Are you being receptive to new voices?

In our last post we focused on the seven purposes of a meeting.  While none of these purposes specifically stated it, it was understood that participant appeal is a key ingredient of a successful meeting.  The meeting participant needs to “see him/herself in the picture” for the meeting to hit the mark.

Whether a person could relate to the reason for the celebration, wanted to learn the material being presented, or simply wanted to connect with the type of person anticipated to be at the event, the participant must relate

The problem is, these days, the basis of how people relate to events is changing.  Rapidly.  We could argue about the reasons – smartphones, social media, Millennials… But none of that matters, really.  The bottom line is: how people relate is a fast-moving target.  And if people can’t relate they just won’t show up.

Now some of you may argue that isn’t the case for all meetings.  At corporate meetings, for instance, people are told to attend the meeting… they don’t have a choice.  I think differently – and perhaps that’ll be the topic for another column.  Let’s agree on this: maybe participants will show up but they won’t be that engaged unless they can relate.

So how do you make sure people see themselves in your event’s picture?  One strategy I have come to adopt is listening to the “new voices.”

The new voices aren’t necessarily young or novice in the field.  They often are considered “the outliers.” They are not that loud, just perhaps asking for something that isn’t being offered.  Maybe they are unhappy or perhaps they are just looking for something better suited to their needs.

We’ve been seeing a chorus of voices pipe up in association and corporate meetings, in diverse fields from healthcare to IT.  According to one author, one group that is often not heard at industry events is women.  And it is the reason why women’s conferences is a fast-growing meeting segment. (And with the latest marches going on around the world of late, this trend just may be gaining momentum!)

If potential participants don’t see themselves in the event picture you are creating they just won’t come to your meeting.

So where are they going?  In some cases, they are banding together and organizing their own meeting (hint hint independent planners… a new source of business?).  Or they are finding new events, sometimes organized by similar associations, or even the private sector, but targeting a niche of your audience.

This is completely congruent with a trend we have been seeing for a while; there are more small, specialized events, often winning at the expense of the ho-hum annual conference that tries to be all things to all people…

So who are the new voices in your organization?  Is it time you start listening?

2017 Engaging Associations Forum Registration Now Open!

We are thrilled to announce that registration for the Engaging Associations Forum is NOW open!

And, as you may have expected, Doreen and I kick off with a special offer: Until February 15th, we are offering attendance at the Engaging Associations Forum for a rate of $185*!  Yes, you read that right – EVEN LOWER than last year!  Click here to register now.

2016 sold out; and we fully anticipate 2017 to be no different, so you may think we are crazy, but if you have been loyal to attending the Engaging Associations Forum in the past, or perhaps you want to check it out for the first time, we want to celebrate four years of creating change!

Register while you can! *This special rate is non-refundable.

The 7 Purposes of a Meeting

As an association leader, what are your thoughts about the transformational role that meetings can have in advancing your organizational objectives?

I say can have because meetings are often seen as anything but transformational.  For too many people “meetings” is synonymous with boring, time-consuming, soul-sucking gatherings.  For the media, meetings and conferences too often are how politicians and bureaucrats waste our tax dollars.  And for too many association executives, Board Meetings are something to be endured rather than embraced.

Organizations like Meeting Professionals International have been fighting this perception for years with campaigns like Meetings Mean Business and When We Meet We Change the World.

But in this crazy-busy, hyper-connected and fragmented world, it’s easy to lose sight of meetings’ true purpose.   It is up to each and every one of us to ensure that the meetings we organize are purposeful.

Because, at the end of the day, does the theme of the conference, the taste of the food or the quality the AV presentation even matter if the people at the meeting didn’t connect – to the material, to the presenter, to the organization, to each other?

And speaking of purpose, when was the last time you thought about your next meeting’s purpose?  A few years ago, Marriott Hotels conducted research that identified seven distinct purposes to a meeting.  Some meetings of course may have multiple purposes:

  • TO CELEBRATE: This is when the event is to commemorate a milestone or accomplishment.
  • TO DECIDE: With this objective, the event should focus on meaningful dialogue so an outcome or direction can be initiated.
  • TO EDUCATE: When the meeting objective is to impart knowledge, where participants learn new things or acquire new skills.
  • TO IDEATE: I prefer to call this objective to innovate or generate new ideas, develop new ways of thinking or doing things.
  • TO NETWORK: This is when the objective is to meet and get to know people, often with a mind towards a transaction or exchange.
  • TO PRODUCE: When the objective calls for people to collaborate to towards a specific goal or develop a specific output.
  • TO PROMOTE: Related to or following the networking objective, this objective is to introduce a new offering (product, service) or promote a new idea or message.

