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.
Something unusual has been happening in the office over the last couple of months. After years of seeing the volumes of free-circulation business press dwindle to almost nothing we have begun hearing the thud of magazines more frequently once again.
It started with Print Power, a publication produced by Lateral Group. The blurb at the front says that it is a European initiative dedicated to strengthening the position of print media in a multi-media world. That’s as may be, but what actually hit the desk was an extremely well thought out, beautifully designed and, most importantly, well written publication that not only made it out of the poly bag (got to open it to separate the recycling) but is still here for reference.
And then, starting the new year with a bang, along came the January issue of B2B marketing. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this magazine for a while, which is a pity because it’s a smasher. Lots of varied content, once again well written, great layout and a tone which didn’t make the reader feel like they were on the periphary of a rather exclusive club, or reading something fresh out of the mouth of a PR assistant.
So, this got me thinking about two things: how important it is for B2B magazines that they are written properly; and secondly how we need to find time to sit, absorb and process information.
Many business magazine operations (and one of the above is not innocent of the offence) have embraced technology and decided that the way to keep their readers and consequently their circulations is to develop regular email newsletters. And then send them out to their database. Every Day. Event magazine went even further and sent out two email bulletins a day. Thank goodness they have stopped that. It seemed like a great plan at the time, but it forgot something very fundamental about human behaviour: that if you give us snacks we will graze rather than engage; and that most people switch off when they feel they are being nagged.
What’s more, readers don’t even have to let on that they have stopped engaging. While the email administrator always ensures that the unsubscribe information is included, all the recipient has to do is to classify the message as unwanted and it will forever be consigned to the junk folder.
In creating this constant stream of bitesize snippets we have created a culture of having to write something to a timetable rather than to an editorial plan. In doing so, we resemble budgerigars: saying anything for the sake of it, not because we believe it is something that will interest the recipient or even that they will make time to read it. So they lose interest, stop reading, and they are off to find someone who they think will give them what they want. Our marketing messages become bland, our products uninviting.
As consumers of information we are not without blame either. This veritable cornucopia of new media has us flitting from place to place searching out the information we think we need. But, time to ‘fess up: it’s exhausting isnt’ it? There’s a reason why hummingbirds drink pure sugar…
If we want to make good business/marketing/communications decisions, then we must pause to nourish ourselves with high quality information devoured slowly and with relish. We must create time to sit down and consider what is in front of us without constant interruption from screen based applications, or the pressure of having to tell an audience of disinterested individuals streams of minutiae. And noone is better placed to provide this michelin-starred content than the quality end of the B2B press.
So come on chaps… put the chips away and start cooking up some roasties.