| 08/25/2015

Are your sales and marketing dollars better spent drawing new attendees or retaining existing ones?

When it comes to attendee marketing, there are few things the average event organizer likes to see on reports more than that this year’s attendance is on track to beat last year’s. The only thing that might feel as good is to see a big leap in new attendees.

Who can resist the feeling that you’re doing something right when you start adding all those new names and e-mail addresses to the database?


Recently, I spoke with one event organizer who has gotten the data analytics bug in a big way. She had found out how to look at all her spreadsheets and put a number on exactly how much it costs her to attract a new attendee to her event. Then she applied the same rules to determine how much money she was spending to retain attendees who had been at the conference the year before.

The first conclusion she came to surprised her and the entire event staff: Year in and year out, it costs her seven times as much to acquire a new attendee as it does to retain an old one. Seven!

But the conclusion became, not just surprising, but disturbing when she did just a little more math and realized how much attendee churn the event had. The conference was losing almost as many returning attendees each year as it was gaining new ones.

That led her to the second – and more important – conclusion: If it’s seven times cheaper to retain an existing attendee as it is to acquire a new one, shouldn’t that be where more of those valuable sales and marketing dollars go?

Sure, we all want to see those attendee counts grow larger every year. But we all have bosses who are looking at the expense line just as closely as they are looking at the revenue line, right?

Although this event organizer was not about to abandon all new attendee acquisition strategies, she did decide she had to spend some time thinking about how to make sure this year’s event attendees get back to the same place next year.

How do you balance the two efforts in a cost-efficient way?

Without getting too deep into the weeds, one answer is so simple it can be mystifying: What’s your Unique Value Proposition (UPV)?

What’s the most important reason somebody should attend your event? What’s the benefit they get from it that is not available at any competing event or from any other source?

Why should they pay good money to go to your event? And then come back the next year?

Make answering that question – What’s your UPV? – your Step 1. But while you’re mulling this over, remember that the answer has to be one that means something to the potential attendee – not you. For the moment, it’s not about you. It’s about what you mean to them.

Step 2: Distill your statement. In 10 words or less, summarize the answer. Tell the world the absolutely most important thing you can do for it. Clearly, but quickly, communicate the value of what you offer somebody who attends your event.

Step 3: Look deep into the soul of your event and make darn sure it really does deliver what you say it does.

Step 4: Go and spread the word.