The Power of Personalization

Your meeting attendees don’t want to feel like they’re just another name on your attendee roster. They want a custom-tailored experience that’s all about them.

I remember attending a publishing conference five-plus years ago where my program book had my name printed on the cover. There was something about seeing my first and last name at the top of the book that made me feel special and gave me a sense of ownership not only of that guide but also of my conference experience. In addition, it made me feel that the organization cared about its attendees, and it really illustrated for me—for the first time meetings-wise—the power of personalization in a very simple way.

What is apparent from the way technology continues to develop and penetrate our lives in all realms of consumer activity, is that the consumer is expecting that you know ever more about them and their preferences.

Now fast-forward to today, and that same power of personalization—advanced significantly by technology—exists. In fact, I had the chance to write about it in the latest issue of Associations Now.

The Drug Information Association emailed personalized conference agendas for its 2014 annual meeting to 7,000 potential attendees.  Each email suggested sessions the recipient would likely be most interested in.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?

Well, good news: DIA said it wasn’t as difficult as you might think. Agendas were developed based on what members had selected as their top interest areas in their online profiles. Staff then tagged meeting sessions to these interests using its taxonomy. When session tags and interest areas aligned, those sessions were recommended as ones worth attending.

Even better for DIA was the outcome of the campaign. Member response was positive, click and open rates were much higher than other promotional emails, and the organization is now considering other personalization opportunities.

DIA’s example is just one route an association could take to more personalization of its meetings and conferences. Here are three more to consider:

Name badges 2.0. Think you can’t up the personalization on your attendees’ name badges? Think again! Many associations offer attendees the option to add various colorful ribbons to badges onsite. But what if, besides the standard name, company, and location information on badges, attendees could choose to include other elements instead? Say a Twitter handle, Instagram username, or something else that would help them connect with fellow attendees—perhaps even photos.

Personalized learning. In an article on earlier this year (available to ASAE members only), Carol Hamilton, senior director, product and service development, at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, discussed the move to “personalized learning.” She says it “means starting with the person and what his or her goals are, and determining what he or she wants to learn—rather than placing an expert at the front of a room to tell people what they will learn and then learning all together.” Hamilton suggests one way to offer this to new conference attendees is to have veteran members serve as “learning coaches” who sit down with the newbies to discuss how the conference works and what may be most valuable to them, given their individual learning goals. This personalized attention will likely generate new attendee loyalty right off the bat.

Custom newsfeed. The National Association of Broadcasters created a custom newsfeed for its NAB Show to update attendees on exhibitor news, which also let exhibitors know which attendees were interested in them. NAB is using a technology tool called IndustryTracker, which uses a complicated algorithm, similar to Netflix’s model, to customize its offerings. If an attendee fills out a profile indicating companies, sectors, or favored topics, the software will scan websites of relevant exhibitors—and any other sites that conference organizers choose—for news matching those interests. The attendee’s personalized newsfeed will be updated continuously, and IndustryTracker will also generate and send out personalized newsletters.

Also important is that associations aren’t the only industry considering how personalized and custom-tailored experiences can benefit customers. In a recent interview with, Four Seasons CEO J. Allen Smith described how important it is for the hotel brand to anticipate and respond to each guest’s specific and customized needs in order to build greater loyalty.

“What is apparent from the way technology continues to develop and penetrate our lives in all realms of consumer activity, is that the consumer is expecting that you know ever more about them and their preferences, “he said.

What is your association doing to personalize the meeting experience for your prospects, attendees, and exhibitors? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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