Forward Thinking

How to Repel Your Best Customers

Instead of bombarding paying attendees with marketing messages, how about just making good on your promise to deliver education and networking opportunities?

This summer, I attended three large conferences – one in our industry and two that weren’t. Each was a premium conference. And each missed out on numerous opportunities to build customer loyalty. Here are three examples of what I mean:

1. Welcome Reception Self-Promotion

The first conference I attended hosted an awesome welcome reception. The venue included a number of flagship restaurants. Food, drinks, and entertainment were spot-on. The venue offered 50 or so plasma screens where the conference host could stream content. This association chose to broadcast a scrolling PowerPoint deck highlighting the benefits of membership.

What a lost opportunity! The self-promoting content was mostly ignored. If the association would have streamed photos or videos that shone the light on its attendees, it would have gotten so much more mileage.

2. Exhibitors in the Inbox

For all three of these conferences, I chose not to opt out of exhibitor promotion. (I know, I’m a glutton for punishment, but I learn from these choices.) Once I paid my $945 registration fee for the industry conference, I got bombarded with email solicitations. Nearly all of the emails were untargeted, impersonal pleas to get me to stop by Booth XYZ and qualify to win an iPad, or offered some other incentive. What they didn’t offer were compelling reasons why working with them might improve my business.

This is a predicament for many conferences. What if you charged two separate registration fees – one at a higher price that is free of solicitation, and one that saves the attendee $100 or $200, but includes marketing? Freemium mobile apps use this model. Why not conferences?

3. Non-Effective Sponsorship

One of the conferences I attended had persuaded a significant sponsor to ante up for its general-session speaker. One of the sponsorship benefits was five minutes of stage time before introducing the speaker. We’ve all seen this movie before. The attendees ultimately felt like they were paying a registration fee for the benefit of being marketed to. Speaker and session sponsorship should grow for most organizers, but the sponsor benefits and leverage plan is in need of change. In this case, the sponsor would have gotten much more bang for its buck by arranging a private reception/photo opportunity/book signing with the speaker and its best customers. An exclusive opportunity like this makes customers feel like VIPs and helps grow their allegiance for the sponsor’s brand.

In each of these cases, if the host organization delivered consistently on its conference promise – education and networking – and approached whatever marketing messages needed to be conveyed in a more thoughtful way, it would have a much better chance of earning its attendees’ loyalty. .


Be an Attendee Advocate

Push or interruption marketing no longer works – and can really tick off your best customers. When you promise premium education and networking at your conference, be sure to keep the experience free of undesired promotions. Best-in- class conference organizers have someone who is charged with looking out for the attendee experience. This person looks at everything that is happening through the lens of the attendee – the promises made in marketing, the actions of partners, and the loyalty that is earned through a quality offering.

More Resources

Without a loyal attendee base of 50 percent or more, your conference is unhealthy. When you deliver on your conference promise, referrals through word of mouth follow. Read a Duct Tape Marketing blog post on earning more referrals at

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.