Event Marketers Need a New Attendee-Acquisition Strategy

Over the last two years, the priorities, values, and behaviors of our audiences have shifted. As event marketers, we should tap into new tactics to increase our attendee acquisition and meet audience needs.

Author: Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes       

Attendee Acquisition

Understanding what your audiences need and want, and framing what sets your brand or event apart from others, will drive home that fear of missing out. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

Since the start of the pandemic, Freeman has studied how attendee sentiments have shifted. A Freeman attendee profile conducted in October 2021 polled more than 5,400 respondents across widespread industries. There were several key findings from this research:

Point 1: Delta shook attendee confidence. A July poll cited 86-percent attendee confidence in returning to live events, but that confidence level dropped to 65 percent in the October poll. While these polls were taken between the Delta variant, the October poll was taken before the appearance of the Omicron variant. It’s reasonable to assume that peak in COVID cases chipped away at attendee confidence as well. It’s important to consider the experiences of those who traveled to attend in-person events since COVID-19 and what convinced them that they needed to meet face to face.

Point 2: Attention spans are dropping. While the beginning of the pandemic saw a huge boost for online events, audiences have shorter attention spans and attendees are spending less time engaged with virtual platforms.

Point 3: Weekends are for winding down. Attendee priorities have shifted, with attendees leaning toward an event schedule that takes place in the middle of the week rather than on the weekends. Attendees also prefer shorter events, with two to three days being ideal.

Point 4: No one will attend a hybrid event. Attendees will engage either virtually or in person — and attendee preferences shift depending on their medium. In-person attendees prioritize exhibits and networking while virtual attendees prioritize education sessions and keynotes.

The Strategy

What does this mean for your event-marketing strategy? We’ve learned so much in the last year from hypothesis and testing, and it’s apparent that customer-engagement touchpoints both virtually and in person are growing in importance. Rather than building engagement around one single point in time, the event should be part of a yearlong engagement strategy with content and virtual experiences extending the conversation.

Integrated events then become dynamic, high-quality engagements optimized for both the in-person and virtual audiences. “A great example of this is sporting events,” said Ken Holsinger, senior vice president of strategy at Freeman. “You have a very different experience depending on whether you have courtside seats or you’re watching a broadcast at home. The energy, the experience, and the business model are different.” This means building a new attendee journey map with paths tailored to what type of engagement attendees prefer, and the first step is gathering your audience to begin their journey.

The Acquisition

Shifting your focus to what your audience’s needs are year-round is the most important step you can take in your audience-acquisition strategy. Frame what sets your brand or event apart from others to really drive home that fear of missing out. Look at your email lists to see who is actually active, and try not to rely just on push emails to create engagement. And when it comes to engaging new potential customers, your time and their time are precious — so how do you navigate marketing to them without wasting it?

“It is important to understand your customer goals and priorities based on their role and function. This will help guide you to the messaging needed to compel them to convert and engage,” said Erin Lee, vice president digital strategy at mdg. A message grid can assist in mapping out segments and their ideal customer journeys.

When it comes to evolving your attendee acquisition strategy, there are four ideal places to start:

Registration & Data Audit — What are the key segments you want to engage at the company and individual level? Are there untapped markets and gaps in your data you haven’t considered?

Messaging & Personas — Copy focused on health, safety, and 2019 projections won’t sell tickets to today’s customer. Motivate your audience with intention throughout the campaign to show and compel them why they need to attend your event.

Marketing Automation Strategy— Use this strategy to save time for your customers, streamline onboarding, and meet customers where they are and when they are ready.

International Considerations — Start early and be intentional with international audiences since they will need additional time for planning around travel and visas.

A Performance Model — Plot goals based on interactions across channels with the aim of moving prospects from awareness to consideration to conversion, which can help you reach new audiences, educate them, and grow your event registration.

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is president and chief marketing strategist of mdg, a marketing and public relations agency specializing in audience acquisition for live and online events.