Did you know it’s six times less expensive to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one? And by customer, I mean a guest at your event. This week, we examine the next two Rs of event growth. If you missed the first two posts of this series, read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Now, let’s dig into Part 3: Retention and Reach.
Retention of your current audience is not only significantly less expensive but also the most important indicator of your event’s relevance and reputation. The facts on the ground, however, are somewhat bleak. Most association events hover around 40% retention year over year. Sure, you can write it off to “people in our industry change jobs a lot” or “our members can’t get funding every year to attend” or “because we change cities every year, it’s too expensive for our members to travel.”
Let’s be clear: If your event is indispensable and irresistible, your audience will find a way to attend. And while your event may have a higher than 40% retention rate, I’d challenge you to look closely at your attendance reporting. Are you confident of the exact match back of individuals this year to last year? We find actual retention rates are often far lower than many associations report.
It’s too expensive to fill the leaky bucket of cyclical attendance each year—six times more expensive on average. Great brands, products and services are built on recurring revenue, lowering acquisition costs and building customer value over time. It’s called lifetime value for a reason. If you are not retaining at least 65% of your annual event audience every year, ask yourself what you have to do to create an annual franchise that keeps them coming back every year.
It can be done. Have you considered three-year subscription pricing or a loyal attendance program? (It works for grocery stores and airlines, so why not for your event?) Do your frequent event guests have special VIP lanes at registration? Do you recognize their loyalty status on their badges and offer them special perks? These are just a few of the most basic tactics, but there are so many great ways to promote audience loyalty and increase retention.
Remember, your next best event customer is the one you already have. And the cost of retaining that customer is a small fraction of the cost of acquiring a new customer.
Next, let’s shift our focus to Reach. Reach is about accessing the right audience to invite to your event.
Most association events attract (and thus reach) less than 10% of the total population within the profession—not very impressive. What if only 5% of football fans watched this year’s Super Bowl? It would be called the I-don’t-care-very-much-about-football Bowl. You must reach and compel a larger percentage of your members to attend your “Super Bowl.”
Reaching a new audience has two prongs. First, you must actually reach them with your communications. They must receive your emails, postcards and social posts. You must go beyond the reach of your current membership file and use new lists, new media channels and new social platforms to reach a larger audience where they live and work.
The second meaning of reach is to touch them. Be relevant, and speak to them in a language they understand. Talk to them as people first, professionals second. And you must be able to answer these seven core questions for them:
1. Do I know about your event? Have I heard of it? Am I aware of it?
2. Do I care? Is it relevant to me?
3. Is it better than the alternatives? What is the reputation of the event? Is there a better option? What are you offering?
4. Can I afford it? Will my boss will approve the funding? Have you given me the facts I need to support my case?
5. Is the location desirable? Can I drive? If I have to fly, what are my options?
6. Does the date work with my schedule?
7. Is there an X factor—that special thing that tips the scale and makes me put the effort into registering?
The reason it’s six times more expensive to acquire a new audience than to retain a current one is that most of these questions have already been answered for your current customers. All they need to see is where the event is this year, if it looks as good as last year’s (or better) and if the date works for their schedule—a much lower hurdle and much less expensive for you.
You don’t need to send as many communications, and you don’t need to constantly discount the registration fee (your best customers are willing to pay more for a product they love). Repeat customers know their way around and require fewer resources to maintain. However, never take them for granted. In fact, invest more to keep them coming back—it’s still less expensive than fishing for new people in the vast sea of prospects to attend your next event.
If you want to learn more about how to improve your event’s retention and reach, email me.