Experts Weigh in on Best Ways to Attract (and Retain) High-value Attendees

September 4, 2017

As a trade show organizer, you know the kind of attendee you want at your event: an influencer with buying power who actively participates and advocates for your show, an industry expert who comes every year and brings their friends, and an enthusiastic participant who possesses a robust digital presence and plays a key role in contributing positively to your show’s content and evolution.

Just by their presence, such an attendee has the power to not only attract more exhibitors but also increase the brand value of your show, which in turn can result in drawing more attendees to your event.

To sum it up, a high-value attendee is someone who can directly or indirectly impact your show’s ROI and for that reason, they can be as good as gold.

Since high-value attendees can be key to the success of your event, you know you want to do everything in your power to keep them coming back, year after year. But how much attention should you give to these individuals/companies and should you treat them differently that the rest of your audience? If so, to what extreme?

We asked several industry experts – Marlys Arnold, exhibit marketing strategist at ImageSpecialist; Terence Donnelly, vice president of sales at Experient; Ravi Kiran, co-founder of Dazzletoday; Megan Powers, marketing director at EventCollab, and Walter Winn, chief data evangelist at Feathr – to share their thoughts about how to identify, nurture and earn the loyalty of VIP attendees.

Question: How do high-value attendees help a trade show or event?

Terence Donnelly: Anytime an attendee is an “active participant,” whether through sessions, social media, exhibit floor, providing content, etc., that’s how they add value not only to themselves but also other participants.

Megan Powers: Attendees who come to events intending to find new products or to make decisions on purchases increase the value for the exhibitors, and therefore, the show managers. Influencers help an event by attending and sharing on social media. Those in the industry with a high “influence value” can help to create “FOMO” (fear of missing out) for those who aren’t in attendance and potentially help to increase the attendance next time.

Walter Winn: They can help an event in a variety of ways, from very influential word of mouth marketing…to having a strong digital presence, as their opinion will be seen, reviewed and considered by a much larger digital audience. 

Ravi Kiran: They help keep the exhibitor’s faith in not just that particular show but also in exhibitions as a marketing channel. Each consistently happy exhibitor has a cascading value, i.e., she spreads the good word to the association and other exhibitors and can bring other exhibitors in future. Plus, she can book the exhibit space early for the next year, take a bigger space, be willing to pay a premium and can plan better to extract value from show participation. In essence, a high-value attendee can create a high-value exhibitor.

How do you identify high-value attendees and how do you measure their value?

Kiran: It’s not very easy to identify (them) prior to the show, but I believe some signs are useful:

·      How far has she traveled or is willing to travel?

·      How many people from the company have registered or may come?

·      What function is she in and is that in line with the show’s positioning and exhibitor needs?

·      What is her position in the company?

·      Did she attend the previous year?

·      How many days will she attend the show?

·      Is she the existing customer of any exhibitor or has she been in the recent past?

·      Is she active in social media?

Powers: Show managers should be surveying all attendees and exhibitors to determine what they consider to be success associated with the event. The challenge, however, comes with the very long buying cycles that can exist in our industry. Sometimes it can take 1-3 years to get an opportunity to bid because of multi-year contracts. If it took me more than a year to sign a $1 million contract, I will still attribute the sale to having connected to the buyer at that specific show. In terms of high-value influencers, measuring their value is more challenging, but keeping an eye on their social media activity and the buzz generated by their posting about your event is a way to see who might be making an impact.

Winn: Value can be measured in a variety of ways, but it usually comes down to ROI. In this case, value is more about influence and can be relatively arbitrary when it comes to how it’s measured. Attendees who show a lot of promise for the future are invaluable in that every industry and every tradeshow needs a constant influx of new people. Without compelling a new generation and a new crowd to attend, it doesn’t matter how many veterans you have because attendance will start to dwindle. Ultimately, attendee value will be situational at an event-by-event basis.

What level of attention should you give to high-value attendees versus low/mid-level attendees and should you treat them differently? If so, how?

Marlys Arnold: Offer them perks like free or reduced VIP registration with no waiting in long lines, onsite concierge services, airport transportation, etc., but don’t publicly identify them so they won’t become prey for over-eager exhibitors.

Donnelly: It’s up to show management strategic objectives, but I would try to cultivate meet-ups and networking between high- and low-level attendees to see if some movement and growth in high-level attendees could occur. You need to have different strategies for both (types of) attendees.

