What’s Your Event DNA? The Creation of Rapid Growth, Non-Cloneable Programs

Creating a truly unique and successful event means tapping into audience sentiment and understanding their unique pain points. In order to do this, marketers need to invest in listening and analytics tools so that the audience can actually shape the event.

DNA is the molecular-level instructions that guide the development and expression of a living thing. How that thing will engage. How it will respond. How it will interact with others. DNA guides how a unique life will unfold.

Meaningful, growing, sustainable events must also begin with the creation of their unique DNA, which is developed through open interaction with the very audience you wish to attract. Every component of this approach requires an open mind and the embrace of new technologies, such as social media, forums, database analytics, and a customer experience survey tool. Your audience is the key to unlocking your event’s DNA, and these tools can help better tap into audience sentiment and better engage them throughout the event process.

However, many media organizations ignore the crucial step of developing an event’s DNA, and instead launch events through a habitual process that drains them of creativity. This must be stopped. It is no different than throwing darts at a target while wearing a blindfold. Shoot. Miss. Modify. Shoot. Miss.

What’s even worse is that competitors, or even sponsors, can easily clone events that take a traditional approach to planning and execution. Rather, marketers and publishers should strive to produce conferences that are built for unique, targeted audiences, which are much more difficult to duplicate and replace.

The Cloneable Approach

Below is the typical event checklist. As you read each stage, please ask yourself, “Can our competitors duplicate this approach and commoditize our program?” and “Can one of our larger (sponsors) clients duplicate this approach by redirecting their spending to the facilitation of their own event?”

Here’s the cloneable approach:

  1. Theme: Selected based on A) sponsors’ generalized comments so marketers and publishers can manage down the risk of the sponsors not renewing, B) competitive offerings, and C) the team’s confidence in execution.
  2. Award Program: An award program anchor designed to deliver sponsors’ target customers into seats – current and potential – so the sponsor’s investment can be justified, and renewed.
  3. Marketing: Ad campaigns executed within unsold inventory – website, e-newsletters, and publication(s) that proclaim the call to actions of “REGISTER NOW!” and “DON’T MISS!” I will never understand why event marketers believe adding an exclamation point is a compelling call to action.
  4. Website: An event landing page that is essentially an interactive brochure with registration information and clickable sponsor logos. Some will have a countdown to the event clock running as a means to communicate, “You better register now before time runs out.”
  5. Keynote: Selection of a “keynote” speaker whose fees fit within the P&L performance of the previous year’s event.
  6. Program Speakers: Remaining dollars are spread out to acquire the rest of the speakers, whose presentations will represent more than 90% of the program. This leaves spots that can only be filled by consultants, job seekers, and the few wise, altruistic individuals who sincerely want to help others.
  7. Location: A hotel ballroom with a 150-room and associated food and beverage commitment, jerry-rigged into conference space via an awkwardly assembled stage, pore-revealing projection screens, apology warranted wifi, and a somewhat reliable sound system.
  8. Content Leader: Selection of an editorial lead who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the program. If attendee registrations are down, it’s their role to call everyone in their network and strong-arm attendance followed by the words “if you come and bring someone else, then I’ll comp your attendance.”
  9. Sponsorships: Lots and lots of low-cost/revenue producing sponsorships that include name badge logos, registration desk banners, floor stickers, program naming rights with a sponsor introduction, logo’d room keys, breaks with tent cards, binders with profiles of each sponsor, and more.
  10. Millennial and Gen Z Friendly: To demonstrate your program isn’t just for the demographic that shows up every year, attendees are encouraged to actively Tweet with #BestEventEver.
  11. Golf: The mandatory golf afternoon providing sponsors uninterrupted access to critical attendees… for a few captive hours.
  12. Next Year Teaser: To demonstrate you are on top of your game, at the end of the program announce next year’s dates and location. No theme is mentioned, just a “mark your calendar.”
  13. Surveys: At the conclusion of each day’s programs, surveys are handed out with an in-app survey option. Most attendees fill out the paper versions, so team members stand at the exit doors, pushing, at times begging attendees to complete them. The pile of paper is then read on the trip home, compiled into a spreadsheet, and ultimately forgotten.
  14. Repeat

Embracing CX to Create a Stronger Event DNA

To conduct non-cloneable events, yours need to forever evolve, surprise, amplify, demonstrate long-term impact, and warrant attendee excitement. How do you achieve this? It seems impossible when you follow the above 14-step checklist. However it is simple: you only need to ask your audience. That means leveraging your subscriber, sponsor, and past attendee database as a starting point. Employ current marketing platforms and technologies, and a superior CX survey platform.

While you are knowledgeable of inbound marketing, and social listening, CX is new to publishing, though it has created monumental, positive changes in organizations’ relationship with their customers and membership. A great CX platform is a means for individual customers to share their sentiment easily, thus providing high response rates and actionable information.

With current technologies at the ready, the formation of a DNA-approach to events should begin with some foundational insights. A “tracking study” conducted on an annual or two-year basis serves as a deep-dive attendee study. To make this fully work, it needs to be combined with on-going “pulse” studies. While one may consist of many insightful answers, the other provides continual feedback.

Reporting on these studies should include a net promoter score (NPS), which indicates whether attendees would recommend the conference to others. It should include quadrants, which ask questions like “how important is this to you” or “how satisfied are you” about content needs, venue requirements, and expected benefits. Marketers and publishers can also employ text analytics to identify the most mentioned words and phrases and align them with individual attendee profiles. This eliminates the need to review hundreds of responses before making event assumptions.

