Julie Parsons is the co-founder and managing director of District Marketing Group, specializing in full-service marketing for association events, education products and membership. Her career in trade show and association marketing spans more than 20 years, leading successful teams and initiatives for a variety of organizations.
10 Tips to Increase Event Registration
Regardless of what type of event you’re holding, you need to meet your registration goals. While events may continue to look different for the foreseeable future, we have found many of our solid marketing tactics and strategies are still effective and will help move the needle in this evolving event landscape. Here are our top tips to increase your registration:
Set and amplify multiple deadlines
Use rate increases to drive urgency, incentivize and to create micro-campaigns within the overall campaign cycle. With a long campaign cycle, customers can easily lose interest and engagement, but with multiple deadlines you can mix trends and content messaging with price- and deadline-driven calls to action.
There are even more ways you can encourage action, such as deadlines for inclusion in certain programs, hotel cutoffs, prize drawings, awards nominations and more. With hybrid offerings, you might have a flat or reduced registration fee so creating additional milestones or action spikes beyond rate increase deadlines may be critical to driving registration surges.
Re-evaluate pacing and milestones
Historical registration data and pacing trends are still relevant in a post-COVID environment, even if they only serve as foundational data on registration behaviors, loyal attendance and other performance markers. You still need deadlines and other pacing markers to help spike numbers, but with a few added considerations:
- Think through when prospects would realistically consider participating. Someone who typically secures a hotel and an affordable airfare six months out from your event will likely wait until closer to the event to decide to travel.
- If you have a hybrid event, launch both virtual and in-person events together. Real-time data and registration, survey feedback and current global status will help guide your next steps.
- Now is the time to think differently. For example, people are participating in more virtual events than ever before. Attendees can register up until the last minute, but we are still competing for their time. Consider how to leverage changes into opportunities, for example by promoting virtual offerings as more of a preview or post-show extension to maximize your reach and content sharing impact.
The bottom line is that you need to know your pacing trends and behaviors, then layer that information with today’s expectations, fee and format changes and goals. Keep tracking to see what trends align with a “normal event” and what changes you’re seeing. This can lead to a wealth of data for future events and possibly even a new product/digital offering.
Know your motivators
Data is your friend. Use the data available to survey and target your audiences. Customer motivations will be different than before; what drove spikes then may not now. By understanding your attendees’ concerns, you can build in a coordinated effort across channels that addresses them in an informative and genuine way.
For example, you probably have an audience segment that previously had barriers to attending an in-person event. This is a great chance to market a virtual event or component to them. If you are still having an in-person event, regional promotion will be more important than ever to encourage drive-in attendance.
Your target audience makeup and behavior might look different than it did for previous shows, but you may find that you have more opportunities to attract new groups. Do pulse checks with your audience before the event to read the room if you need more clues on how to pivot.
Pro tip: Some of our clients are launching registration to a VIP group first, e.g., loyal attendees or registrants from the original live event. This acts as a mini sample size to use to plan for your outreach to the larger audience.
Make organic social media work for you
Conversation should and will be happening around your show. Make sure you’re driving discussion to ensure a mix of thought-leadership content sharing, key reminders and polls, videos and posts to engage and grow your audience.
Plus, by seeing what flies on each platform, you can inform and support paid digital campaigns and balance content from enthusiastic exhibitors who can often flood your platforms.
Communicate often with your audience, updating them on program developments and news as it comes. Use video wherever possible to make a more personal connection.
Pro tip: Support paid digital, particularly with engaging, regular content on the platforms that are top performers for paid. Have a plan, schedule, content release strategy and get others involved.
Get creative with multipliers
Leverage social influencers, partner associations and customer invite programs to broaden your reach. Make sure that you’re not only executing a multi-channel campaign, but that you’re also taking advantage of these relationships and resources to help you support and amplify each platform. Engage with groups that have an interest in your event being successful.
Registered attendees can help you spread the word—provide them with tools like discount codes, social graphics and access to contests (share and you could win!). Give tools to speakers and exhibitors to send to attendees on your behalf. This way you’re ensuring your brand and messaging stays on point.
Invest in a digital campaign boost
Your budget is your budget—we get that and many budgets have been cut as we come out of the revenue losses of the last two years. Look at performance across all channels to see where you can shift funds to maximize the low-cost conversions of SEM and SMM.
If you retain anything in full from your tactics list, make it paid digital. This is your best way to reach a large audience, conduct effective and timely segmenting and quickly change course as needed.
Pro tip: Never set it and forget it with digital. Change messaging, change visuals, shift to high-performing platforms and make digital work for you in and around deadlines and onsite.
Target and retarget low-hanging fruit
From prospects who abandoned final registration cart purchases to companies just under the threshold of group discounts, you can isolate and target these groups most effectively with personalized outreach and a concierge approach to converting them. The extra effort and investment could boost your numbers and save some of your marketing budget for prospects.
For example, talk to loyal attendees personally while communicating safety precautions, options for participation, etc. You know how important the event is to them, and how important their presence is to your event and its long-term success. Make it show.
Virtual events also provide an opportunity to reach back out to groups who might have said “no” to an in-person ask. Target junior-level people who had trouble convincing their bosses in the past to travel to an event, or registrants who canceled their onsite registration.
Go old school with text-based email
Cut through the clutter for key messages with a text-based email from a personal email address (CEO or other recognizable name). Especially now, people want to hear from others in a real way—use these emails to tackle concerns you’re hearing from prospects, give updates, answer questions and build trust and rapport with your prospects.
Pro tip: LinkedIn InMail allows for a more personal, text-based outreach. While it’s a pricier channel, it allows you to reach a large audience with a personal message coming “from” someone at your organization, and it stays in the inbox until deleted. We typically use this tactic in the 30 days leading up to each registration deadline.
Execute a limited-time incentive to create a false deadline spike
Create urgent moments within the campaign that can lead to spikes in registration. You can also find additional windows of heightened engagement with promos such as flashback pricing after the reg deadline has passed. Also consider more program-related incentives like entry into a drawing for a Cameo video from a well-known keynote speaker.
Another way to help get a prospect’s foot in the door is by offering a free resource to help preview content and show immediate value. Especially now, it’s necessary to remind attendees you are here to help. Offer session previews, demos of a virtual feature or access to an e-newsletter.
Schedule 1-2-3-punch leading into deadlines
With access to data, dashboards, UTM coding and other turnkey tracking and deployment tools, your channels should be working to support each other. A coordinated approach makes it easier to customize and deploy micro-campaign creative and messaging around deadlines to ensure that targeted segments or lists are getting a heavy hit of deadline reminders and distinct calls to action.
To keep cost at a minimum, consider repurposing elements and making small changes across channels to differentiate your messages.
Pro tip: When we develop an email, we provide a related social graphic image that can be used on social channels and other promotions at the same time – more bang for the buck.