What Drives Attendees to Events?
There’s been a slight shift in the profile of conference and event attendees within the last decade. It used to be as simple as getting the highest number of attendees (regardless of their fit for the content) with the same overarching marketing messages to spark interest. As an event professional, we cringe at the thought now. With economic shifts, emerging technologies, and marketing automation, attendees are becoming increasingly selective of the events that they attend. And event coordinators are becoming more aware of how marketing messages are received and understand the importance of the value that the event brings for its attendees. So what does that mean for those looking to convey the importance of the event to prospective attendees? It means we need to dig deeper to understand the attendee and what they seek in coming to our events.
The Decision to Attend Study
IAEE, PCMA, and The Experience Institute conducted phase one of a study about attendance drivers, and the results prove to give valuable insight. “The Decision to Attend Study” is an examination of the behaviors behind the decision to attend. These facts, figures, and statistics from over 7,000 respondents, of all generations, show that people are willing to attend but only if you’ve got the right content in the right location (among other factors). Data from respondents was organized by generation and was analyzed in generational segments, as well as, a whole. Data was also self-categorized by the respondents, who classified themselves as one of four potential attendee types: Always, Frequents, Occasionals, and Nevers.
A Different Way of Thinking
As we mentioned, in the past, it was simply about getting people to come to an event. Once they were at the event and had paid their registration, it was out of the organizers’ hands. Recent industry trends show that this method of thinking is obsolete as the event industry continues to focus their attention and efforts on attendee satisfaction and retention. New metrics and methods to measure the effectiveness and value of an event are being developed as the event, and meeting industry continually innovates and evolves.
There is a lot more value in an attendee going to an event than just the event itself, the city and its local establishments flourish with increased business, as well as, driving tax dollars into the city. As event professionals begin to realize that their events have a larger, positive effect on the community and attendees, a heavy focus is put on maximizing attendance. Many people attend events in a destination or location that they have a positive experience and return for leisure travel, fueling the travel industry as well as the meeting and events industries.
Higher Revenues Due to Increased Connectivity
The likelihood of respondents attending an event was 92 percent, trending higher with the younger demographic. This means, more than ever; people want to participate in events as they see the value and return on their time and money. Event professionals, destinations, and attendees all benefit from events in different ways. However, their goals are all aligned when attendance is maximized.
Event professionals benefit from maximized attendance by having greater exposure to their brand, mission, and vision. Destinations benefit by the increased exposure of the city/location along with the chance to make a lasting impression to gain repeat tourists, increasing revenue for the destination and the community surrounding it. And arguably most important, is that fact that with more attendees at an event, the more connections can take place, fostering greater networking and knowledge sharing.
What Attendees Want
Event professionals continually talk about a range of experiences or services that attendees expect, want and need during an event from the foundational aspects to aesthetics and atmosphere. However, those are the most important factors that potential attendees consider. They seek education, availability of networking opportunities and an ideal location when making their decision to attend an event.
The most important factor in gaining attendees, according to the study, is the continuing education opportunities or the ability to learn new skills. Over 90 percent of respondents among all generations said continuing education and keeping up with their industry is the main reason they attend conventions and exhibitions.
Networking opportunities are the second most important attendance driver. Three out of every four of the respondents stated that networking was one of the most important reasons for attending. Furthermore, Generation Y (aka Millennials) reflected this being an even more important factor at 84%. The younger generations are increasingly attending events as they are relatively new to the workplace or industry. Millennials are replacing older generations and are attending to seek out new contacts.
Most surprising, however, is the importance of the location or destination. Many event professionals have argued that the location isn’t really all that important compared to other aspects of the event. 82 percent of respondents reported that the destination directly affects their decision. The Always attendees showed the least importance on the destination since they will attend nearly anywhere- with 57 percent saying it is a factor in their decision. However, 90% of the Occasional and Never attendees stated that the location was a major factor in the decision process.
What Attendees Are Doing
As the value of face-to-face meetings and other events continually increases, attendee behaviors begin to shift as well. With budgets increasing and the economy beginning to fare better, attendees are willing to spend more money on an event. 50 percent of attendees that they would extend their stay in a destination they were looking to further their experience with the local culture.
Even more so, around 52% of attendees use an event destination as a vacation opportunity. From my experience, this seems to be common. I remember being a kid and my father would always go to conferences and conventions for work. He would leave a couple of days before us, then my mother, brother, and I would fly to where he was following the event resulting in a good ol’ family vacation.
Over 47% of respondents said that if they were to attend an event, they would bring someone else along with them. Which means when you target attendees to increase attendance, they are likely to bring someone or refer another. This factor can be further considered in your event marketing strategy. Listen closely to prior attendee feedback about traveling to the event when planning the current year; over 60% of respondents consider themselves expert or seasoned travelers and that can translate into a more positive overall experience of the event.
Attendees also tend to register for an event during the 2-6 months before the event date: 84% of respondent’s state that they usually register within that time frame. While 56 %complete registration 3-6 months prior. Knowing this, event professionals can better market their event in a proper time frame that fits the attendees’ behaviors.
Why Attendees Won’t Attend
There are multiple barriers to attendance that cause potential attendees to skip the event. The largest challange is the fact that 1 in 4 of the respondents does not have the power to make the decision to attend; it rests in someone’s hands higher up in the company. The rest of people have the ability to choose whether or not to attend. There are a few things that can be done to sway the “higher-ups” into agreeing on the send an employee to an event, such as, creating documents for potential attendees to take to their bosses to show the value of the event.
However, while the decision is out of some people’s hands, others have the ability to make the decision to attend and still don’t. Why is this? According to the study, there are three main reasons: Cost, time, and appeal of the location or destination. But don’t get discouraged! When asked what could convince people to attend, only 8% of respondents answered ‘nothing.’
It’s no secret that events can often be pricey to attend (many registrations average around $1,000), which is why it is the highest attendance deterrent. 61% of respondents stated that cost was the biggest reason they didn’t attend an event, but the numbers were highest among younger Gen X and Gen Y generations. So how do you combat this attendance barrier? Well, 60% of respondents wanted “some type of discount or subsidy to help defray costs.” Provide your potential attendees with these options and opportunities to increase attendance. You could even offer different parts of your event at different prices, allowing people more pricing options.
Many people found it to be just too hard to get away from work or to find the time to attend an event. Overall 41% of respondents indicated it’s hard for them to get away; this figure increases to 58% for Millennials. Other than being too busy to get away, sometimes it’s more matter of the timing of the event. Usually, when this is the case, the dates fall on holidays, conflict with other events, or the closing of a fiscal year. While planning an event, make sure to cross-check dates to minimize as many conflicts as possible.
As previously mentioned, the destination plays a massive role in getting attendees to decide to attend an event. It is also the most important factor for potential attendees who are on the edge of deciding. For instance, on 37% of potential attendees will only go if the event is in a destination or city that is appealing to them. Therefore, gather feedback from past attendees about similar events they’ve attended and where they were located, if they enjoyed it or not, and why. This information will allow you to place your event in a location that appeased the majority of people and swayed them into attending.
All Together Now
Event industry trends begin to shift with a hyper-focus on attendee feedback, demands, and expectations. As the industry grows, more data is available for analysis and event professionals should listen to this data to better meet attendee wants, and maximize attendance, which will in turn increase revenue and spread the event’s brand awareness.