People attend events and annual meetings for a variety of reasons, yet increasingly, they share a common demand: a customized experience that feels tailored to their interests and goals.
“With the overwhelming number of conferences, panels and happy hours taking place in a given event cycle, the personalization factor is a marketing must,” writes Kristen Alexander for AdWeek. “Understanding attendees’ personal interests is critical to standing out and marketing to all of these individuals.”
Here’s the kicker: customization, like other strategic marketing initiatives, can seem daunting, especially if you’re not yet doing much—if any—customization.
The good news? Making small changes to deliver a more customized experience can add up to a big impact on your attendees. And you can work with what you have, including an event itinerary, messaging and collateral to begin your journey to a fully customized attendee experience.
Let’s take a look at three key tactics you can use to shift toward a customized attendee experience that feels more thoughtful and personal.
Know Your Attendees
Just how well do you know your attendees? Collecting and analyzing attendee data and input is a critical part of event customization. After all, you’ve got to know to whom you’re customizing and what they want! Consider the following questions:
- Why is this person attending your event?
- What is their role, company and industry?
- What information is this person interested in?
- What does this person hope to accomplish during and after the event?
- What event feedback does this person have to offer?
Depending on your existing attendee engagement plan, you may already have some—or all!—of this information at your fingertips. Post-event surveys can be a valuable resource, for example. Another possible goldmine of information? Your event’s social feed. Do some basic research by searching your event and related hashtags to get a sense of what attendees are saying about your event, including their impressions and takeaways.
And if you find you don’t know much about your audience, don’t panic! Simply make a plan to learn more. Again, effective starting points can be your social channels and feedback surveys, whether administered via a mobile app during the event and/or with a survey link sent in a post-event email.
Knowing your audience helps you better understand why they’re attending so that you can deliver a more customized experience. Let’s say a number of attendees are coming to your event to solve some sort of challenge. You could modify your event itinerary to include a breakout work session or roundtable discussion, which would be more conducive to knowledge sharing and problem-solving.
Maybe your attendees are interested in networking, but would prefer something besides the standard networking reception. Instead, you could ask people to gather in a memorable setting, like an unconventional space or rooftop, which helps you take advantage of your host city while also giving attendees a welcome change of scenery. Another great option is to invite attendees to an activity—a walking tour, for example, or a trip to a local landmark—that helps them combine networking and sightseeing.
We mentioned this before, but keep this important tip in mind: you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your entire event agenda. Instead, start small. Gather the information you have about your attendees and assess it. Then, make a plan to begin implementing meaningful changes that increase the customization of your event experience. We all have to start somewhere, right?
Refresh Marketing Materials
Pro tip: effective customization goes beyond simply addressing event communication and collateral to your attendees by name. Instead, examine your existing marketing materials to identify opportunities for customization.
Do you welcome attendees with a gift? If so, consider adding a handwritten note that lets each attendee know how excited you are to have them with you. This particular tip certainly depends on the number of attendees you’re expecting. If it’s in the hundreds or thousands, handwritten notes can quickly become unrealistic!
Or try this basic starting point: separate your attendees into two groups, returning and first time. Then, tailor your marketing accordingly, especially pre-event communication. For returning attendees, you could emphasize what’s new and exciting this year and underscore how glad you are to have them back with you. For first-time attendees, you might offer some tips for an optimal event experience (a short testimonial from a recurring attendee would be an effective resource). Also include travel tips and local recommendations so that first-time attendees can make the most of the experience, especially if they’re traveling in for your event or meeting.
Segmentation can also extend to your attendees’ roles and industries. Let’s say you have a pool of attendees who are vendors or partners. You could create a customized marketing piece that shares recent company highlights, product or service changes, and even testimonials so that this group of valued stakeholders can easily get up-to-date on what’s happening and why they should continue the relationship.
This is when it’s especially helpful to know your attendees’ “why”—what brings them to your event and what they expect to take with them. Then, you can supply them with the content that helps meet those goals.
Understanding why your attendees are with you—and how they like to consume information—will give you the insight you need to make a particularly impactful change: creating topic-specific event tracks.
You might already be doing this, and if so, excellent! Yet there still might be room to make additional changes. The first step, of course, is to create tracks focused around a specific topic. Maybe your tracks are as loosely defined as “B2B” and “B2C,” for example, or more nuanced, depending on your event.
Consider also incorporating different content styles in those tracks. A mix of presentations, panels, breakout discussions or workshops can help ensure your attendees learn in the way that fits them best. And again, this is why it helps to know how your attendees prefer to consume their event content. Perhaps many of your attendees prefer a more structured, traditional style that’s largely comprised of presentations and keynotes. If your attendees want to take a more active role in the event, an unconference format might be a better choice. That way, attendees have ample opportunities to roll up their sleeves and collaborate.
You could further customize your event tracks by adding a special event to each. Let’s say that one of your tracks is technology-focused. Why not set up a small exhibit area so that attendees can drop in and out and demo new tools and gadgets? For those interested in cultivating their thought leadership, you could host an author talk and signing with someone who’s written a relevant book. And if you find you have an event full of bookworms, setting up a small bookstore or book swap is a fun and thoughtful way to give your attendees easy access to more resources.
We hope this list has sparked some inspiration so that you can start your own event customization! Remember: it’s perfectly fine to start small and to work with what you already have. With regard to customized event marketing and experiences, small changes really can have a big impact. Plus, those small changes will give you a foundation on which to build a more comprehensive customization strategy.
Keep an eye on our blog. Now that we’ve covered the basics of event customization, we’ll periodically revisit this critical topic so that you have no shortage of information and inspiration. And if you find yourself interested in customizing your next event but aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk!