Over the past 15 months, we’ve carefully scrubbed and analyzed the attendance at 20 major conferences. These projects had an aggregate attendance of 110,000-plus participants, with registration revenue in excess of $30 million. Using the insights of Peter Fader, professor of marketing at Wharton, and author of Customer Centricity: Focus on the Right Customers for Strategic Advantage, we’ve come up with a process that yields a clearer understanding of each event’s audience. Here are the steps involved:
TRUE ATTENDEE DEFINITION
Certain attendance categories should be removed from the core audience analysis — expo only, staff, exhibitors, sponsors, press, guests, workshop-only, and students — to get to what we refer to as “true attendees.” At times, we also remove speakers and volunteer leaders, as they may justify their participation based more on those roles than their education and networking experience.
We analyze the most recent three years of attendance, and those who have attended two or more years are ﬂagged as “loyal.” All others are identiﬁed as “non-loyal.” Name, email, member ID, and address ﬁelds are used to identify possible loyal matches. A healthy conference will have 50 percent or higher attendance loyalty while also having a stable or growing number of loyal participants. The loyal and non-loyal categories are used to compare and contrast demographic info, such as regional attendance, titles, job setting, etc. Comparing the attributes of loyal vs. non-loyal audience segments can be quite illuminating.
Take a look at company loyalty vs. individual participation. For example, at some conferences, 25 to 50 companies could rep-resent 20 percent to 50 percent of total attendance. Some companies will rotate the team members they send from year to year. In the process of normalizing organization names, we ﬁnd that email domain can be very helpful.
There are lots of ways to heat-map your audience. We often use a heat map that divides the country into six large regions. The ﬁrst heat map shows the percent of loyal attendees by region, who tend to go anywhere your meeting is being held. Next, we create three heat maps — one for each year — of the non-loyal attendees. These maps show the regional impact of rotating the conference around the country.
Depending on the demographics collected, we like to scrub titles and create word clouds using wordle.net, separating them into loyal and non-loyal buckets. We often ﬁnd that the loyal titles are at a higher level than the non-loyal titles.
You don’t want to ask for too much or too little. At a minimum, be sure to collect role/position, work setting, and years in profession. Each of these should be required ﬁelds and have a pick list with eight or fewer options to select.