I have been working with and dissecting the above purposes ever since I read about the research, and been unable to come up with any other true, positive purpose that focuses on the human interaction (hint: making money isn’t a purpose).  Can you?

In our upcoming series on #PurposefulMeetings, it is my intent to explore different ways we can all plan and produce business events that fulfill their purpose in an engaging and meaningful way.  If you have any questions, suggestions or challenges, drop me a line!  I love to discuss, exchange and debate… So reach out at daw@greenfield-services.ca.

Six Tips for Combining Your Conference and #Association #Marketing

Every time your organization holds an event of any kind, it’s a pivotal moment to deliver a message, increase brand awareness, and build lasting relationships with members, prospects, and the key decision-makers in your sector.

So it’s surprising when organizations fail to integrate their event marketing with their broader communications and outreach strategies. Surprising—but by no means unheard of. If you work for an association that has a great communications program that does little or nothing to promote upcoming events, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Start early: If you’re planning a six-month campaign for an annual event, start nine or 10 months out if it’s the first time you’ve tried to coordinate with your in-house communications group.
  2. Line up your arguments: If the communications team has never thought of the conference as a prime source of information and messaging, it’s up to you to make the case. You can do that by highlighting the strong content you’re bringing onsite and the connections between the conference and the broader communications effort.
  3. Find your spots on the calendar: If your organization has a strong communications presence, it probably has an editorial calendar to track key milestones and deadlines. To integrate your event marketing with the rest of the communications effort, you’ll have to carve out your spots on the calendar. Try to maximize exposure in the weeks leading up to key registration deadlines, and watch for moments when conference content can reinforce your organization’s wider messaging.
  4. Treat content as a fulcrum: Some content marketers recommend using a blog as the fulcrum of a wider social media strategy. Every time you publish a new post, you create news that you can legitimately redistribute via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social channels—and when readers are particularly interested in a topic, they “raise their hands” by clicking the links in the blog. By linking those readers back to your conference website, you encourage them to find out more about the program and, ultimately, to sign up for the event.
  5. Adhere to the schedule…: Once you’ve committed to the editorial calendar, it’s important to meet your deadlines. You picked your spots for a reason, and your event needs the timely, effective marketing you’ve mapped out. Your in-house communications team is counting on you, too, and you’ll earn their undying gratitude by delivering clean, readable text when you said you would.
  6. …but be prepared to improvise: Any editorial calendar can be overtaken by events. In fact, author David Meerman Scott has elevated newsjacking to a fine art. If breaking news helps you make a compelling case for people to attend or sponsor your conference, that means postponing the post you thought you had lined up and publishing it next week instead.

You’ll know you’ve connected with your communications team when they start to see your conference as a smart, useful resource, not just another product they have to sell. The first step is to recognize content as the most important part of the event, and think about how to market it accordingly.

Are you looking for other ways to market your events to your community?  We can help.

How Market Penetration Shapes Associations’ Success

When consulting with associations on how to increase members, I often make a statement, and ask a question: “You have XX members.  What percentage does this represent of the total market?”  In many cases, the answer is “I don’t know to be honest”, or that their membership represents less than half of the market share.  This problem isn’t new. But it’s hard to think of a more troubling statistic for anyone who has set out to build a strong, member-centric organization.

An association is most effective when it can legitimately claim to be the voice of its community, whether that community is an industry, a group of professionals, or a collection of like-minded individuals.  The most effective associations are most likely to retain enough members to build a solid financial base.  And the most financially stable associations are the ones with the time and resources to focus on long-term strategy and member return on investment (ROI), rather than short-term survival.

But if your organization hasn’t reached a large enough share of its prospective members, or hasn’t even defined its membership base, you’re back at the beginning of the curve.

