[Long version. Edited blog version on https://www.pubexec.com/post/event-dna-rapid-growth-non-cloneable-events/]

I got, I got, I got, I got; Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA; I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA; I was born like this, since one like this,” raps Kendrick Lamar in his recent Pulitzer Prize winning album.

What is your event’s DNA?

DNA; the defined cellular-level instructions that guide the development and expression of what will be. How it will engage. How it will respond. How it will interact with others. The very heartbeat that guides its lifeforce.

Impactful, growing, sustainable events begin with the creation of their unique DNA, yet, for so many media organizations, they are launched through a habitual process that rips the creativity out of its soul. This must be stopped. It is no different than throwing darts at a target while wearing a blindfold. Shoot. Miss. Modify. Shoot. Miss. All the while optimistically forecasting year-over-year growth as a means to demonstrate success despite, knowing realizing its promise will be a bit trickier.

Now remove the blindfold, as we recognize the typical event checklist. As you read each stage, please ask yourself, “can our competitors duplicate this approach and commoditize our unique program?” and “Can one of our larger (sponsors) clients duplicate this approach by redirecting their spending to the facilitation of their own event. One that exclusively showcases their brand. One that makes the statement that they are the market solution for your market’s hottest topics: innovation, business systems, new technologies, omnichannel, etc.?”

The cloneable approach:

  1. THEME: Selected based on 1) sponsors’ generalized comments so you can manage down the risk of them not renewing, 2) competitive offerings, and 3) the team’s confidence in execution.
  2. AWARD PROGRAM: An award program anchor designed to deliver sponsor’s 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 compelling call to actions of “REGISTER NOW!” and “DON’T MISS!” I will never understand why event marketers have come to believe adding an “!” is a more compelling call to action than compelling content.
  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. The presentations that represent more than 90% of the program. This leaves spots that can only be filled by consultants, job seekers, and the fewwise, altruistic individuals who sincerely want to help others.
  • LOCATION: A thrown in for free – with a 150 room and associated food and beverage commitment – hotel ballroom, jerry- rigged into conference space via an awkwardly assembled stage, pore-revealing projection screens, apology warranted wi-fi and a somewhat reliable sound system.
  • CONTENT LEADER: Selection of an editorial lead who is ultimately responsible for the success/failure of the program. If attendee registrations are down, it’s their role to call everyone in their network and strongarm attendance followed by the words “if you come and bring someone else, then I’ll comp your attendance.”
  • 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.
  • MILLENIAL 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.
  • GOLF: The mandatory golf afternoon providing sponsors uninterrupted access to critical attendees… for a few captive hours.
  • 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.  Not theme, just a “mark your calendar.”
  • SURVEYS: At the conclusion of each day’s programs, handed out surveys 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 for – completion. The pile of paper is then read on the trip home, compiled into a spreadsheet, ratings laughed over – “great, they got a bad review, I never liked them,” and ultimately dismissed.
  • REPEAT

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. Remove the blindfold, open yourself up to one-on-one engagement, and ask. Leverage your subscriber, sponsor and past attendee database, employ current marketing platforms and technologies, and a superior CX (Customer Experience) Survey Platform. 1+1+1=10.

To create your event’s un-cloneable DNA, you need something like a microscope. A tool that enables you to be granular in directional information when necessary, and big picture when appropriate. Easily viewed reporting, that is actionable. Sharable in reporting so others can participate in its creation and work according to a clear, collaborative roadmap. You need a Customer Experience “Listening” Survey Platform (quantitative), active forums, social media, and continual two-way exchanges (qualitative).

The blindfold ripped off, eyes wide open, DNA creation approach:

