Member engagement

11 effective marketing strategies for boosting event attendance

Event planning is a nail-biting business these days. In an analysis of over 360,000 event registration records, Maritz learned that 45% of attendees in 2023 delayed registration until less than four weeks before the event, and 29% waited until the final two weeks.

When you’re up against indecisiveness and vying for a share of someone’s attention, budget, and time, your event marketing campaigns have to resonate with and compel your audience to action. In this post, we’ll share the latest marketing strategies and tactics for boosting event attendance.

1. Personalize event marketing campaigns

Freeman’s 2024 Attendee Intent and Behavior Trends Report said, “This year’s research uncovered that there’s at least one thing all generations have in common: the desire for personalization.”

Personalization begins with understanding the different segments of your target audience. Freeman found that age, gender, role, and event preferences are the greatest predictors of attendee values and behaviors. In your market, other factors, such as career stage, business size, and location, might also come into play.

Collect this data via profile updates, surveys, polls, and registration forms. Find out why people decide or decide not to register for specific events.

Automate personalized marketing campaigns for each relevant segment—keep in mind a person might belong to multiple segments, for example:

  • Never-attends
  • One-time attendees vs. loyal attendees
  • People who’ve attended virtual conferences or online courses but not in-person events
  • Career stage
  • Position
  • Locals vs. fly-ins

Generative AI can help you craft email campaigns, but its generic output is becoming easily recognizable. Edit ChatGPT’s drafts with your human touch.

2. Highlight the event’s impact on each segment

Tell each segment about relevant event features but highlight the impact of that feature. For example, tell never-attends how the newbie lounge, conference buddies, and first-timer programs will help them feel welcome, get acclimated, and connect with others.

Purchasing decisions are primarily emotional. Evoke emotions in your email copy by painting a picture of what attendees will feel while achieving their event goals.

  • Belonging: finding your tribe, expanding your network, feeling a sense of community, and being part of something bigger
  • Advancing career: making yourself known, meeting the right people, getting advice, and exchanging knowledge
  • Learning: acquiring new knowledge and skills, earning CE credits, discovering new ideas, and meeting accountability or collaboration partners
  • Recharging: getting away from it all, taking time off, socializing with far-away friends, and refilling your creative well
  • Generating leads: meeting prospects and deepening relationships with leads, clients, colleagues, and industry partners

3. Address registration obstacles on your website

If your emails do their job, your audience will be on your event website. Now, it’s time to close the sale.

But first, you need to know what you’re up against. Survey, poll, and talk with people to identify and eliminate common registration barriers. Provide a justification toolkit to help people overcome their boss’ objections. Offer messaging for different career stages, positions, and event histories.

If safety is a concern for some of your audience because of location, address the issue on your website. Counter myths with facts and describe the remedies you’re providing.

4. Put content marketing to work

Every day, your audience deletes promotional emails without even opening them. Include informational emails in your campaigns that link to blogs, websites, podcast stories, and interviews related to relevant event topics. Optimize this content for SEO so people find it (and your event) when searching for information about those topics. 

Help speakers find guest spots on industry podcasts and blogs where they can talk about their session topic and your event.

Ask sponsors to host introductory-level webinars on event topics.

Video snippets with industry hashtags are ideal for social channels where your audience segments hang out. Don’t just share promos. Share advice from speakers on hot workplace topics and tips from repeat attendees about conference-going.

5. Use social proof and FOMO to your advantage

Social pressure is a powerful instigator for registration. But people don’t feel the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) from your association’s promotional emails. They get that feeling from seeing their network talking about your conference.

Ask registrants to opt into a list of attendee names on the registration page.

Invite people from all your audience segments to submit 20-second videos about why they’re going and what they’re looking forward to.

Open up your event networking platform or app early. Recruit volunteers to seed conversations in discussion forums. Invite registrants to virtual meetups focused on hot topics.

Word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing. Give loyal attendees exclusive perks for each referral who registers with their promo code. Include industry influencers, speakers, and sponsors in this program too.

Spark feelings of urgency and scarcity with reminders about registration deadlines and the number of spots or hotel rooms remaining. Include your FOMO-inducing videos and testimonials in these emails.

6. Experiment with marketing channels

Leverage the influence of speakers, registrants, and sponsors with word-of-mouth and community marketing tools like Gleanin and Snöball.

Buy social advertising on LinkedIn and other platforms that are popular with target audience segments.

Follow website visitors with remarketing ads that use emotional trigger messages and graphics.

7. Change expectations for early bird registration

Maritz found that early bird registration is mostly used by past attendees who don’t have to be persuaded by a discount to register. They plan to attend regardless.

Instead of an early bird discount, tempt prospects on the fence with a VIP experience:

  • Early access to housing or a housing discount
  • Invites to an exclusive session or social event with influencers or industry moguls
  • Chance for a big giveaway
  • Exclusive merchandise
  • Complimentary registration to a pre- or post-conference program

For people seeking a registration discount, offer flexible payment options instead.

8. Offer new workplace amenities to employers

An increasing number of hybrid/remote organizations are flying in their staff for a company or team retreat alongside the conference. How can your association encourage and support this new trend?

Offer group registration rates. If meeting space is available at the venue or affiliated hotels, give organizations a room for X number of hours if they bring X number of people.

Talk to the CVB about ‘bleisure’ packages for pre- and post-program retreats.

9. Demonstrate inclusion

One out of four people has a disability, but you can’t always tell. List the accessibility accommodations you can offer. Be open to suggestions, but don’t make people guess what to ask.

Keep in mind the social anxiety many people bring with them to events. How can you make it easier for attendees who need help preparing for the conference, networking, or making the most of their experience?

Many of your audience can’t or won’t attend in-person events because of personal or professional responsibilities, lack of budget or employer support, or other reasons. Serve these audience segments with separate virtual events that cater to their preferences.

10. Collect data before, during, and after the event

When you understand why attendees come to your events, you can design more effective event experiences and marketing campaigns. Ask people to list or rank their top reasons for attending during registration. Collect basic demographic information like career stage and position. But don’t make the length of the form a barrier to registration. Ask for the additional information you need in follow-up emails.

Virtual event attendees leave behind an abundant digital trail of data that helps inform program and marketing decisions. However, in-person events have their data-collection opportunities: email and app polls, room counts, mobile app engagement, exhibit check-ins, and social media mentions.

After an event, poll attendees to learn more about their interests and needs. 

11. Keep the momentum going after the event

While event planners must switch their focus to the next meeting on the calendar, other staff can use email campaigns to nurture event attendees—both members and non-members—as warm leads for association initiatives:

  • Future events
  • Membership
  • Online and in-person education and networking programs
  • Grassroots political action
  • Products and subscriptions
  • Survey and poll participation

Host online opportunities for attendees to reconnect and renew budding relationships to help facilitate the relationships begun at your event.

  • Deeper dive webinars about hot topics
  • Informal discussion meetups for different job roles, career stages, and interests
  • Replays of popular sessions with speakers in attendance
  • Book clubs featuring books by speakers

Collect video clips and testimonials from attendees for future marketing. Create video montages appealing to different interests, career stages, positions, and event goals.

A few months after the event, send another survey to remind them about their experience and get a more honest evaluation of its impact. Find out how they’re applying what they learned, pursuing deeper knowledge, and expanding their network or deepening relationships with fellow attendees.

Event marketing campaigns are most evident in the months leading up to a conference. However, the most effective marketing campaigns occur year-round as your association interacts with and nurtures your relationship with prospects and attendees.