No matter what industry you’re in, at least part of your organization’s core function is to communicate information to your target audience. Whether that’s telling them how to make good dietary decisions or providing information on your latest sale, you are usually seeking a reaction. Because if you don’t understand their perspective, you are going to screw it up.
Recently I’ve been working with two organizations in planning for their annual conferences. One of the companies just had theirs, and it was a success. And it’s not hard to identify why: They started planning nine months ago by starting with broad things like who would come and what they would want to learn. Only after defining these aspects did they move inward to more granular aspects of planning.
These more detailed plans included an agenda, social events, and by far most importantly, the reasons why someone in their audience would want to go to the event. In this process, they reasoned that people would come to develop their skills, network, and share in some camaraderie with others in their field.
Once they knew why someone would want to come, they made sure to push that message in their marketing. They then monitored the results, pivoted slightly in response, and then it was just wash, rinse, and repeat. At the end of it all, they had constructed a successful conference.
This is markedly different from the approach that the other organization took in planning their annual conference.
Instead of identifying why their audience might want to come to the conference, this organization’s message centered around simple messages like “You should come!” or, if they were feeling more verbose, “You should come because the bosses will be there and they say it’s important!”
It’s not exactly “We shall fight on the beaches,” is it?
I was engaged to help because the organizers were coming down to the wire and they’d gotten little engagement from their audience on this and even fewer sign-ups for their conference. Until that point, the only thing they’d tried was saying the message louder and in more places, but the core information had been unchanged.
When we started talking about what could be done to get more people to sign up for their conference, I used the first group’s example and suggested creating a list of value-adds that the conference will create for attendees. Because even the most banal frat party has the core message of, “Hey, we’ve got booze, and it’s free!”
At the start, I asked why someone would want to come to the conference, and the organizer said, “Well, because it’s good for them.” Good for them like broccoli and eight hours of sleep? That’s not what entices people. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but “it’s good for you” didn’t work when your parents wanted you to finish your Brussels sprouts, and it’s not going to work now.
After working through it, we came up with a much clearer value proposition, that essentially boiled down to:
“You are a part of this organization for reasons A, B, and C. Well if you come to the event, we’re going to show you how to do A better! The conference will also have people who succeeded in B to share their stories, and we’ll have experts in C there to talk with you about how you can make C happen for you.”
We retargeted all of the people who’d gotten the old messaging and sent them our new, value-oriented information. And to be honest with you, I’m not sure how much of a difference this is going to make.
At the time of writing, this all happened a few days ago, and the clock is ticking. So the time crunch couldn’t be much tighter, and even with them pushing this new messaging out across their various marketing channels, I’m not sure what the results will be. It’s hard to convince someone to give up several days of their life for your conference, and that’s even more challenging on short notice.
I’d encourage you to get ahead of your messaging so that you’re not put in this sort of uncomfortable situation. And a good place to start is to be aware of the gap between what you care about and what your audience cares about.
If you’re a true believer in your organization, then you already know why your product/service/event is so special and fantastic, so that can feel old-hat to you. And as an organizer, you might want to brag about something new, like how great and accommodating the hotel staff are!
That’s nice, but nobody has ever gone to a conference for the polite hotel staff.
The question to answer, from the perspective of your audience on anything you want to sell is always, “What’s in it for me?” Focus on spreading the message of how your offering is going to improve the lives of your target. Do that, and do it from the beginning, and you’ll be in a much stronger position to meet your goals.