One of my favorite myths is the demigod Perseus slaying the snake-haired Medusa. Look upon her once and you turned to stone. Event planners and organizers are up against the same kind of monster, except now Medusa's snake-hair is big data; you may not turn to stone but your mind will go numb with all the information available.
The gods gave Perseus some magic tools to find and slay the Medusa. These tools included soothsayers to help him find the right data, a mirrored shield so he could look at the data without going numb and a sword that cut through the data so that it was actionable and not overwhelming.
Event organizers and planners have these same tools today. The best part is you can be a mere mortal to use them and you don't have to go to Olympus to get them.
SoothSayers -- finding the right data
I originally wrote about using scientifically based data to increase event attendance in 2006's mapping personae to outcomes, and the methodology described there is still valid:
- Determine the event audience's characteristics
- Create personae based on those characteristics
- Map those personae to specific, desired outcomes
You can determine the event audience's characteristics by analyzing their social footprints. People will have LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, Twitter handles. They'll be on Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Flickr. They'll use FourSquare, Tumblr, and the list goes on.
Here's where knowing where to look comes in. The majority of people create social identities that are slightly different on each social platform. People post one type of item on Facebook and something completely different on LinkedIn. They'll put something on Twitter that's a bit snippier than they'd publish anywhere else.
These identities are the social network equivalent of our family vs. work vs. PTA vs. student, etc., identities. We don't behave the same with our family as we do with our work peers and we behave differently at a PTA meeting than we do in a house of worship.
But we're still us and here's the important part. The person who spends more time volunteering at their PTA is going to be a little different than the person who spends most of their time in worship or at work or as a student.
Create a simple population plot of where your audience spends its online downtime and you'll have a handle on their characteristics, what they value, and what piques their interest.
Patterns will form in the characteristics. Perhaps "giving" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event incorporates active and passive social giving aspects as part of its offering and people with that slant will come in your door. Perhaps "family" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event allows time for local touring and the family crowd will come in.
Finding characteristics works both ways. Part of what you'll discover is where your audience is spending its time. Do the majority of your attendees visit three platforms routinely and others rarely? What do those platforms offer that keep those people coming back? What can your event do -- regardless of what space your event is in -- that matches or mimics what those platforms offer that keep people coming back?
A mirrored shield -- knowing where to look
People's social footprints are overflowing with useful event planning and organizing information. Much of this information takes the form of "psychological axes." Most people know about the fight-or-flight axis, and there are many others. Some axes that are directly useful to event people are mountain or ocean, city or country, winter or summer, and so on.
Look through your attendees' social footprints and determine if your audience is mostly mountain or ocean, city or country, etc., and you know where to place your event to create maximum draw. Winter or summer, spring or fall, etc., tell you when to schedule your event (if it's one per year) or how many events to schedule per year. There are many of these axes and learning if your audience is desert/fall, city/ocean, summer/mountain provides you with the wheres, whens and attendance numbers for your different scheduled events.
Take a quick look at how your attendees plan events in their lives and you know what presenters and presentations to schedule. Are potential attendees always referencing immediate, in-the-moment activities? Are they tweeting or Pinning that they're standing in a line waiting to get into a theater or that they'll be going to the theater tonight, tomorrow, or over the weekend? Little things like this are psychological clues that your attendees want immediate, tactical style solutions that are process oriented versus long-range, strategic style solutions that are project oriented.
This is where we shift from learning characteristics to creating attendee personae based on those characteristics and where most planners and organizers fail.
The industry has pushed a "persona" concept into the market that is wonderfully broad. It's such a broad brush that it either covers too much of the wall or not enough. You cover everything and need to spread out drop cloths and have a turpentine rag handy to clean up where your brush went over the edges. In event marketing, this means you spend lots of time bringing in the wrong people who get de-branded, don't come back, and tell others not to bother.
Broad brush personae can also fail because their ease of use makes misuse easy as well. You can paint the center but not cover the edges. Now people who'd attend and like your event aren't being touched by the initial brushstroke so you lose market share.
For example, most marketers are familiar with the clichéd personaes "truck driver Joe" and "soccer mom." These are wonderfully broad personae that are perfectly acceptable if you're selling soccer balls and fuzzy dice air fresheners.
But event organizers and planners are not. Event planners and organizers are selling a theme and an idea, specifically, themes and ideas that are repeated through the years. But, lots of events turn out to be one-offs and are never repeated and that's because the events fail to brand.
Branding in the event space means giving attendees something now, immediately at the time of the event, and getting into their consciousness so that they come back again and again. Event branding is both prospecting and upselling. People who've never purchased a Dell product may attend DellWorld because they're exploring their hardware options. Those people are prospects and Dell's upsell is product, services, and next year's DellWorld event.
Getting into and staying in consumer consciousness is where traditional concepts of personae fail. Knowing why "truck driver Joe" wants fuzzy dice air fresheners and why "soccer mom" wants soccer shoes tells you the color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, material, display, and now we're into marketing writ large. You can produce general fuzzy dice and soccer shoes, maybe get 30 percent of the market and count yourself lucky. You can produce fuzzy dice and soccer shoes segmented along color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, etc., and pick up 90 percent of the overall market by picking up 80 percent of each segment along with cross-over markets.
An adamantine sword to segment the audience data
At this point you've created personae based on psychological drivers and motivations. "Truck driver Joe" may be "truck driver Joe" because he's putting himself through school or because he inherited his family's trucking business. "Soccer mom" may be "soccer mom" because she can't get a job and this is how she fills her days or because work keeps her so busy the soccer field is her only chance to be a mom to her kids. They may all come to your conferences and now you know which presentations they'll attend and just as important, what to tell vendors about your attendees.
Now we're getting into knowing what to put on the schedule versus what to make available off schedule, and who'll pay top dollar for the vendor floor entrance placement versus who'll pay for a shared booth because they really want to scour the competition.
The other big benefit to this methodology is that you now know what not to spend your event dollars on. You now know what none of your attendees care about, what presentations will have one or two attendees versus what will presentations will fill the hall and keep attendees and vendors coming back.
Another incorrect marketing belief is that segmenting an audience means getting less of an audience. That's a fallacy that needs to go away and here's an example of just how foolish that idea is: Have you ever gone to an ice cream stand? Did you get the exact same thing as the person standing next to you in line? Did all the people get the exact same thing?
Ridiculous, isn't it? Yet marketers -- and especially event marketers -- fall into that erroneous thinking all the time. Your event is the ice cream stand. People will be coming to the same ice cream stand for lots of different flavors, lots of different tastes, and if they enjoy their flavor (that's the "knowing your segments" part), they'll bring friends who'll enjoy ice cream with different flavors (segmenting again). You'll talk with a stranger about how good the ice cream is and how much you enjoy the mocha-choca-vanilla-swirl-walnut, and how is their peppermint-maple-coconut-pumpkin mash?
The more diverse your attendee audience is in their psychologic drivers and motivations, the more cross selling, cross talk, and cross pollination will occur. People who never thought of a particular flavor will try it the next time out. Even if they don't like it, they'll know someone who does and bring them along the next time.
So use that adamantine sword and segment, segment, segment!
The goal of event planners and organizers is three fold:
- Attract a large audience.
- Segment it.
- Direct each segment to more specific information designed to close or convert the greatest number of individuals in that segment.
Good planning and judicious use of commonly available data -- not necessarily big data, just the right data -- can help you grow your audience up to 600 percent in very short time.
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"Young business man looking through telescope" image via Shutterstock.