Here are some of the questions to ask:

  • What are the top four, five, or half-dozen audience segments that make up your membership?
  • Are you missing other audiences that should be a part of your membership base?
  • What is the total size of each audience within your geographic territory?
  • What is your current market share for each group?
  • What additional percentage of each audience is already known to you – as prospects, subscribers, workshop or e-learning participants, lapsed members, or in any other capacity?
  • How can you assemble a comprehensive prospect list, and what’s the best strategy for reaching out?
  • Do you have the in-house resources to conduct an integrated membership marketing campaign, or do you need outsourced support?

If your association has low market penetration – or even worse, if you don’t know how to define your market – it’s time to invest in the in-house time or external resources to solve the problem. Not because we say so, but because your organization’s health and survival depend on it.

Need help getting at these answers, and developing a recruitment and retention strategy?  We can help.

What Does Your #Association Website Say About You? – Part 3

A performing website will yield benefits for your membership recruitment and retention efforts, as well as help drive your sponsorship and exhibitor sales. A poorly functioning website can do just the opposite. It can be a warning sign screaming “This association doesn’t have what you need.” How can you tell which situation you are in? Our first post offered 3 warning signs, shortened versions as follows:

  • You Are Living With Someone Else’s Idea: If your website has not been reviewed and revised in the last 12-18 months, it is your first warning sign.
  • Proper Branding: Consistent branding is key; and if there is a disconnect, it is another indication that a re-design or facelift is required.
  • Are You Searchable?  SEO rules and functionality can have changed overnight, and it is important that your organizations stays on top of these changes to ensure that you stay competitive online.

Subsequently, our second post outlined three more warning signs:

  • How Is Your Content?  Answer questions like: Have you read your website content lately?  Is it easy to understand?  Does it teach anything?
  • Calling All Websites!  Websites that have yet to be optimized stand out like a sore thumb, and make it difficult to navigate the information.
  • Are You In Fashion?  Being unique is one thing, but just like you would raise eyebrows if you are now wore bell-bottomed pants and wide, psychedelic-coloured ties, ensuring your website is visually in-tune with the times is just as important.

Our final post outlines our final three warning signs:

  1. Traffic Stagnation:  One of the most important signs that your website is in need of some major help is traffic stagnation.  Decreasing traffic should NOT be your first warning sign; receiving consistent results below what you had expected is a clear indicator.  Traffic performing the same and never improving could potentially be as much of a problem as the decrease.
  2. You’re Not Social:  If your website doesn’t have “share” buttons on most of its pages, it may be time for an update.  Visitors should be able to click action-oriented buttons to share your membership information, advisories or any other important information in Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and any other social network you have found they like to interact.
  3. Navigating The Labyrinth: Adding content is easy, but too many organizations are not considering where it is located on their website.  Association staff may be able to find the information easily, but can your members and other stakeholders, not to mention prospects?  The UE (User Experience) is often not accounted for when laying everything out.  Ideally, your content should be found easily, within one or two clicks.  If a visitor cannot find the content within that timeframe he/she will leave to find the information elsewhere.

With the pace of change on the internet, updating a website is an important step your association must undertake regularly.  Failure to do so is akin to not replacing the neon bulbs in a storefront sign: you risk not being found or being overlooked because others are better at maintaining their presence.

What Does Your #Association Website Say About You? – Part 2

A performing website will yield benefits for your membership recruitment and retention efforts, as well as help drive your sponsorship and exhibitor sales. A poorly functioning website can do just the opposite. It can be a warning sign screaming “This association doesn’t have what you need.” How can you tell which situation you are in? Our first post offered 3 warning signs, shortened versions as follows:

  • You Are Living With Someone Else’s Idea: If your website has not been reviewed and revised in the last 12-18 months, it is your first warning sign.
  • Proper Branding: Consistent branding is key; and if there is a disconnect, it is another indication that a re-design or facelift is required.
  • Are You Searchable?  SEO rules and functionality can have changed overnight, and it is important that your organizations stays on top of these changes to ensure that you stay competitive online.

What else should you be working for?

