Searching for Attendees?

Word cloudby Tom Baer

More and more associations have realized times have changed, and are now ready to step up marketing efforts to drive annual meeting attendance back to where it needs to be.  But many are not so savvy when it comes to how to spend dollars that have been shifted to marketing.  Instead of exploring new opportunities, some are still just going with what they know – simply sending out more post cards or conference brochures to the same old tired list.

Time to change the mix.  The first place to add?  Online.  Why?  Because that is the world in which we – and more importantly your potential attendees – now all live.  Remember when people used to fill out and mail in registration forms?  How many do that now?  And if they are registering online, ask yourself, which is likely more effective, a post card where they have to get from their mail to their computer, log on, get to your site and register, or an online ad where they simply click right to your registration page?

So assuming you agree you want to promote your event online, then you have another decision – should you invest in display advertising, search engine marketing, or social media?  The best response would be all three, but that implies you have the budget to do so.  If not, you have to prioritize. 

If this is the case, here’s how you should do so:  1. Search, 2. Facebook, 3. Display.  Search should be your first priority because it offers the best ROI and is therefore more effective for lower budget campaigns.  Aaron Goldman, Chief Marketing Officer at Digital Marketing software company Kenshoo, puts it well: “Search is unique in that it reaches people when they’re in the right mindset. When people search, they’re in between activity on the Web (moving from one site to the next) and actively looking for something. This makes them more open to commercial influence. Display just sits on the perimeter begging to be ignored while consumers engage with the content they’re interested in.”  Admittedly this is a bit of an overstatement regarding ineffectiveness of display – otherwise it would not command more than 60% of internet marketing dollars as it does, but it does illustrate the point.

Facebook shares search’s ability to take advantage of consumers being more “tuned in” to content.  Yes, they are more interested in the “social content” of the page they are looking at, but just being on facebook allows the target to feel you are more in tune with their likes and needs than if your ads are found on non-social sites.  One caveat – if you plan on marketing on facebook, make sure you have a facebook page for your event that potential attendees can visit.

Another great benefit of marketing online is that you can monitor and tweak your campaign as you go, and get a great deal of data to learn from through Google analytics, but that will be the subject of another blog.

Bottom line, if you add online to your marketing mix you should see results.  If you can, invest in all three, but at minimum, test a search campaign before your next event…it will likely provide some of the results you are searching for.

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