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Why Association Planners are Becoming More Scientist and Less Artist

By Christina Green
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To host a great conference used to involve a peppy personality, an untiring spirit, and a zest for customer service. While these things are still important analytics are taking over a previously soft skills-centered field. What does this mean for the association event planner of the future and how will s/he adapt?

Association planners are being charged with creating value and increasing numbers. Their jobs are starting to resemble that of membership chair, and many of them do double duty. A successful association event planner is learning how to use analytics to improve offerings and present to the board just how successful the annual meetings are.

Why Association Planners are Becoming More Scientist and Less Artist

Meeting Analytics at a Glance

An association meeting planner should be ready to use analytics in the following areas:

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Goal Setting

In order to measure success for an association conference, it is necessary to create measurable goals. Without these in place, you’ll find yourself saying, “I think it went well.” The association board expects you to know that it did (or didn’t).

Tracking Website Activity

If you used a landing page for your event with a redirect to a registration area, you will want to track visits. The reason savvy association event professionals do this is because if registration numbers are down you want to know whether traffic to your landing page or site is down too. If they are both down, you can work with marketing to get more people to the site. If site visits are holding steady but registration is not occurring in the numbers it has previously, there is something amiss in your offering – either the agenda is not compelling, the price is too high, the host city is not a big draw, etc.

Attendee Monitoring and Data

With analytics you can track session and exhibit hall attendance and get better insights into what your members like and are interested in. You can then use that information to form deeper connections, engage them, and market to them the way the International Sign Association (ISA) does. ISA has analyzed its data and discovered through application of registration and demographic data that a female attendee aged 30-45 is more likely to sign up for education sessions than attendees of other demographics, and ISA markets accordingly.

Social Media Monitoring

One of your richest sources of data on member sentiment is social media. By monitoring the various channels you’ll obtain greater insight into what people think of your association, the event, sessions, the host city, and more. You can use this information for creating deeper connections, planning for next year, and improving member service. You’ll learn about information much faster (and it will be more candid) than waiting until the end for a conference survey.

Content Customization

After the conference, and the data is sorted, you can use attendee preference information for customizing the kind of content you send. For instance, someone in the “Content Marketing” sessions, clearly has an interest in such and you (or your association’s marketing team) can employ a post-conference marketing drip campaign on their topic of preference. This helps keep them engaged throughout the year and gives you an opening of interest next year when you begin marketing your next conference. This sort of customization not only provides the attendee with information he/she has deemed valuable but also makes them feel like you understand their needs. This sort of attention makes a memorable impact.

Sponsors and Vendor Data Usage

This sort of data is also valuable to your sponsors and vendors. If they are able to understand your attendees’ preferences better, they can market to them more effectively. If they can market to them more effectively and increase their sales, vendors and sponsors are more likely to attend your event next year and continue or upgrade their sponsorships because of the impressive return on investment they received.
You can also use data about the show floor flow and attendance to increase ease of access to turn last year’s experience into a better show for vendors and attendees next year.

Analysing Key Performance Metrics

Your board and other executive stakeholders will want to understand the numbers behind your annual meeting. Employing attendee data to show how new attendees, returning attendees, budgets, etc. measure against your key performance indicators will give deeper insight into the success of your conference. Remember, in order to do this you must identify the data that is important to you. All data is not created equal when it comes to your event.

In Conclusion

This is an amazing time for association event planners and managers. With so much information about our attendees at our fingertips we can offer an extremely customized conference experience. But for many there’s a disconnect between collection and application. Data is most effective in its collective, analyzed over time. Otherwise it’s like a quote taken out of context. It is essential that if you are going to collect the data, you use it in some meaningful way. This means having the resources needed to process and use it. In order for your data to be its most effective and benefit your association, you have to set aside time to analyze and use it. Without this, it’s not big data. It’s a big waste of time.

about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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