  1. How Is Your Content?  Have you read your website content lately?  Is it easy to understand?  Does it teach anything?  Have you put yourself in the shoes of a visitor; will they understand it? When was the last time you revised the wording?  Are there new issues, terms, buzzwords that you now should be referencing on your site?  These questions are important to determine whether the content is worth keeping.  If drastic changes are in order, it is another indication that a redesign should be considered.
  2. Calling All Websites!  We live in a mobile age; people are using smartphones, tablets, and other devices to be connected 24/7.  Savvy associations are updating their websites to be mobile-friendly.  This means that if someone visits your website it will render legibly and attractively on their mobile device.  Websites that have yet to be optimized stand out like a sore thumb, and make it difficult to navigate the information.  If your website has yet to be optimized for mobile, it is time to update.
  3. Are You In Fashion?  Website design follows certain trends and fashion.  Often times you can clue in on whether it is time to update your website by simply looking around.  Are you still employing a left-hand navigation bar, whereas everyone else moved to a thinner, top-of-the-page navigation?  Is your colour-scheme outdated?  Being unique is one thing, but just like you would raise eyebrows if you are now wore bell-bottomed pants and wide, psychedelic-coloured ties, ensuring your website is visually in-tune with the times is just as important.

Stay tuned for our last 3 tips!

What Does Your #Association Website Say About You? – Part 1

Members are proud to be affiliated with their associations. It’s a badge of honour that some literally “wear” by featuring association logos on their websites, business cards and other marketing material.

Doesn’t it only make sense then, that your association looks its best? We suggest starting with a website that’s pressed and primped. Populate it with words that engage your members and reflect your organization’s unique “voice.” And make it seamless to navigate with easy-to-use tabs; your members don’t want to waste time trying to find your latest white paper. Include “call to action” buttons like newsletter signup forms.

A performing website will yield benefits for your membership recruitment and retention efforts, as well as help drive your sponsorship and exhibitor sales. A poorly functioning website can do just the opposite. It can be a warning sign screaming “This association doesn’t have what you need.” How can you tell which situation you are in? Here are a few warning signs:

  1. You are still living with someone else’s idea: In many cases, the website was a predecessor’s idea; it contains dated views or methods of bringing in traffic, and now you are paying the price! If your website has not been reviewed and revised in the last 12-18 months, it is your first warning sign.
  2. Proper Branding: Often organizations focus first on revising the look and feel of “other” marketing materials: business cards, document templates, and print newsletter layouts. However, does it still match the look and feel of your website? Consistent branding is key; and if there is a disconnect, it is another indication that a re-design or facelift is required. At every touch point, people should know immediately that the information was produced by your organization.
  3. Are You Searchable? When was the last time you conducted general research online to determine where your organization is listed in search results? If you search keywords that a potential member may be using to find more information, and you do not appear on the first page of the search results, you are in need of an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) overhaul. SEO rules and functionality can and have changed overnight, and it is important that your organization stays on top of these changes to ensure that you stay competitive online.
What are other warning signs?  Stay tuned to our blog for further warning signs!
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Update on Greenfield Services

With the recent announcement from Doreen Ashton Wagner, I am thrilled to write my first blog updating you on Greenfield Services.  Ultimately, while a lot has changed, our commitment remains the same:

  • We will continue to offer full-service association management for the industry.
  • We will continue to consult and conduct project based work in the areas of membership marketing and engagement, event marketing and engaging meeting design, and sponsorship and exhibit sales.
  • We will continue to move the needle with research, including focus groups with your stakeholders – in person or online.

Doreen will not be “going away” – she will play a very active role with Greenfield still, offering project support and facilitation services for the association space.  Even Heinz is sticking around to help me manage our accounts and the finances of our association clients!

Over the last 12 (almost 13!) years, Doreen and Heinz have been an integral part of my growth as a professional, and ultimately, as an individual.  They have bought in to my ideas; let me try new things (including the Engaging Associations Forum and our Pulse Report).  Doreen brought me to my first association conference and tradeshow, and both Doreen and Heinz have been avid supporters of me through thick and thin on a personal level.  There is NO WAY I could possibly describe the support they have given me, and frankly, don’t think I could ever repay them fully.

Instead, I choose to honour them by ensuring Greenfield Services continues to grow and prosper, changing with the times, and keeping at the forefront of innovation.  I am so excited for the journey, and look forward to making them proud!

Future design concept

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