Here’s what the event checklist looks like when you take an audience-focused, CX-centric approach:

  1. Attendees: Who is the event for? Use this information to start the process of involving and convincing your audience that if they don’t come, they will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  2. Define the Universe: Pull target subscriber, attendee, and sponsor databases. Prune them down for purity and model the personas within your overall target audience(s). Reject the thinking, “We had 150 attendees last year, we’ll have 5% more this year.” Replace it with targets based on today’s tools. How? Upload the target database(s) into a social media platform, like Facebook, that offers the ability to create a “Custom Audience.” This will provide aspirational target attendee numbers. How many matching individuals, on that platform, are within your opportunity landscape?
  3. Define the Personas: Use a research tool to understand this universe’s personas, defining them beyond company, title, location, and buying power. Get into their heads and try to understand what they aspire to, how they live, how they learn, and how they socialize. Use simple, easy response surveys that can be taken via email, social media, website pop-up, SMS, or whatever is their platform of choice, to ensure the highest participation rate.
  4. Identify Their Pain Points: Use “Crowdsourcing” to sculpt the event’s DNA. The same survey tool that enabled you to define the persona target groups can now be used to identify the theme, create the presentations, choose the location, determine the optimal number of days, the pricing, the food, networking events, and the type of relationship attendees want before-, during, and after the event. Establish forums on the event’s website, on article pages, and on social media for discussions to hash out event topics.
  5. Content Leader: The role in this scenario is conductor, project manager, and brand champion because the audience is defining the program. There is no need to beg for attendance when the audience collaboratively built an experience specific to their own needs and desires.
  6. Market to Personals And Their Paint Points: Once you have your target, now it’s time to build awareness and consideration. Gain content direction from the watched forums, article pages, and social media. Quote, expand on, and provide enhancements to hot topics. This fresh content should be posted on websites, incorporated in newsletters, edited for various social media platforms. Take a create once, spread in multiple ways approach. Create video content and use potential speakers to test how they will connect with the audience. Through analytics and involvement, you will quickly pare down to the most important speakers and content areas.
  7. Enter Off-Platform Conversations: Answer related questions on sites like Quora and demonstrate that your event, community, and brand has the inspiring answers not available elsewhere.
  8. Crowdsourcing: Now, conduct short-form research for each persona. Let them select the final topics, breakout sessions, room set up, and overall approach.
  9. Engagement: You are engaging your target attendees in the construction of their own event. They are buying into your program before you have even announced dates, location, and costs. Is there a better marketing approach than full engagement?
  10. Sponsor Opportunities: Conduct research on target attendee sentiment towards past, current, and potential sponsors. Not unlike Signet Research’s Ad Studies for print titles, provide sponsors insights that will enable you to work with them on messaging to their targets. For example. maybe a banquet sponsorship isn’t the best choice when a company is perceived as being the highest priced provider with serious customer support issues. Perhaps instead, host an invitation-only, C-suite dinner focusing on the importance of quality products and experiences, or a session on the benefits of investing in research and development.

The loyalty created by taking the listening step for sponsors will set your event above all others and ingrain your programs into their year-over-year marketing plans. Sure it requires more of the salespeople than selling from an a la carte menu, but let your competitors offer those selections.

Taking the time to cultivate your event’s unique DNA by collaborating with your audience will ensure it is not easily replicated, cannot be hijacked by a single customer event, and provides a plan for achieving ambitious growth.

7 Event Planning Tips and Tricks From the Pros

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed. Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed.

Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

1. Event Planning with a Purpose

The beginning stages of event planning can never start too early. The first thing you should focus on is the purpose of your event. Are you fundraising, holding an informational workshop or corporate event? Or maybe your event is a celebration like a birthday party, wedding or anniversary. Whatever the occasion, once you clearly define your purpose, other things will fall into place, including who will be attending, the décor and how the occasion will be organized.

2. Gather Volunteers

Event planning is hard work and it can be difficult to go it alone. If you know people who are willing to volunteer, you can start delegating specific tasks to them. Sending invites, welcoming guests and cleaning are things you should think about when considering who is going to do what. If you are unable to find people who can help you for free, consider hiring a crew.

3. Create an Event Budget

If you don’t create a budget, you run the risk of spending way more than you had anticipated. Think about the cost of location, staff, food and whatever other expenses will be incurred. Try to save money wherever possible.  This can be done by finding inexpensive venues and using volunteers rather than a hired staff.

4. Decide on the Event Time and Place

Before deciding on a date, think about what else might be happening around that time. If there are other events that are similar to yours happening on the same date, it may hurt your attendance. Also, consider working around holidays and school or work schedules.

When thinking about location, find something that will be easily accessible for your guests. Also, note that your venue should be booked in advance, so you can be sure it will be available on the date you are requesting. If you are planning an event in Detroit, Brooklyn Outdoor can provide an industrial chic loft with panoramic views of the city. Use of this space includes an attentive staff that can see to every last detail.

6. Other Logistics

Other logistics to be considered include parking, what items and equipment you will need, whether you want to provide giveaways for your guests to take home and whether you want to have a photographer present to document the event.

7. The Countdown

As the event gets closer, you will realize there is a lot of be done to make everything run smoothly. When you are about two weeks out from the event, you will want to think about meeting with your team, visiting the venue and confirming your guest list to make sure everyone is on the same page.

During this time, it is easy to become stressed out so do your best to keep calm. Careful planning in the early stages can help to eliminate some of the stress. Planning an event is a lot of work, but if you are well organized, it can go relatively smoothly.