According to insight provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers at the 2013 International Convention Center Conference (ICCC), over the past 5 years there has been a 42% increase in space utilization from “other” events. The definition of “other” or non-traditional events varies from one venue to another, but there are similarities in the approach convention and exhibition centers can take in order to seek out and market to non-traditional event customers.
This blog series is separated into three parts that outline steps that can be taken before, during, and after you make efforts to secure new clients.
In part one of this blog series, I shared some thoughts around how to ensure your convention or exhibition center is prepared to take on the task of marketing to new, non-traditional event customers. Now, in part two of this blog series, I’ll highlight a practical approach to marketing that you can take.
Above all else, remember: non-traditional event customers have non-traditional needs
In their survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers defined “other” events as banquets, meetings (other than conventions), seminars, holiday functions, graduations, sporting events, social events, concerts, festivals, and other such events. The expectations and requirements for these customers are just as unique as the events they’re planning.
Do you know what these customers want, value and expect? Consider making a buyer profile and checklist of customer requirements for each of the special event types you are targeting. These profiles can help guide your conversations, and can grow as you communicate more with members of each audience.
Positioning your convention or exhibition center against other venues
You’re going to want to do your homework to understand what venues customers are typically using for their unique events. Three good questions you can ask yourself to get started are:
- Where are these events typically being held? Take the time to research this. If you get stuck trying to figure out who your competitors are, imagine you are the kind of non-traditional customer you want to target. Now imagine you are holding one of these “other” events and want to know what your venue options are. You can conduct a simple search online by entering “best place for [event] in [your venue’s city]” in the search field. What other venues show up in the search results? These are likely your top competitors.
- Are certain “other” events underserved in your community? Know what you can offer, but – perhaps even more importantly – know what you cannot provide and be prepared to address it if asked. If there are certain needs or wants in the market, are these opportunities for you to distinguish your brand? Are there certain opportunities you should avoid altogether? To generate the most impact in the shortest time, go for the best fits for your brand with the lowest barriers.
- Does your pricing structure align with the needs of the event customers, such as packaged or per-person pricing options? It’s likely your convention or exhibition center has a standard pricing structure you present to your typical customers. However, there’s nothing typical about non-traditional customers, and there is a good chance that you may need to consider a specialized pricing structure to accommodate unique events.
Take your venue new places using new marketing tactics
After you have a grasp on your target audience and competition, you can then consider what the best ways to reach new non-traditional event customers are from a marketing perspective.
Surely you are already using a wide variety of traditional marketing techniques to attract your normal event planner audience, like mailings, print ads, and online ads. But, when you use these media in your effort to appeal to a more specialized market segment, you really need to ensure the messaging is tailored to the audience. This means thinking beyond the mailings, print ads, etc. themselves to account for the distribution methods. Brides aren’t going to find you if you’re advertising in trade show magazines. Unless someone is a meeting planner for a living, they are not going to visit a meeting planner website and see your venue’s banner ad.
Buddy-up with uncharacteristic vendors
Special events often utilize vendors you are not used to seeing at your venue’s standard events. Consider a co-op with other local vendors. Jewelers or florists when you want to attract wedding receptions. Popular local cover bands when you want to attract business holiday parties. Develop third-party champions or brand advocates. Have you partnered with someone you trust? Can you go a step further and offer co-op discounts because of your trust in that relationship and experience?
Stabilize your venue’s online home and build an attractive community around it
Nearly all consumers (97 percent) now use online media when researching products or services in their local area. With so many people now looking online first to gather information about their options, you need to ensure your convention or exhibition center has a powerful website that is built with both an intelligent front and back end.
An intelligent front end design not only stands out creatively. It is built with deliberate attention around how a user would go through the buying process before making a purchase. The site must appropriately represent your brand and attract people away from other venues that are historically booked for that event type. What does your online presence say about your convention or exhibition center’s physical presence? If you were a customer, would you even consider booking a special event at your venue based on your website?
An intelligent back end website design is data driven and SEO optimized. Again, this goes back to knowing your customers and what they might be searching for in order to find a venue for their special event. These are the words you should have web pages dedicated to if you want to connect with these target event customers and show up in search results in the first place.
Finally, you need to have an effective social media component to your marketing mix. Note that I would emphasize that social media is a component in your mix. Social media alone is not a strategy. It’s part of a bigger picture marketing strategy that needs to be done right or you may be better off not doing it at all. It isn’t enough to choose some popular social media networks, set up camp for your venue, and slop out some promotional sounding posts now and then. That will just turn people off. Follow a 3:1 rule for social media, which recommends that you will get better results if you post only one self-serving, promotional post for every three compelling, valuable post you make. This reinforces the concept of understanding the medium, your target audience, and appropriate message distribution tactics.
Seek, market, and retain
It’s a bit like the old lather, rinse, and repeat shampoo methodology. In order to really find success with your efforts to target non-traditional event customers, you have to be purposeful in your approach to retaining customers and making the most of these new relationships. Stay tuned – I will dive deeper into that next week in part 3 of this blog series.