Winn: I’m a firm believer in equality, an egalitarian society, the notion that we’re all equal when it comes to being people. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true when it comes to money and the potential value-add that each and every attendee represents. Digitally speaking, pre- and post-event marketing should be personalized and thoughtful no matter who you are, (and) there are a few simple ways to show appreciation/recognition without creating a divide at your event, such as:

·      VIP lounges

·      unique lanyards/badges

·      care packages upon arrival/departure

·      shout-outs during seminars/meetings

Kiran: If the attendee has been segmented based on their value to exhibitors and their expectations from the show, the organizer should try to customize their experience as much as possible. That said, since it may not be possible to establish the value of an attendee accurately prior to the show and it may be different for different exhibitors, the organizer should be careful not to be overly enthusiastic in her attention to a given attendee.

What kinds of analytic tools can organizers use to track attendee behavior to determine their buying influence?

Donnelly: Tools like Feathr during the pre-show process can help determine attendee digital activity. Onsite, badge tracking or blue-tooth badge tracking can track what products and content that attendee is consuming plus the duration. 

Powers: At the stage of registration is the primary way to understand buying capability. Ask the questions about size of events, what products they’re looking for, budgets, etc. This happens for hosted buyer shows for matching, but it can also be done for other shows without that hosted buyer element. Following up with surveys is something that should absolutely be done post-show, and it’s worth considering surveying them (again) six months or longer after the show where there’s a true indicator of closed business related to the show.

What should organizers do with data that identifies high-worth attendees?

Arnold: Use it to develop incentives to make them feel valued and keep them returning year after year, but don’t use it to “stalk” attendees or make them feel pressured.

Winn: Leverage it for the purposes of personalization and marketing. Make sure they’re appreciated, their outreach is sincere and authentic, and their presence is noted in your blogs and other digital properties. 

Kiran: Data collected prior to the show can be used to achieve better match-making, build customized experiences and if the attendee has agreed, perhaps it can be shared with exhibitors. It can also be used to engage attendees on a year-round basis, in a non-obtrusive, non-spammy manner, again, with the agreement of the attendees. Data must be used with extreme care, particularly if it pertains to a high-value attendee. The last thing the organizer wants to risk is a socially amplified irritation by an attendee who felt she was being treated as data.

How can organizers increase the value of specific attendees and is this a good idea?

Donnelly: Personalization. If they organizer can tailor experiences to that individual, show them they are important to the show and provide the content and products they are seeking based upon their behaviors, it’s a win-win.

Powers: Buyers have a need or they don’t. Buyers have large meetings or they don’t. Perhaps, however, if you made those who aren’t considered “high value” feel valued they might be socially influential for you? Someone who closes a lot of business as a result of your show is just as valuable as the people who are buying! Getting help promoting your show from influencers via social media is worth trying if you aren’t doing that already. Folks want to attend shows that appear to have value for them and that influence shouldn’t just come from the show organizers.

Winn: By analyzing their browsing behavior, you can connect specific attendees with other attendees and exhibitors they have the most in common with, (thereby) fostering partnerships, forging new relationships and expanding their own personal digital audience. The more influential each and every attendee is, the more valuable they will be in the years to come.

What lengths should organizers go to secure a high-worth attendee, and how do you keep them coming back, year after year?

Arnold: Determine what they’re worth, both individually and as an influencer, then give them appropriate rewards and incentives – make it unthinkable to NOT be there.

Winn: Pleasant persistence, personalization and packages. Stay in touch with them throughout the year – enough that they feel appreciated and valuable but not to the extent of annoyance. Personalize their experience – make it memorable and authentic. You don’t want them to feel like one of the masses. Send them a gift! It doesn’t have to be expensive, just personal and authentic. 

Powers: Have great shows. Secure exhibitors who are providing what they’re looking for (perhaps incentivizing the exhibitors should be a piece of this puzzle also but make it more affordable?). Keep in touch with them throughout the year, not just when you want something from them. I struggle a bit with the “giving to get” element of our industry, so I think I’ll just leave it at that.

Kiran: One phrase: a meaningful show experience. The organizer should do whatever possible, even going beyond the standard procedures, to make the hours the attendee spends at the show (as well as those at the airport, at the hotel and perhaps in the city) worth it. I am aware that organizers routinely fly high-value attendees down for hosted buyer programs, pay for the hotel, transportation and take care of local entertainment, essentially, treat them like VIPs, but I have been told that it’s a vicious trap and works more for the ego of a few people than delivers genuine value to anyone. But if it works, who am I to complain? 

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