Meetings

Are Your Attendees Also Your Number-One Fans?

By / Jun 6, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

They better be. If you want your events to thrive—not merely survive—you need to build a loyal attendee fan base. One way to go about it: Create a dynamic experience and brand that can’t be found elsewhere.

What do the New England Patriots, St. Louis Cardinals, and Chicago Blackhawks have in common?

Treat your audience like a community, not a database.

They currently have the most loyal fans in football, baseball, and hockey, respectively, according to the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index, which looks at four factors in its assessment: history and tradition, fan bonding, pure entertainment, and authenticity.

And exactly what does this have to do with your meetings and tradeshows?

Well, you want this same kind of diehard loyalty from your attendees. In other words, you want to convert your attendees into your biggest fans.

That idea was part of Greg Topalian’s presentation last week at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum. As senior vice president of Reed Exhibitions, he’s responsible for its fastest-growing events division, ReedPop, which includes such shows as New York Comic Con and Star Wars Celebration that drew more than 600,000 fans in 2013.

Topalian told attendees that they must build fan-like loyalty at their events to fend off disruptions and continue to succeed. This is even more important when it comes to millennials and younger attendees, who care more about the “wow factor” and having access to things they can’t get anywhere else. In other words, they want an experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere. “Treat your audience like a community, not a database,” he said. “Your event today has to be more about community and engagement rather than the venue.”

He added that the reason you want your attendees to become fans is that attendees are merely customers, while fans are your most loyal brand advocates. They love your brand, are an active part of your community, and spread the word to others about how great your event is. “It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

His ideas about the power of events were reiterated as I was reading through the EventTrack 2014 survey, released earlier this week by the Event Marketing Institute. While survey respondents came from 600 for-profit corporations and consumers who attended events, the findings are applicable for associations as they think about marketing and branding their meetings and tradeshows.

“In the event industry, change is happening,” the report said. “Social media and digital platforms are increasing reach. Higher levels of design and fabrication are creating richer physical experiences.”

The corporate brands surveyed are realizing how important the event experience is to boost sales as well as brand awareness—and they are investing in it, increasing their event budgets by about 5 percent in 2014. That’s because ROI continues to improve: 14 percent said they expect to see a return of greater than five-to-one from their 2014 event programs, compared to 7 percent in 2013.

From the consumer perspective, the survey showed that 96 percent of event attendees were more inclined to purchase a product or service promoted at an event, assuming it was something they were interested in, and 74 percent said after an event they have a more positive opinion about the company, brand, product, or service behind it. Even better, the same percentage—74—said they are likely to become regular customers as a result of attending an in-person event, and 98 percent that tell a friend, colleague, or family member about their experience mention the company or brand running the event. Honestly, what association wouldn’t want that?

The bottom line is this: Whether you’re a for-profit or nonprofit, you have to build a base of fans who will be your most loyal advocates by creating a meeting brand and experience that they can’t find at any of your competitors’ events—or better yet, anywhere else.

How are you marketing, branding, and developing your meetings and tradeshows to convert your attendees into fans? Share your story in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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