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 planners.
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. Then, in part two of this blog series, I highlighted a practical approach businesses can take when seeking and marketing to non-traditional event customers. Now, in the third and final part of this blog series, I will share some measures you can take after you’ve activated your marketing strategy to ensure you are making the most of your customer relationships.
Lather, rinse, repeat
For your convention or exhibition center to be perceived as a legitimate venue for non-traditional event customers, you must enact a full seek, market, and retain strategy. I want to emphasize the retention portion, as it’s perhaps the approach that you’re used to.
It’s the lather, rinse, repeat shampoo technique designed to deliver “the best results.” Can you get clean hair without the “repeat” step? Probably. But you won’t get the best results. As a venue manager, can you obtain non-traditional event customers and not worry about a retention strategy? Sure. But you won’t get the best results.
A lot of the non-traditional events you’re targeting are one-time deals – wedding receptions, business events, banquets, etc. However, each event brings new patrons through your doors who may become your next special event customer. You never know when the person responsible for booking the holiday luncheon is at your venue because they are attending a conference. Creating a memorable experience at each event is critical, and why a retention strategy doesn’t necessarily just involve your current customer.
So what does a retention strategy for non-traditional event customers involve?
Emphasize the “second experience” at your venue
When expanding into non-traditional events, make sure you invest in creating an experience that makes a lasting impression on all of the event’s guests.
When I was in IAVM's Venue Management School at Oglebay, Brad Mayne taught a course focused on the "Second Experience" and venue branding philosophy.
The first experience is whatever the attendee is coming for: a holiday luncheon, a performance, the main meeting at a conference, and so on. The second experience is everything else that positively (or, I would add, negatively) affects the first experience. This is the continuous flow of entertainment and experiences at your venue. The programming – the entertainment, promotions, and fun surrounding the main attraction.
If you manage a convention or exhibition center, the second experience includes interactive signage boards that draw attendees’ attention. It’s the comfortable computer kiosks where guests can check email. It’s the accessibility and attentiveness of your concierge. It’s about doing all of these things in a way that sets your venue apart. It’s about meeting those “unexpressed wishes.” These are the things that reinforce your venue’s brand and help develop an emotional connection that turns current guests into future customers.
Develop a marketing strategy that cultivates brand advocacy
This includes tactics in your marketing plan to keep the buzz going and your venue top-of-mind. Incorporate social media into your online strategy. For instance, before the event offer booking discounts to customers if they “like” your venue’s Facebook page. After the event, hold a promotion that enters past customers into a drawing each time they get a friend of theirs to “like” your Facebook page.
Follow up with non-traditional event customers with a post-event survey. Find out whether or not they would recommend your venue to others. It is highly likely that a lot of your potential non-traditional event customers seek the opinions of peers online before making their decision. In fact, one study cites that as many as 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
But, more important than any marketing tactic is the actual event. Even if your customer is hosting a one-time event, they have access to your future, potential customers and a little word of mouth goes a long way.
Make sure you have the tools in place so nothing slips through the cracks
Are you are using the right software to manage your venue? The events industry is built on relationships and personal connections. So your system should allow you to do more than manage your calendar; it needs to help you manage your relationships. Your system should track all communications and automate follow up activities so you are nurturing relationships. Your system should expand your peripheral vision so you can track equipment, services, and other event details in one place. What are these customers telling you, or more importantly, what are they not telling you? Your reporting should empower you to anticipate customer needs.
Your customers and their guests will have a better experience with your building if they can see you as a one-stop shop for all of their event needs. When the guests arrive, they don’t know what has been done by the venue, the organizer, or one of your contractors. Having the right technology in place will boost your control, efficiency, and peace of mind about the events you hold and the impact it will create on your future customers. And, most importantly, it will give you the time you need to effectively manage relationships, focus on your venue’s brand, and create the kinds of experiences that secure your place in the market as the right choice for non-traditional event customers.