Among Dan Hanover's 10 habits for putting on successful events, that the Access Intelligence VP, Event Marketing Group, exulted through at a recent conference, was this: If it works don't do it again. "Reset and refresh your campaigns every year," he said. "We try to one up ourselves every year—there's always a better way of doing something. Resetting events gets attendees to come back. Changing out content is not enough to be considered an event refresh.
"We do a full identity reset for every event every 12 months. What worked last year? What can we do this year? We always want to improve."
Now Hanover is working on a big scale so his approach could seem extreme. Dollars and sense may dictate your sticking to a formula that works. But the overriding idea of trying to improve sticks out for me. An attendee or a vendor may love a conference one year, but then say it's the same-old the next—especially in B2B where that person may be looking for new ideas for his or her own event. And vendors want to see new people, which an event reset can accomplish.
In an article on Associations Now, Karla Taylor lists five steps to turn your ordinary meetings into extraordinary experiences. Her number one step is this:
Realize change is essential, not optional. From your members' perspective, the need for change is rooted in brain science, says Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of education and engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Simply put, spending year after numbing year in hotel ballrooms, they cease to pay attention to what you're trying to convey. "Most conference experiences are status quo—they don't move the needle for performance improvement," Hurt says.
"We're looking for experiences—ones that transform thinking, attitudes, behavior, skills. That's a completely different design process that takes attendees through a completely different journey," he adds.
In-person events continue to flourish, mainly because people covet experiences and the face-to-face contact we get less of today. But... "Too many conventions follow a path of 'better sameness—a little better every year,'" says Don Neal, founder and CEO of 360 Live Media. "Great experiences today are transforming audiences' ideas for what an event should be."
Taylor also advises you to go to other events to see and feel the possibilities. (Speaking of which, have you signed up for BIMS yet? Check here who is going.) But don't fool yourself, Hurt warns. It will take more than a different ballroom setup. "Saying, 'Tell me what you did so I can copy it'—that leads to failure," he says. "You'll try it for a year and go back to what you've done before."
"Instead, think about the big issues first: What is your event's purpose? How should it be integrated with everything else [you are] trying to achieve—and what do your members/[subscribers] want? And what will keep the results out of the "better sameness" trap?"
Hanover would agree. He urged us not to live with the marketing campaign of somebody else... "No two attendees are equal. Different people are coming for different things." They map out six types of people who come to their events so they can segment different messages. The personalization drives the open rate way up.
The other key similarity is Hanover's number one habit: Go all in. He said that "with big risk comes big reward" and nothing in the process is too small. "We'll look at 30 different colors to pick the green on the wall. Never apologize for the process. If staff doesn't care, get rid of staff. You can't pay someone to care... Keep it fresh every year and gamble."
Writes Taylor: "Truly commit. The risks that accompany change are scary [but] the biggest risk [can be] to stay the same."