Businesses are doing their best to build an audience and brand and trying to become a larger part of their customers’ lives. They have to. What worked years ago, isn’t working these days. With labor shortages, product/part shortages, and the ever-growing competition on the internet, businesses are having to try things they’ve never done before.
Many of them are turning to events and experiences for their customers.
Events have long been a driver for chambers. From networking events to business openings/ribbon cuttings, award ceremonies to “Taste of” or “Best of” contests, the chamber has been a major host of events. However, many chambers realized the danger of being “event heavy” when the pandemic hit.
Now that things are opening up again, businesses are also understanding the value of offering experiences. And they’re doing so outside of the chamber.
In my town, there is a chamber and a merchant’s association. Within the past month, businesses in the heart of downtown have hosted two multi-business events that they put business owners together with business owners, no association or chamber involved. It was a true grassroots event campaign.
One of the events was a wildly success Girl’s Night Out. Guess what they are doing again this month? A GNO, of course.
Other businesses are hosting events with a local author group and one of our breweries is hosting indy business owners (those without a brick and mortar store front) as they celebrate big milestones in their business lives, like a new product unveiling.
In addition to these events, a business in a nearby town has recently created a monthly street market for its neighbors to bring a larger audience and crowd to the 4 to 5 businesses in her store cluster.
In every one of these examples, no chamber or business association was/is involved. These businesses are self associating.
Should Your Chamber Care about Competing Events?
So what if your businesses start arranging their own events without you?
Does that matter?
It might not.
If you’ve moved out of doing a lot of events or understand that only about 8% of your members (on average) attend events, then you may not care at all. But if you’re still using networking and helping members get to know other business professionals as a major marketing tactic for the chamber, then you may want to understand this trend better.
If members feel you’re only known for your events, and businesses have moved into that space on their own, this could pose a problem. We all know a chamber is a lot more than just events. But if people perceive you as mainly an event host and then see others circumventing you and hosting their own customer-drawing events with other businesses, that could pose a value problem for your brand.
Are Your Events Worth It?
You may be wondering — with the amount of time and money involved (if you haven’t checked out catering prices since your last event a few years ago, you might be surprised by the cost increase) — whether events are still worth it.
Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the goals.
Here are a few things to consider in when evaluating the financial and time costs of events versus the benefits. It may be worthwhile when:
- The event provides something for the community that no (or very few) other group(s) can do.
- The event is only part of the end goal. The event gives people something else after it is over.
- You have new faces at each event. Most people won’t want to attend if they’re seeing the same people and business cards each time.
- The primary way people hear about your events is through a friend or via social media. These types of events that are circulated by people outside of the chamber have some of the best returns because a vocal audience of attendees are excited about them. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful event by just marketing to your chamber list. But the event will be more sustainable in the long run if you have an audience that is so excited about it that they tell others.
- Volunteers own the event. If your staff isn’t handling everything, that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful. Volunteers who care enough to take ownership means you’re more likely able to handle event competition because you’re not investing as much staff time.
- There’s discussion about the event ahead of the actual event. Are there people out there on social media talking about your event or the topic you’re covering? Are they interested in your venue? Are you encouraging conversation on social media about the event topic? Do invitees understand why this is a great event for them? Are they telling others?
If you’re still on the fence about events, we have a few ideas for you.
First, don’t think of your members’ events as competing events. Your goals are likely different. They are probably hosting events to bring in more customers and make more sales. That’s not your event goal.
Your event goal may be creating community/building relationships, educating people on a critical matter to business, convening important groups to facilitate a better working relationships or a host of other things.
Make sure you are clear about each event’s goal and why people should attend. Always know what’s in it for them.
The second thing you should consider is what you bring to the event that others aren’t able to. Why should you be the host? Is there a cost reason that prohibits others from hosting or is there something you are uniquely aligned to provide?
These are the types of events you should consider (if you’re staying in the event business). If you bring no additional value to being the host, it might be time to pass the torch.
If after examining an event, you’re still interested in being involved, you can consider these options:
Currently you probably put together an event and seek out sponsors. You could, on the other hand, co-host with another group like a merchant association or several businesses. In addition to sharing expenses and resources, co-hosting an event can bring in a different crowd than what you get when you market to your chamber list. It can also bring a new vibe or help people see you in a new way.
Your event might be great. It may just require some freshening up to appeal to current trends, concerns, or today’s social climate to attract attendees over competing events. How can you change it to be more appealing? Can you create a family-friendly component? Change the frequency or duration? Or change the focus audience? There are lots of ways to reinvent the event.
Brands go after new audiences all the time. Toyota created Lexus to reach a high-end clientele and then Lexus created a lower-end car to capture buyers who want a high-end name at a lower price.
Examine your chamber events. Is there an audience you could reach that would be a better fit for the event. For instance, do you host an economic development event for the masses that with a little tweaking could be redesigned for just the C-suite? This is a good way to meet additional needs, increase non-dues revenue, or attract new sponsors.
If you don’t want to completely redesign the event for a new audience, you could try a spin-off event for two different audiences. For instance, you might host a special version of a traditional event for companies that solely operate online and have no physical space. They may have different needs or concerns.
Are your competing events in danger of being cannibalized by your members?
Perhaps. But then again, if they’re creating the same kind of events you are, maybe you want to reconsider the value you’re bringing. Chambers are best positioned and successful when they are doing things for members and the community that those groups can’t easily be doing for themselves. Those types of events, benefits, or activities make membership worth it.
By: Christina Metcalf