TSNN Show Organizer Survey Reveals 7 Tactics to Drive Earlier Attendee Registration
Are attendees at your trade show registering later than they did pre-pandemic? Don’t panic, you are not alone. According to a study conducted in February by our sister publication, TSNN, 98 percent of show organizers reported that attendees are registering later for trade shows, compared with pre-pandemic times.
Show organizers have always dealt with attendees who registered late, but the pandemic seems to have pushed back timelines even more. After dealing with cancellations and postponements for more than years, many show organizers have told us anecdotally they continue to be challenged with this lingering pandemic after-effect.
To get a clearer picture, we put together an online survey that was emailed to TSNN’s database and posted on our social channels in February 2023. We asked show organizers about the current state of attendee registration, and we received 60 responses. While the sample size is small, the list of respondents includes shows of all sizes, produced by associations, independents and corporations.
In addition to the survey results, we asked leaders at marketing agencies to weigh in on what’s working for their diverse mix of trade show clients.
“Consider leaning into the trend, instead of trying to change it,” said Paige Cardwell, president of CSG Creative, an agency that’s a division of NTP. “With some clients, we are limiting early touch points and marketing investments when we know people aren’t registering and shifting budget to deploy tactics later in the campaign to make a bigger impact when attendees are ready to make decisions. This strategy has been very effective and a better use of marketing resources, too.”
What else is working when it comes to attendee marketing in 2023? We asked Cardwell and Kimberly Hardcastle, president of mdg, a Freeman Company, to weigh in and share their experience in working with some of the largest U.S. trade shows — including SHOT Show, WEFTEC and IAAPA for CSG and IBIE, NAB and SuperZoo for Freeman. Here’s what we learned.
7 Tactics Trade Shows Are Deploying
Besides early-bird discounts, what tactics are show organizers using to entice attendees to register further out from their shows. According to our survey, the top seven tactics in order are:
1. More email marketing (68% of show organizers indicated they are using this tactic)
Deeper Dive: “Email marketing is an essential channel for every attendance campaign but can often be overused,” said Cardwell. “We like to limit our email sends to keep unsubscribes low and target messages to make the content valuable and relevant.”
She continued: “If you think about your own email consumption habits, less is typically more, so think carefully about your subject line and the primary call to action and make it easy for your prospects to respond. Another strategy is to incorporate ‘countdowns’ in your email headers and messaging to remind attendees the show dates are closing in and decisions need to be made.”
2. Leveraging social campaigns for speakers, attendees, exhibitors, sponsors to share their attending (59% of show organizers indicated they are using this tactic)
Deeper Dive: “When we talk to event organizers about the power of content marketing, they often immediately assume it’s a daunting task that has to start by conducting research, writing an original article, designing an infographic, shooting a video, etc.,” said Hardcastle.
“But the reality is that event marketers have so many tools at their fingertips — speaker-generated session teasers, exhibitor product previews, blogs written by board members, attendee testimonials and more.”
Cardwell added: “For IAAPA, we did a promo via LinkedIn and email for 10 free registrations and asked the audience to respond to the question: How will IAAPA Expo Help You Achieve Your Goals? Not only did the comments generate personal testimony to the value of the show, but also it generated the most comments for all LinkedIn posts in 2022.”
3. More partner marketing with associations, exhibitors, sponsors (53% of show organizers indicated they are using this tactic)
Deeper Dive: “For partner groups or affiliate organizations, create a time-sensitive offer to encourage groups of 10+ and 20+ to register with a significant discount,” said Cardwell. “This helps boost numbers early on and can help with exhibit and sponsor sales. Also, consider comping well-known thought leaders and influencers early in the campaign cycle to highlight their participation in your marketing messages.”
4. Adding more call-to-action touchpoints on your web site like pop-up ads for registration, banner ads on home page, countdowns to the show/discounts (49% of show organizers indicated they are using this tactic)
5. Influencer marketing, which may include discount codes for their networks (44% of show organizers indicated they are using this tactic)
Deeper Dive: “As consumers, we look for peer validation online in the form of user reviews, personal recommendations, rankings, etc., and event attendees are no different – they are socially linked and highly influenced by their networks,” said Hardcastle. “At mdg, we believe that growth opportunities arise from understanding attendee online behavior and infusing ‘social proof’ throughout our marketing campaigns. From leveraging the star power of celebrities like Buddy ‘The Cake Boss” Valastro for IBIE to simply using tools such as Gleanin or InGo for facilitating peer-to-peer referrals, influencer marketing is becoming an increasingly important attendee acquisition tool in our toolbox.”
6. Advertising – with Google or other web sites (44%)
7. Telemarketing campaigns (42%)
Deeper Dive: “Telemarketing campaigns remain a great way to amplify registration deadlines, special offers and recruit VIP groups,” said Cardwell. “Don’t forget about voicemail drops — this low-cost tactic can make an impact on numbers, especially if you use an influencer or celebrity to record the message along with a special offer code.”
What’s next after registration?
“The other thing I would add is that just because someone registers early, that doesn’t mean they are going to actually show up,” said Hardcastle. “For events that are free or low-cost to attend, we are running aggressive verification campaigns, including digital retargeting, text messages and even direct mail to help attendees curate custom experiences and sell them on the idea of actually showing up.”
In part 2 of our survey analysis next week, we will present a deeper dive into early-bird discounts and provide commentary from leaders at registration companies. Plus, we will be hosting a webinar to discuss these findings and best practices. Stay tuned.
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