New Roles for Association Pros
Business and Analytics

Find Success With Service-Forward Marketing. Here’s How

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Experience Sioux Falls shifted to more personal partnerships with meeting planners and made its groups feel special. See how associations can apply these principles in their own marketing.

The events industry has sprung back to life, but not without growing pains. Planners and destinations alike are in a rush to keep pace with surging demand, and unfortunately it seems the personal touch that so many people crave has fallen by the wayside. 

“Post-COVID, I think a lot of people are so busy, whether they’re making up for lost time or picking up slack from staffing shortages. In general, the events industry has become very last-minute,” said Anna Derry, director of sales with Experience Sioux Falls in South Dakota. “This has led to more of a transactional relationship between destinations and event professionals.” 

Because of this, Derry said, planners tend to focus only on destinations they’re already familiar with and might miss out on a less obvious choice that could be a winner for attendees. When destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are transactional, they run the risk of going through the motions with a one-size-fits-all bid that falls flat. 

Experience Sioux Falls broke out of this rut years ago by taking a personalized, service-forward approach to the sales process. 

“We really slow down and try to get to know our groups,” Derry said. One association might encourage delegates to bring their families while another is strictly business, and each group will get a tailored submission. 

“Whatever it is,” she said, “we’re able to really listen to what their needs are, customize our offerings to that specific group, and make each one feel special.” 

Associations can take a cue from Experience Sioux Falls and reassess their approach to marketing in this rare moment. Here are four insights. 

Strive for Quality Feedback From Members 

Surveys can be a valuable tool in understanding the wants and needs of your members, especially after a tumultuous few years. But surveys may not capture the nuances you’re looking for, and they lack personalization. Instead, put a finger firmly on the pulse of your membership by assembling a panel of member volunteers.  

Listen (really listen) to what they’re telling you. Going through this extra effort and finding out what challenges they’re facing will yield more meaningful feedback that can inform and direct how you market to them. 

Create a Can’t-Miss Event—and Promote It 

Your members need to know that your event is worthwhile if they’re going to take time out of their busy schedules to attend. Studies show that attendees want to experience something unique. 

By hosting the event at an unforgettable location—bonus points for discovering somewhere new—and strategically marketing it to your members, you’ll leave little doubt that they should sign up. 

To know what makes a destination special, who better to ask than the DMO? Again, it comes back to the value of strong relationships. “If we have information about your group and what your interests are,” Derry said, “we can recommend something that you maybe wouldn’t have considered for your event. It’s an opportunity for a more customized and personal experience for you and your attendees.” 

Shift to a Hospitality Mindset 

While working closely with groups to host their events, Experience Sioux Falls noticed a need for event and promotion assistance more so than traditional services such as printing name badges and creating visitor guides. The DMO seized this opportunity to deliver on what groups really want by transitioning the responsibilities of one of its staff members from service manager to hospitality marketing manager. 

“We’re seeing that a lot of groups are looking for more customization in helping them promote their event,” Derry said. “This position will be somebody merging the gap between servicing and marketing and really focusing on event promotion and customization to a specific group.” 

Maybe someone in your organization has the skills to move into more of a hospitality role. If not, Derry said, it’s worth considering a new hire. In any case, it behooves association leaders to have a good grasp on their team members’ strengths so any shifts in responsibilities can be made seamlessly. 

Make It Personal 

A thoughtful gift can do wonders for a relationship, whether personal or business. 

In 2022, Experience Sioux Falls applied this idea to its marketing and created Sioux Falls Sourced. The organization filled boxes with locally sourced products and shipped them to people all over the country who had signed up to win. The campaign was a resounding success, achieving its goal of generating leads—more than 26,000—and earning an award from the Southeast South Dakota Tourism Association. 

Associations can use the same principle to promote an upcoming event or to recognize staff or volunteers. It wouldn’t have to be destination-specific (though it can be); more important is that it hews to the central tenet: thoughtfulness. 

Start Now 

When Experience Sioux Falls realized its secret weapon against its competitors could be more hands-on partnerships with meeting planners, it oriented its staff accordingly and saw results. Similarly, associations that reassess their marketing and staffing to be more personal can position themselves to meet strategic goals and better serve members. 

As South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls is never the same, with unexpected experiences around every corner. Go somewhere different, somewhere new. Visit

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