Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Building Experience into your Annual Association Conference

Have you ever been part of a “tail gate” party before a college football game? (Or, a pro game?)

When I return to Ohio State in the fall for a “big time” college football game, the tailgaters amaze me! Complete barbecue setups. RVs with big screen TVs. Lawn games. Beer and soft drinks. And lots of celebrating. 

Some friends of ours have a huge family tailgate. Four tents, four generators, four big screen TVs and 30-50 people. The “lead person” for the game gets up around 5 so he/she can be on campus by 6 am in order to get “their space.” Their tailgate trailer holds all the “stuff” packed neatly in tupperware containers for plates, silverware, TVs, generators and all the other stuff. Whole families attend. Kids play football and/or frisbee and/or bean bag toss. Adults talk, watch games and “get ready” for the game. About half of these tailgaters actually go to the game; the rest soak up the atmosphere and head home before it is over.

College football – from tailgating to marching bands to pre-game rituals to the actual game – provides an exiting environment and experience for the fans.

So, what does tailgating have to do with associations?


As I read Sean Carpenter’s Carp’s Corner blog titled Part Teenager, Part Tie-Dye: Lessons from Taylor Swift and the Grateful Dead. Sean outlined the lessons (for his realtor market) from concerts of two very different entertainers. 

If you look at your meetings from the point of view of your members and attendees, what would you see? Has your annual convention become so routine that your members can walk through it in their sleep? Do you interject new ideas every year? 

Do you provide a “memorable signature event” (similar to the tailgating at college football)? Something so awesome that attendees talk about it and come back the next year to see what will be different? (The Ag Media Summit does this with its “Fabulous Opening Party.” Every year is unique to the location of the meeting. In Portland, Oregon, a boat ride. In New Orleans, a Mardi Gras party at a giant warehouse. In Albuquerque, an outdoor festival on the central plaza.)

As you read about the experiences Taylor Swift and the Grateful Dead provide, envision the possibilities of energizing association conferences through exceptional experiences. 
Here are some key elements Carpenter shares that are worth considering for your association:

  • Tomorrow’s client most likely will not be the same as yesterday’s client. Don’t be surprised if your 33 LP’s just don’t sound as good to someone who prefers to listen to their iPod with SkullCandy ear buds.
  • Taylor Swift has one of the more choreographed, logistically planned performances I have ever seen. From the double-digit costume changes to the multiple stage configurations, it was evident that Swift doesn’t just show up and sing. It was a well planned evening and she made sure she played all of her hits, because that was what the audience was expecting.
  • The actual concert is just part of the “Grateful Dead Experience,” the same way there is a lot more to college football than the game. You just never showed up 5 minutes before the Dead took the stage. There’s the hours before in the parking lot enjoying the carnival like atmosphere and the post-show celebration where people share grilled cheese sandwiches and arrange rides to the next location on the tour. The neat part about a Grateful Dead concert (for those who have never been to one) is that they were never the same show twice. Every night, they played different songs and if you saw them (or listened to their live recordings) enough, often different versions from one time to the next.
Associations can hold conventions the way cover bands play concerts but you must be willing to deliver a memorable experience the way a Grateful Dead show makes people talk about it years later.

If you want, you can leave everything the same. Keep singing the same exact song you have in the past. Don’t add anything to your boring stage performance and don’t waste any time on the “experience” that might happen organically outside of the arena. And, some association members will love it. 

  • But, many association members have alternatives to spending time and money to attend your convention. The same old way may not be enough to keep them coming back. 
  • Or, think of ways to add a mixture of Gen Y pop and Nashville charm to your unique selling proposition while still paying tribute to the free-spirited Haight-Ashbury movement and classic rock feel that has stood the test of time.
  • While some members won’t like the change, they will adopt.
Football tailgating. Taylor Swift. The Grateful Dead. All are different but all create a memorable experience that keeps people coming back.

The key is that you need to look at your meetings from the view point of your members and your attendees. And, recognize that doing it the same old way may not be the right thing to do next year. What will you do to keep them coming back?


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FOOTNOTE:

Since writing this, I just saw a post tittled Content Marketing Lessons from Guns N' Roses.  The advice fits the context of this entire blog.  Enjoy!

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