Forward Thinking

Is Your Conference Marketing So Last Year?

The minute your conference is finished, you have to start working on how to get your audience to return next year.

 Here are some ways to inspire people to come back.  Your conference-marketing goal remains the same from year to year: Get as many paying registrants as possible.  But if you use the same marketing strategy every year to attract them, you are doomed to get the same – or worse – results.

Here are some marketing-campaign suggestions to change things up, inspired by Rottman Creative Group’s Manifesto (

1. Inspire people with a conference that uses purpose-driven design.  Conferences are about people.  There, I said it! Conferences are about people.  Not stuff.  Not tradition.  Not technology.  Not trends.  The best way to market to people is by focusing on the conference’s purpose-driven design to deeply impact people.  Your attendees can see through all the conference hype, spin, and posturing.  They care about the conference’s value over venue.  Market how the conference is purposely designed to help them improve and progress.

2. Market the conference experience – because the experience reigns over content.  People used to go to conferences to get information and find the latest and greatest things.  They can use a search engine on their smartphone for that today.  Potential customers care more about the experience they are going to have at your conference than the information you’re going to share.  People don’t just drop a grand to see the conference venue and a lecture.  They open their wallet to have an experience they have not had in the past.  They collect experiences, like hobbyists collect coins or stamps.  And they will compare your conference experience to last year’s, a friend’s, and their coworker’s conference of choice.  Market the experience that they will have with your conference, the experience that they will have with your content, and the experience that they will have with your stakeholders.

3. Calling all conference alumni. Assuming that your conference alumni have positive memories of their conference experience, their connection to you is emotional and frozen in time – connected to who they were as a person at that time.  Instead of chest-thumping about how great your conference is now, remind them of what they loved about their previous experiences.  Remind them of how much fun they had, how much they learned, and that the next generation of attendees is walking the same conference hallways as they traveled.  Tell other alumni stories about how the conference prepared them to grow as professionals.  Recruit them to help you share their experiences and reach new prospective members and convince others to return.

Your conference attendees are the most important people in the world.  Ask yourself: Are you marketing and acting with purpose? Or has purpose left the building in the name of conference self-promotion? Are you inspiring or aspiring? What are you doing to market a unique conference experience?

Owned, Earned, and Paid Marketing Media

Marketing with and not at your prospective conference attendees is imperative today.  Owned media marketing, when your conference brand owns the marketing channel, is also often well received.  Earned media, like when your alumni become your marketing evangelists, is the crème de la crème of marketing strategies.  Paid media, when your organization pays for ads, has less credibility, and is often seen as clutter and spam.

More Resources

The WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) Word blog is a great resource about marketing in today’s new media world.  Read a Word post about the difference between “Push vs. Pull Marketing” at

Dave Lutz, CMP

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