Do you have a traditional event or organization that while it’s stood the test of time, is failing to recruit new life for the future? Sometimes wanting younger people or ‘fresh blood’ isn’t about increased ticket sales, but about survival. Here are a few ways you can rework your marketing and programming to attract new interest.
Everyone loves loyalty. Attendees who return year after year are an event planner’s dream but what do you do when that very loyalty begins to breed stagnation? You no longer feel like your activities are drawing new people, let alone the younger people who are so necessary to your event’s future growth.
How do you get people under the age of 35 interested in your event without alienating those who have helped it become what it is today?
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Where Do You Need the Young People Most?
Often if your event is one hosted by an organization like an association or a company, the issue of attracting more people under 35 is much larger than just your event. It may be a membership or employment issue, and as hard as you try as an event planner, fixing an imbalance in recruiting may be at the heart of your issue and not at all in your job description.
Take some time and figure out why there aren’t more people under 35 interested in your event? It often comes down to the following disconnects:
- Recruiting. No one in your association or company is actively recruiting people under 35, so your members and employees are not the base you’re hoping to attract.
- Nothing in it for them. Maybe people under 35 did give your event a chance and maybe they didn’t find anything in it for them and their needs.
- Branding. Your branding isn’t fresh. You need a reboot but haven’t had one in decades.
- Marketing. Your event marketing doesn’t speak to youth. This is a problem because it won’t attract them and even if they stumble across your event, they won’t think it’s for them because it doesn’t speak to their needs.
As an event planner, you’re somewhat limited in what pieces you can solve about the issues above. If you have some say in recruiting in your organization, start there first. Add people who are under 40 to your board. Look for ways to brings on volunteers with new ideas. Change up your organizational branding for a fresher, hipper look.
How to Attract a Younger Crowd at Your Event
But if you’re only able to work within the parameters of your event, there are still several things you can do. The main areas to switch out that will make the largest impression are marketing and programming. Here are a few ideas:
- Revisit your branding. Assuming your event branding is your own, start there. Image is very important to younger people and if you have an old and tired look to your website, logo, marketing collaterals, and social media posts, they will assume your event/organization is outdated and tired as well.
- Change your tone. Young people have a very casual approach. If your writing and marketing pieces are buttoned up and formal, they may not find it appealing (unless you represent a group that is very formal by nature, regardless of age.) Change up your tone. Be more conversational.
- Use more emojis. As you’re switching up your tone. Also, consider using more emojis in your social media posts and email subject lines. Feeling silly about using them? Keep in mind 78% of adult women internet users regularly use emojis, as do 60% of men. The most frequent users? Individuals aged 25-29. However, if your current attendees are much older, don’t feel like every email to them needs one. Personalize your emails for greatest effect.
- Watch the lingo. If you’re trying to be young and hip and change up your tone make sure not to go overboard. Young professionals aren’t going to flock to your event just because you use the latest slang. As a matter of fact, it might even turn them off because of its obvious attempts to be something you’re not comfortable with. The other thing you need to watch is the use of slang, acronyms, and symbols. I once employed what looked like a depiction of an arrow created through keyboard symbols. My twenty-something colleague informed me that it means something very different in her age group. Needless to say, I stopped using it.
- Go where they are. If you want to attract a younger crowd, you know that social media is a must. But exactly what channels are you using? Instagram and Snapchat are dominated by a younger audience and a large part of the younger users claim to be daily visitors to these channels. 48% of Internet users between 30-34 access Facebook daily, while only 36% of those who are 25-29 do. Do your research to find out where your ideal demographic is and then establish yourself on that platform.
- Start conversations. Once you know where they are on social media, you want to begin conversing with and engaging them. One way not to do that is making it all about you. Instead, offer contests and showcases for them to shine. Keep their needs and interests in mind.
- Hire someone in your ideal demographic. Everything we read about people under 35 is just stereotypes based on studies or polls, albeit most of it does point to the same conclusions. However, the best way to help you gain insight into the demographic is to hire someone in it. You can do this on a consultative level, volunteer, or full-time, but listening to them and making them feel valued will go a long way to mastering that fresher tone you’re working towards.
- Get them talking. People under 35 often have a strong peer network. They look to one another for suggestions. But it’s not all personal peer interaction they trust. Online reviews are wildly popular so you’ll want to nurture this part of your event. Encourage past attendees to write and share them. Answer or comment on review sites so they can see you’re engaged and interested in other people’s opinions.
- Engage them. You want to create an interactive experience, not the usual paper-passing session. Speak to this and make sure your marketing collaterals reflect that your event is an experience, not a snoozefest.
Now that you’ve led your marketing to drink from the Fountain of Youth, you need to give some thought as to how you will change up your event activities.
