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How to Benchmark and Forecast Marketing Event Attendance

Boston is going to be a twitter the week HUGSInviteIMage of September 12-16 with FutureM , the Inbound Marketing Summit and the HubSpot User Group Summit (HUGS2011) all collaborating to make Boston the hub of everything marketing for five full days! As we plan HUGS2011, I've been immersed in event details and applying inbound marketing techniques to attract folks to join us for some stellar content.  With a goal of 1,000 or more attendees, we've got serious promotion efforts going, but since the event is only in its second year, I don't have a lot of history to build great forecasting data. So how is a marketer to know if their event is on track?

Event Registration Forecasts & Benchmarks

A colleague shared one of her best practice benchmarks from years of doing big conferences and events. It seems there's a relatively well accepted, simple formula for registration trends. In order to hit your target, you should structure pricing and promotion to achieve the following timeline: 

  • Early Bird Cutoff: 25% of Target Registrants

  • Following Month: 50% of Target Registrants

  • Last 2-4 Weeks Pre-Event: Remaining 25% of Target Registrants

Lucky for me, our event is right on track with more than 250 registrants right at the end of our early bird ticketing period . With 7 weeks to go, the team is using all channels: social media, email, blog, forums and plenty of co-marketing to get our next 50% in the four weeks ahead!

What should you do if your event isn't on track?

Though we are in the black - there are a lot of times when you might find yourself under forecast.  So, look in the rearview a bit to see what tactics have or haven't worked and prioritize a rapid brainstorm and aggressive outreach plan before you veer too far off course.

What should you look for in the rearview?

  • Which channels, activities or promo codes drove the most registration?  
    • Double down on what's working - maybe even extending the promo codes & special offers that have been driving highest attendance.  If you are using your website to drive registration, you can use your marketing analytics to give you great insight into which channels have the best traffic and conversions.  If you are using a professional event management tool, tracking via promotional codes and short urls is likely your best bet.
  • Which channels have you accidentally omitted?
    • You'll be surprised.  My team inadvertently omitted a CTA on our home page (for shame), partly because we are so focused on lead generation and partly because we had a separate event website that was siphoning most of our attention.  There are most certainly opportunities you've missed.
  • Which channels have been underperforming?
    • If you have enough time, consider doing some A/B testing on your low-performing channels to see if you can improve them.  If you are really close to the event, stop spending effort where it's not working and focus on the good stuff above.

Where might a brainstorm take you?

  • New cross-promotion opportunities: what complementary businesses, blogs or even similar but non-competing events would want to swap a CTA & promo code with you?  You generate value and exclusivity for their audience and get access to some new registrants, potentially at low cost.
  • Contests: different contests work for different audiences , we've done great ones and we've had flops ... as long as you make it simple to execute, contests can often be a very low cost way to reach a lot of people (hint: folks like to share!).
  • Customer & channel evangelism: Depending on the audience for your event - perhaps attendees would be willing to help invite their peers, customers or audiences if you gave them a special promo that made them look like a hero.  A side benefit is that there will be people at your event who already have a bit of a relationship - adding to the cameraderie and extending the networking even further.
The list of what you could do is endless and for every event in every industry it will include different ideas.  Important for you, the event organizer, is deciding what success looks like and charting a course or forecast to get there - you can course correct as you go!  

Over the next several months, I'll be sharing more about what's working and what's not from a promotion standpoint and even how we're measuring the value of our face to face events. What marketing event planning questions stump you?

Photo Credit: Invitation is a derivative of image by aus_chick on flickr


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