  1. ATTENDEES: Who is the event for? Ensure paranoia that if they don’t come, they will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  • DEFINE THE UNIVERSE: Pull target subscriber/attendee/sponsor databases, prune them down for purity and model the personas within your overall target audience(s). Reject the “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. A “Lookalike Audience” that will spotlight new ideas that aren’t defined by your team’s experience and perspectives and instead by categories of attendees and sponsors you may have never considered before. An opportunity to establish a relationship with targets that do not currently have a brand relationship with your company. Ones that your competitors never considered as well. Examples, c-suite, finance, logistics, operations, front-line employees, venture capital firms, economists, start-ups, investors, etc.
  • 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. What they aspire to. How they live. How they learn. How they socialize. Use simple, easy response surveys that can be taken via email, social media, website pop-up, SMS, whatever is their platform of choice, to ensure the highest participation rate.
  • IDENTIFY THEIR “PAIN POINTS”: Use “Crowdsourcing” to sculpt the event’s DNA. Using the same survey tool that enabled you to define the persona target groups, can now be used to create theme, presentations, location, optimal number of days, pricing, food, networking events, and the type of relationship they want pre/during/post-event. Establish forums in the event’s website, article pages, and social media for discussions regarding identified topics.
  • CONTENT LEADER: The role in this scenario is conductor, project manager, brand champion as the audience is defining the program. No need to beg for attendance, when the audience collaboratively built an experience specific to their own needs and desires.
  • MARKET TO PERSONAS AND THEIR PAIN 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, provide enhancements to hot topics. This fresh content should be posted on websites, incorporated in e-newsletters, edited for various social media platforms. Take a create once, spread in multiple ways approach. Video with a “how-to,” and FAQ approach that is comfortable to produce via web-based offerings (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts,etc.), edit into different formats, transcribe, publish, tweet and post. Use potential speakers to test how they will connect with the audience. Establish a podcast channel that uses the video’s audio content. Through analytics and involvement, you will quickly pare down to the most important speakers and content areas.
  • ENTER OFF PLATFORM CONVERSATIONS: Answer related questions on sites like Quora and demonstrate your event, community, brand has the inspiring answers not available elsewhere.
  • CREATE AN ACTIVE ATTENDEE JOURNEY: Your persona research will create the basic DNA sculpted involvement to take participants through the next steps in the attendee purchase funnel. Yes, the purchase funnel – [Awareness, Consideration,] Purchase, Service, Loyalty, and Advocacy – is just as crucial to the event’s success as it is to any other area of your business and your clients’.
  1. CROWDSOURCING: Now, conduct short-form research to each persona. Let them select the final topics, breakout sessions, room set up, and overall approach. You have successfully put it out there, now gauge levels of importance.
  • 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?
  • SPONSOR OPPORTUNITIES: Conduct research on target attendee sentiment towards past, current, 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 specific to their targets.

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 an invitation-only c-suite dinner focusing on the importance of quality products and experiences. A session on the benefits of investing in research and development. Strategically placed, sponsor-branded customer service stations that ensure attendees’ questions about the venue, program, flights, area attractions, and their products can be artfully answered. Sponsored baggage service. Branded boxes for shipping materials back home effortlessly.

The loyalty created by taking the listening step for sponsors will set your event above all others. Sure it requires more of the salespeople than an ala carte menu, but let your competitors offer those selections.

Every component of this approach requires the use of new technologies especially research tools. Tools that are non-intrusive and demonstrate the desire to “listen to” and “engage with” your audiences. Here is a 6 point checklist of essential features required for the most reliable outcomes provided by Byron Zanopoulo, Managing Director of Signet Research’s ‘Sibyl Surveys’ SaaS platform.

  1. Ensure it was created by a knowledgeable research company that knows how to craft the most reliable questions and structure so your outcome is most reliable.
  2. Surveys should be delivered in a non-intrusive manner. Sent via email in a format that they can be completed within the email itself. A link sent via text. Social media posting, and website pop-ups.
  3. Trending of data per individual surveyed. Sentiment and needs change. It is important to observe those changes and respond accordingly.
  4. Graphical reporting that is easily shared and immediately actionable. If there is a negative response, ensure an email or phone call is the immediate response. Resolve any “detractors” concerns immediately. The idea is to turn this audience into “promoters” that encourage other attendees.
  5. When asking for verbatims, instead of reading each separately, have a text analysis tool built into the survey platform so you can identify key opportunities to create attendance.
  6. Filters. This cannot be stressed more. It is critical that you can view data based on each persona so it can guide your marketing initiatives. Each is going to require a different approach. A great survey platform provides that road map.

This ensures I got, I got, I got, I got; Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” This approach is not easily replicated, cannot be hijacked by a single customer event, and provides a plan for achieving more ambitious growth than single digit.

It is time to make the starting point your audience and no longer past habitual cycles.

Posted by:deanhorowitz

Results-focused marketing leader who is deeply involved in the dynamics of building on- and off-line, profitable communities. Specialties: Experienced in business development, strategic planning, emerging media, evangelizing brands/companies, developing & launching new products (in print, digital, experiential), social media, sales & content management, databases, street-to-CEO sales, and all aspects of business leadership/management