- Take a look at your content. What do people under 35 or 40 care about in reference to your event and are you giving it to them? For instance, if your event has a career focus but all of your sessions are talking about being a great manager, leader, or C-suite aspirant, you don’t have much for those just starting out. Figure out what the younger generation needs and then speak to that, which might mean…
- Change up your programming. Again, in the example above, if your sessions or offerings don’t match the interests of people under 35 or 40, why would they attend? Make sure you are speaking to them and offering something that is not only of interest but of use in their life stage.
- Phones are the bomb [insert whatever the latest hip word is]. 27% of people under 35 said most of their online time is spent on their smartphones so it is essential for you to have a mobile event strategy and encourage usage of phones throughout your event. This could include merely encouraging social sharing or using an event app to engage them.
- Use video, the live kind. Technology is a big part of the younger generation. Live streaming is how they think. If you want to attract younger people to your event, you need to think about creating a live streaming strategy and use it in your marketing as well. Video scripts are so 40-something. Go live and encourage them to do the same. It will help you reach more of their friends and colleagues. You may even consider offering a virtual event ticket using lots of live video.
- Create opportunities to give back. If you’re hosting a multi-day event, you may already have a volunteer activity scheduled. If you do, spend more time talking about that with your potential attendees. If you don’t, offer one. Philanthropic endeavors appeal to the younger generation because it was a large part of their education. Many schools involved students in becoming a part of something larger than themselves. A few hours spent helping out a local non-profit is very appealing to this empathic group of people.
- Embrace augmented reality. Augmented reality overlays information or items over what’s in your field of vision. You use a device – phone or glasses – to experience it and it’s wildly popular with digital natives.
- Love your filters. Maybe you’ve seen people in your Facebook stream looking like fairy princesses and puppies and wondered, what in the world? You can thank Snapchat for that but those under 35 really love their photo filters. From photo booths at your event to apps that allow them to apply filters to their photos, taking pictures should fit into your programming in some way. Share what they share. Comment on them. Host a contest and share them on social media. Create your own event-specific filters as part of your app.
- Make life easier. Digital natives are not used to walking to school uphill both ways for miles and miles like our grandparents tell us they did. Those under 35 are a generation bathed in convenience. That means one of your challenges as an event planner is removing the friction from everything. Get them answers to their questions easily using chatbots. Streamline registration. Ensure your tech is intuitive to use. They don’t want to spend a lot of time doing something they can do effortlessly elsewhere.
- Employ crowdsourcing. Help your younger attendees be part of a giant crowdsourcing experience. Casio (watches) did this when they generated more than 3,000 photos of people wearing their products through an aggressive social media campaign. They used this tactic to raise awareness for their event.
- Create an experience. A study by the Harris Group found that 72% of people under 35 would rather pay money for an experience than an object. In order to appeal to this group, you need to provide them with much more than just an event. As their income grows, their ability to pay for more experiences will too. Are you perched to help them spend that money? To do so, you need to offer more than just a chicken dinner followed by cheesecake.
- Don’t embrace technology for technology’s sake. Digital natives want more than just a fancy gadget. If you’re going to employ technology it has to be interspersed into everything you do. For instance, passing out virtual reality goggles to attendees will only cause a little stir of excitement, which will then be quelled when you don’t have an event app. That sort of action creates a disconnect. You either need to upgrade the tech across your event or make an impression in another way.
- Use tech that connects. If you’re limited in your tech budget, and can only upgrade one thing, opt for tech that connects. The most valuable type of technology to younger people is the type of tech that creates connections. Gamification platforms, for instance, are a communal experience. Don’t employ tech that creates a divide. Look for ways to bring your audience together through challenges, contests, and online community interaction.
- Ask their opinions and get them involved. The youth of today don’t want to passively absorb your years of wisdom. They want to actively participate in sharing and giving of their own opinions. Crowdsourcing and surveys are an easy way to get them involved. Help them shape your event and they’ll be more interested in it.
Attracting a younger crowd to your organization or event isn’t about a couple of activities or a cool marketing tagline. You need to adopt a new look at things and an approach that may differ extremely from your current one. It must be one of inclusion and consensus-building, volunteerism and technology, mobile access and easy access.
Implementing a few quick changes won’t attract them in the long run. You need to begin to look at your event differently and empower those you bring on to try new things. This may involve changing your tolerance or definition of failure as well.
Additional Resources for Attracting Younger People to Your Event
Will Millennials Kill the Event Industry?
Millennials: the Best Excuse for Running Awful Events
How to Attract and Engage Millennial Attendees for Your Event
The Event Planner’s Guide to Experiential Marketing