a demonstration or the product itself.
Where virtual events really begin to draw in the attendees though is in accessibility:
- the environment’s ease-of-access;
- the ability to ask questions and participate actively;
- reduced travel costs and hassles
- reduced time away from family and office
Given the solid evidence, it is hard to see why so many event organisations continue to find more reasons not to embrace virtual technologies than to explore the possibilities. Perhaps it will take some new entrants into the marketplace to steal a march on the naysayers, establishing great virtual events that morph into fantastic physical ones that take the old-guard by surprise.
Remember: if you don’t listen to your customers, and give them what they want, you are giving them every excuse to go somewhere else.
* The two studies quoted are:
Virtual Event Study, done in collaboration with the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Relate Content & Community Solutions and Tagoras, and funded by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events:
The Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events, a study sponsored by the Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios and Virtual Edge Institute:
When faced with a disruption to their travel plans, individuals fell roughly into one of two distinct groups:
Tigers or Sheep.
There were those who, when presented with cancelled flights and an indeterminate delay, took their destiny into their own hands: hiring cars and coaches; undertaking epic overland journeys; travelling via cargo ship; or simply deciding to create an extension to their holiday by going off and exploring something completely different. For others, the solution was simply to wait and let someone else do the thinking and organising. Passive by nature, it wasn’t up to them to solve the problem.
The first group are our tigers, keen to manage their own destiny, anxious to make a change and a difference even if the end result is no different to what it would have been if they had let someone else take control. The latter are the sheep, who really aren’t keen on making a decision or taking responsibility, they simply want everything to follow the path and plan that they bought into.
At events, it is really important to understand whether your audience is made up of tigers, sheep or a mixture of the two. Where attendees are predominantly tigers, the onus needs to be on creating programmes which are self-determining, requiring action and consequence; with sheep a clearly defined itinerary with understandable pathways and careful management of expectations will lead to a successful conclusion. Events that depend upon networking are more likely to appeal to the tigers; those with a tightly timetabled series of learning or experience based sessions will be more satisfying for the sheep.