Fierce Event Loyalty: Transforming Passive Participants into Loyal Ambassadors

Post authored by Brian Strickland, Director of Sales, Sports & Enthusiast

Let’s start with a multiple choice question: Most people attend your events because…

A. They want to
B. They have to

Are most people choosing your event over countless others because they treasure the wealth of meaningful experiences you’re providing? Are they coming because you provide remarkable experiences that help them learn, grow, imagine, and explore – all while engaging in fascinating conversations with others who can help them?

Or are they choosing the path of least resistance? They’re coming because they need to score some quick CEUs to earn or renew a certification. And once those boxes are checked, they’ll be planning for an early exit.

By the way, an increase in early departures is a red flag that event loyalty could be at risk.

Back to our original question: If you chose answer (A) to the question above, that’s a good start, but event loyalty could still be at risk. After all, that’s YOUR take. Have you tested these assumptions with your customers? And more importantly, have you run these assumptions by your vendors? They’re watching loyalty rise and fall across many more events.

According to a recent Salesforce.com study, 82 percent of sellers are out of sync with what matters to their buyers. But wait, you’re not in sales, right? That wouldn’t apply to you.

Think again.

In today’s competitively-charged business environment, we’re all in sales!

Understanding Loyalty

Several years ago, Seth Godin wrote a thought provoking post, Two Kinds of Loyalty, where he explored two approaches many organizations take to build loyalty:

  1. Loyalty of Convenience Customers [attendees] might look at other options occasionally, but switching is risky and time consuming. “The problem with the loyalty of convenience is that the customer is always tempted to look… and the vendor is always working to build barriers that don’t necessarily increase satisfaction, but merely build a wall of hassle around the trapped customer.”
  2. Loyalty of Identity & Satisfaction The beauty of this second kind, which Godin dubs the “I’m not even looking” loyalty, is that the customer [attendee] “is as committed to the relationship as the vendor is. You earn this sort of loyalty, you don’t architect it.”

Earning this second level of loyalty happens over the long haul, as you consistently deliver experiences that matter to your attendees. Experiences they value highly, but can’t easily find anywhere else.

This second level of loyalty is attained when there’s a convergence of experience-driven culture, meaningful content, and executing on data sets to help you gain additional insight into behaviors. Best of all, this convergence drives more authentic communication and connection with your customers, which in turn, further deepens their loyalty to you.

Ascending the Loyalty Pyramid

Justine Boston, Associate Director for the retail team at Marketing Sciences Unlimited, addressed this loyalty dilemma in a recent post titled: How Do Brands Gain Emotional Loyalty? While her focus was on the retail sector, there’s much in the loyalty pyramid she introduced (below) that translates to our events environment.

If most of your attendees are at the bottom of this pyramid, you’ve got trouble. It might not be hitting your event bottom line just yet, but it will, because their connection to your event brand is tenuous.

Nobody got into the meetings industry to recycle the same program year after year. While this may seem ethereal, we all have constraints.  But don’t let leadership, budget or boards be a reason not to innovate and work towards emotional loyalty.  That type of thinking is easy and will possibly send you on a path of moving people down the pyramid instead of up.

Notice, Anticipate & Deliver

Getting clarity on what your guests value most about your event is an important first step. This will help you anticipate what they’ll want in the future.

The Tokyo Marathon is good at anticipating guest needs. This race draws thousands of international participants. While many are coming from big cities around the world, they’re less certain about Japanese local customs around travel. Volunteers anticipate their needs at every touch point, starting with their arrival at the airport. These volunteers greet guests as they arrive and quickly direct them to cabs to ensure a smooth journey to their hotel. Welcoming—coupled with thoughtful anticipation of needs—is a powerful loyalty catalyst.

Housing is another category where noticing past behaviors and anticipating future desires is important. Imagine if your housing invitation included a message like this: “You booked the Westin last time. Would you like to rebook this property? Here are two other hotels you might consider that are similar.”

Are you noticing what your attendees are doing during your event? Once they arrive, are you capturing data on what they do and where they linger? Behavioral data is the new ante for earning loyalty and eventBit leverages Bluetooth beacon technology to help you capture this valuable insight seamlessly.

Mapping Out Your Loyalty Strategy

Every time you delight your guests, their loyalty grows stronger. However, true emotional loyalty is earned over a sustained period of time and across multiple branding touch points—one of which is your events.

The Eight Phases of a Successful Event (eBook) is an excellent framework to apply as you map out your event plan. It will keep you focused on the eight distinct phases your guests navigate through on their event journey. Here’s a quick look at the phases:

  • Before the Event: Announcing, Attracting, Anticipating
  • During the Event: Arriving, Entering, Engaging, Exiting
  • After the Event: Extending

What makes this Eight-Phase model particularly strong is that it chunks down a somewhat daunting task into eight more manageable steps.

Click here to download The Eight Phases of a Successful Event eBook.

Which of the eight event phases will you tackle first?

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