Reprinted with permission from SmithBucklin. The article originally appeared in the 2018 edition of Circuit, which offers 20 articles on key trends, issues and development that will impact associations in the coming year.

Saving money is of course good business. And new, better ways of doing things sometime save money. That’s why association events are in a constant state of evaluation and evolution. For example, event collateral that was traditionally printed is now more efficiently and effectively delivered to attendees digitally. Some multi-day conferences are shifting to one value-packed day as the duration of many events has shortened to accommodate busy schedules. As associations discover and implement such measures, their leaders are in the happy position of needing to determine what to do with the savings. One option is to reinvest it in the event to fuel future success. Following are three areas where such additional investments – even small ones – can have a big impact.

1. Attendee acquisition. Despite a large move to digital, many associations still use printed materials for select assets. By creating attention-demanding printed pieces, printed overtures can still make very meaningful – and revenue-generating – impacts when used to draw attendees to the event. For instance, consider unique printing flourishes – such as metallic inks, unusual paper stocks, and uncommon presentations – to make pre-conference materials stand out. One example of the latter is a flat envelope from which pops a printed, message-bearing cube that forms due to rubber bands inside the paper creation. Such techniques cost more, but they stand out to potential attendees. If you question whether or not print-based overtures are still worth it, consider the findings of a study conducted by Canada Post and True Impact Marketing, a research and strategy firm. Their “A Bias for Action” study compared direct mail to digital media and concluded that direct mail is easier to understand, more memorable, far more persuasive, more easily processed visually, and more likely to drive behavior.

2. Experience. As the old adage goes, sometimes it is the little things that matter most. Personalization done well can have a tremendous positive impact on an attendee’s experience, especially at larger events. Researchscape International and web-based personalization platform Evergage conducted a “Trends in Personalization” study in 2017 that found virtually all (96 percent) marketers agree that personalization advances customer relationships, and 88 percent say they’ve realized a measurable lift in business results from their personalization campaigns. Personalization can take many forms, from association leaders writing handwritten letters to attendees, to staff members discovering what everyone’s favorite snack is and then providing it. Technology can also make personalization more efficient and practical. At its core, it is learning about your attendees and what is important to them, and then leveraging that information to make your overtures more impactful.

3. Technology. While it’s tempting to keep searching for the next big technological advancement for association events, don’t overlook the technology that already exists. Invest in ways to take advantage of the fact that everyone carries a mobile device. Registration, check-in, and badge printing can all be done simply and affordably from a smartphone or tablet, greatly simplifying the process and making it easier and more enjoyable for attendees. And event apps have become much more sophisticated in the past few years. They now include features that enable gamification, live-audience response, and real-time communication.

Overall, anything new should provide a valuable return, so a shrewd investment would be obtaining and analyzing data through surveys and focus groups. This will help you determine what to change. Advancements such as wearable beacons can help in this regard. These tiny transmitters collect data that can show what attendees are doing while on the show floor. By examining this information visually with a tradeshow floor “heat map,” an association can gain a better understanding of what its attendees want, which should always help drive the decision of where to spend money.

Posted by Elizabeth McQuade

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