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Thursday, July 20, 2017


Articles and Presentations

New Models for Successful Convention Strategy

With the ASAE Annual Meeting this weekend, we’ve given some thought to developing successful convention strategy here at Association Laboratory.

Traditional wisdom claims that “content is King”.

At Association Laboratory, though, we believe that to develop comprehensive convention strategy, associations must consider a more robust model of the factors that impact attendance.

The traditional model minimizes 3 important questions.

  1. Who is most likely to attend?
  2. What is the decision-making environment within which these people operate?
  3. What are strategic barriers to attendance?

Only by incorporating insights from these additional areas of inquiry can a comprehensive model of the decision to attend be developed.

Who is most likely to attend?

You can invite anyone, just not everyone to attend your convention. Without clearly identifying and prioritizing the individuals most likely to attend, you waste a tremendous amount of marketing resources and, potentially, dilute the focus of your programming.

Studies conducted by Association Laboratory indicate that the best predictor of likely attendance is previous attendance and participation patterns. Specifically,

  • People who participated in any information delivery channel (events, online, etc.) were more likely to attend an event.
  • People who had attended an event in the past were more likely to attend an event in the future.
  • People who had participated in more than one information channel of any type were more likely to attend an event.
  • The more frequently a person participated in any information delivery channel the more likely they are to attend an event.

This places a premium on the association’s ability to track individuals’ participation in information or educational delivery channels and in using this information to segment their market into those who are most likely to attend.

Data mining can be a critical tool in developing convention strategy. See our article titled Introduction to Successful Data Mining in the Education and Articles Section of our site for more information on this technique.

What is the decision-making environment within which these people operate?

People do not operate in a vacuum. They face a variety of influences which impact their likelihood to attend. There are three essential areas to understand.

  1. How does the environment impact information needs?
  2. How does the complexity of the information environment impact needs?
  3. What is the impact of competing resources?
  4. What are strategic barriers to attendance?

Impact of External Environment

External factors are influences beyond the control of the potential attendee that impact their perception of the need or desire to attend an event. For example, in a study of educators, 77% indicated concerns about funding in their school districts. Concerns about funding created a high level of price sensitivity to the costs of professional development. As a result, individuals indicated a reduced interest in events due to concerns over cost.

It is important to monitor the business and professional environment within which your members operate so that these external considerations can be taken into account when developing convention content and marketing strategy.

Impact of Complexity of Information Environment

A complex information environment has two characteristics. 1) Information needs are multi-dimensional and 2) they are dynamic.

Multi-dimensional environments require knowledge of content across business or professional domains. For example in a trade association, this might involve multiple business domains (marketing, finance, operations) and for a professional society they would be multi-disciplinary scientific domains.

A dynamic information environment means that the speed, extent and variability of information change is extensive. For example a technology industry association might face a highly variable and rapidly changing member business environment while a concrete industry association might face a more static, slowly changing environment.

The more complex the information environment, the more likely individuals are to need updated information and, thus, the more likely they are to attend events to meet these information needs.

Impact of Competition

Potential attendees face many choices. They can choose alternative information channels such as online methods or publications as well as competing events. When evaluating which channel and, specifically, which meeting to attend, individuals look at a combination of relevant content, travel convenience and cost.

Studies conducted by Association Laboratory indicated that relevance of content is the number one reason people select one event over another. The more relevant your content vs. competing sources the more likely individuals are to attend your event.

Relevance can be defined by the place (“I’m a venue manager.”) where prospective attendees work, their responsibilities (“I’m a CFO.”) at work or the requirements (“I’m a registered health information manager.”) of their job.

Strategic Barriers to Attendance

Potential attendees face a variety of potential barriers which impact whether or not they can attend a specific event.

Studies conducted by Association Laboratory indicated that the most critical barrier to address is total cost of travel. In 3 separate studies, this criterion was identified as the most significant barrier to attendance. The 2nd most important factor identified was the cost of registration. Additional factors included aspects of travel convenience and institutional barriers such as travel restrictions or budgeting issues.

In summary, convention executives must look at a combination of factors and the impact on attendees including the following: