Do you remember being a teenager? When a parent asked you to do something did you jump up immediately and execute with military precision or did you drag your feet, wanted nothing to do with it? Interesting. Well, your members may feel the same way about your invites to attend events.
There’s only one way to get your members to attend events.
They have to see what’s in it for them.
The catch is that even when you incorporate those benefits into your marketing efforts, you can’t just tell them. They have to believe and feel it too.
So what’s a chamber professional to do?
If you want to increase event attendance you must get creative.
The Giant Truth Behind Your “Attend Events” Challenge
There are two hindrances you’re facing in waning chamber event attendance: work from home/job flexibility and increasing evening responsibilities/obligations.
Luring Work-from-Home Employees
Some of your members are sitting at home in their sweats or running shorts and baggy tees, working well past five. Without being in the office, they have little concept of office hours. So not only are you combatting having to convince them to take a shower and get out of the Mark Zuckerberg “dress for success” outfit-of-the-day they’ve adopted, you must also convince them to put away their work, drive to your location, spend some time feeling awkward with other people who are only freshly out of sweats, and discuss business.
That’s not easy. You’re fighting a lot of inertia.
If your local traffic is as bad as mine, it’s darn near impossible.
Additionally, what used to be “off” time for most adults has been filled with obligations from attending their kid’s events to HOA meetings to conferences. If they work from home with kids underfoot, they may also use a child’s early bedtime to catch up on work.
Since most people’s evenings are spoken for, you need a two-pronged approach to get them to your event–first, you need to give them a reason to want to be there, and second, you need to market said reason.
Show Them the Value
The only way you can get more members to attend your events is to show them personal value. That’s the value as they perceive it–not as you do.
Captivating words may tell them the value, but it requires more than that to entice them to show up. Start by explaining what’s in it for them. For this to be effective, it requires you to understand what your audience finds valuable from a business and professional perspective.
- What do they want?
- What can you provide them that they can’t do for themselves?
- Who can you bring in or what subject can you talk about that would be hard for them to get on their own?
- What type of Q&A would be unlikely to happen for them organically or without paying a large fee for a conference?
Mix Things Up
Next, think about how you can innovate with your current events.
- Get edgy on the topics. Take on sacred cows that people want to talk about.
- Consider hybrid or recorded options so that people who can’t attend live can still benefit from your programming.
- Develop partnerships with other organizations or chambers to bring in new attendees. Networking events in particular can become stale when it’s always the same small group getting together. Co-hosting can also cut down on the amount of time you spend on marketing.
- Conduct surveys to find out what your members want to know/need help with. For instance, if zoning has become a big issue in your town or a new law is going into effect, consider hosting a Q&A session. When you’re conducting these surveys about your future events, it’s also important to find out availability.
- Change the timing. Getting away in the middle of the day may be hard for most of your members. Perhaps the cocktail hour is no longer the best time or morning coffee may be out of the question. Schedules have taken a big turn. Professionals can rarely spare an hour and a half plus travel time. The leisure lunch is dead so hosting long lunch and learns may no longer fit your target market. But you won’t know unless you ask.
- When you ask people what they want, analyze your results by breaking them into two groups–people who currently attend your events and people who don’t. While it’s easy to think you’ll only listen to responses from current attendees, don’t make that mistake. Your non-attendees may be that way because they don’t find anything that appeals to them.
If you change things up, they may come. Just make sure you take a look at availability. Some people will give you their opinions and still not be available to attend, no matter what time you host events.
Who Is This For?
Decide whether you want events for the benefit of your members or if you just enjoy hosting events and bringing people together.
Give some thought as to why you are hosting this event.
- Does it have strong revenue potential?
- Is it fun?
- Is it part of your strategic plan (hopefully they all are) or an important initiative?
- Is there value in this event beyond your members?
That last question is an important one.
- Are you throwing this event for your members or is there another reason behind it?
- Could you benefit from expanding the event outside of your members or even the community?
- Is hosting a July 4th parade, for instance, really for your members or the community?
- Is your wine-tasting mixer meant to introduce local business people to one another or could it draw tourists to experience your town?
While the knee-jerk answer is likely “our members and our community,” there may be a good reason to expand your marketing reach. If you are trying to increase your tourism or economic development efforts, start viewing your events in a much larger way. If expansion is the goal, and the internet is your tool, you can think bigger in your marketing.
If you want people to attend your events, you need to get creative in marketing them. Keep your tried and true marketing tools, but consider more creative ones as well such as the “Bennington Made” video campaign from Vermont.
But before you do anything else…ask yourself, why are you concerned about chamber event attendance? Is it because there’s no ROI? Perhaps you put in a lot of work in the planning and no one attends. Or you’re not making bringing in enough non-dues revenue to make it worth your while?
The “why it matters” is important because there’s nothing that says you need to continue something that isn’t working for you.
To be an innovative chamber, you may feel a gravitational pull one way or a release in another. It’s important to know what your audience wants and shape your offerings accordingly. That doesn’t mean you need to do exactly as they say. We all know the famous Henry Ford quote about faster horses (which likely was wrongly attributed–darn internet).
Knowing what your ideal members want from the chamber can help you shape your offerings to be more appealing. That doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they say they want. You can use their ideas to shape your own, catering to the underlying need, not the actual/exact one.
And sometimes, knowing what your members want and need means letting something go that’s not working for you (or them).
Assuming you are ready to market your events and you think they still have value for your members, here are a few tips:
- Work with ambassadors. Give your ambassadors a list of upcoming events you want your ambassadors to talk up while they’re out and about. Give them the calendar but make sure you tell them which events are the most important from a marketing perspective. Giving them a target will help them hit it.
- Reach out to influencers. Provide local influencers (even if they aren’t members) with invitations to your event. They may help you recruit a new type of member or event attendee.
- Record testimonial videos or write a blog post about event-driven success. Maybe someone met a business partner, a future employer, or even a future spouse at one of your events. Feature these stories to get more people invested in the relationships they could be making when they attend events.
- Leverage local media. For your big events, approach local media for coverage. When you do, don’t simply provide the when and where of your event. Focus on stories, feel-good moments, and other interesting angles to catch their attention. If you’re hosting a big speaker, make sure the media knows about it before and after.
- Ask for the share. People want to be helpful. When you ask for shares, it doesn’t cost them anything. They’re likely to share your event or your information but may not think about doing that without you asking them to do so.
- Remember, it’s never one and done. How often do you see something in your social media stream and think “I should” do that, order that, go there, buy that, or whatever the ask may be? Perhaps you’re sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting to begin and it’s not the right time to whip out your credit card or maybe you need to run it by someone else.
Whatever the reason, you don’t act right away. We are a society of distracted procrastinators. We are conditioned to believe we will see the ad again or be offered a second chance on the opportunity. With marketing, you need to touch the audience multiple times before you can expect them to act. But don’t show them the same ad or post. They’ll become conditioned to ignore it.
Instead, provide them with a unique post with different reasons for how your event will help place them on the path they want to be to achieve success.
Brace for the Negative Nelly/Realistic Rosie Moment
Fair warning. It may be that once you work through all these suggestions, your event attendance may still be lagging. Some people aren’t event people. It’s too easy for them to come up with an excuse not to attend. Others don’t find value in human interaction or simply don’t have the time.
That’s okay as long as there’s something else you offer that they find value in. For instance, you may have a learning library or they may value your job board. It doesn’t matter what you do that they can’t do for themselves as long as there’s something. You may want to review your events as part of your overall membership engagement strategy.
If you want more people to attend events, you need to give them a reason to. And you have to ensure they know that reason and are reminded of it through multiple touch points.