by Nick Borelli
Most marketing messages just don’t reach me anymore. I feel like everyone is trying to sell me something at every turn and I’ve become blind to most of it. That said, I’m loyal to the brands that just get me. Their messages seem like they’re inside my head and speaking my language. It’s not the brand’s marketing volume or frequency that converts me but how they are saying it.
Modern brands understand to be successful you need to market yourself with multiple channels and to multiple voices. Doing this is called persona marketing and it’s been a mainstay of many industries for a long time (specifically retail). Personas are segments of people for the purposes of diversifying engagement in order to speak to more specific needs. When brands and people share similar values, trust is earned faster and deeper. When it comes to event marketing, personas are even more vital because they should also shape your design.
Initial formation of attendee personas can seem intimidating. People are all very different and identifying what they share in common, in a way that is meaningful to the marketing and design of your event, could easily end up being a confusing exercise in futility. You should, however, start somewhere. You can always refine your personas over time and at any time. These are living guide maps and like with any relationship, you’ll get to know them better with time. The main objective is to create semi-fictional people your marketing will attract. These people are made up of demographic and psychographic information gathered from past attendees’ behaviors or from idealizations of future attendees you wish to acquire.
Ideally, you have data from previous events in the form of registration information, onsite data collection, and post-event surveys. If this is the first time you’re producing an event for these attendees, poll those who sign up early or engage in what is called “social listening” with your target audience. Social listening is watching social media and focusing on topics that are being discussed often by those you would want to attend your event. When engaging in polling and social listening, you’ll be looking for demographic, psychographic, and conversion variables.
Demographic Data – Easy to acquire but hard to use.
Demographic information is often easy to come by and is usually part of what attendees give you when they register. Areas such as age, gender, and location are very broad ways to separate people but they do give you some insights. If the average age of your current attendee skews over 40, social media outlets such as Snapchat won’t bear much fruit in future strategies. If you find there is one region more than others where your attendees are coming from, you could potentially host a smaller regional event there at another time of the year and find success. That said, demographic information doesn’t provide the same level of understanding that more nuanced profile data can give you. There are techy attendees in their 60s and men on Pinterest, so treating huge groups as monoliths based on broad generalizations won’t provide you with much better than what you are already doing.
Psychographic Data – Values and preferences dictate everything.
If you’ve been paying attention to controversies surrounding Facebook since the most recent presidential election, you’ll know that psychographic data mining can ensure different messages are met with whatever results you are looking for (depending on how deep your data is). Psychographics are attitudes, interests, personality, values, opinions, and lifestyle information. Acquiring this data is more difficult than demographical information, but once you have it, you can create content that resonates with a person on a much deeper level.
Attendee psychographics are obtained in the same methods you acquire demographic information (registration, polling, and social listening) but usually focuses more on social listening and polling.
When polling, ask questions that discern preferences between one thing or another. This includes questions on areas as personal as their values and as wild as their favorite movies, music, and television. As patterns develop, you’ll start to see who your attendees truly are and how they see the world. Separate the major patterns and fill them in with the demographic information you have in order to create fictional attendee avatars who will represent the different segments you are looking to attract and retain. If you are looking for some classical segments, check out the VALs system (Values, Attitudes, and Lifestyles). When looking for the most meaningful psychographics, look for variables which caused them to convert to a purchase. When ranking behaviors, conversion variables are your strongest indicators of trust.
Split Messaging – Tactics of persona marketing.
Once you’ve created as many manageable and defined personas as you can, it’s time to use this information in your marketing strategies. The reason marketing to various personas has a higher conversion rate than singular messaging is that your intended audience connects deeper with more niche content. This means you need to look at every marketing piece in your campaigns and split them up. Your social media calendar should have a percentage of posts dedicated to each persona, with extra volume given to platforms that align best with the information you have. For instance, if one of your personas is under 40, extraverted, and responds well to broad lifestyle content, have a disproportioned amount of posts dedicated to them on Instagram. Knowing which platforms are more likely to work with one persona vs. another takes a combination of knowledge of social media and testing and measuring your results.
Splitting your social media isn’t the only way to take advantage of a diversified marketing strategy. Long-form content like blogs and videos can speak directly to what is most likely to convert a persona in order to gain search engine optimization and to feed your social channels with more meaningful calls to action. When it comes to the ultimate event conversion metric (ticket sales), it helps to have split landing pages as well. Create the best case for attending your event that only speaks to a specific persona and repeat that practice for each one you have defined. These pages should also include e-mail sign-up calls to action that also segment your leads into these personas. If you utilize this methodology, each piece in your marketing will speak more directly to your intended audience and complement each other for as many points to conversion is needed.
Personas in Experience Design
A mistake I have seen when implementing persona strategies for events is when the marketing department and programming are in silos. Personas are your attendees and if you believe in them as a methodology to get people in the door, you should also be designing your experiences along the same parameters. Tired tracks like sales, marketing, operations, etc. could easily be replaced for suggested programing along demographic and psychographic lines. Replace words like ‘101’ and ‘first-year attendee’ with ‘Voyager’ or ‘C-Suite Class of 2040.’ If you know your millennial attendees are wired to get behind causes and are invested in social responsibility initiatives, adapt the presentations accordingly, and provide outlets for this energy during your event. If more senior level attendees are mostly looking for a way to connect with others in their position, create alumni-only events for those who have attended for more than 10 years or consider a CEO summit in the midst of your event. Using persona marketing without taking what you’ve learned and applying it to your programing is a bait and switch tactic. Ensure your event has a culture that listens more to who your attendees actually are and then commit to more human, authentic, and approachable strategies applied to everything you do for your attendees.
Nick Borelli is the president and strategist of Borelli Strategies which focuses on marketing consulting for events and event companies. He is an international speaker, PCMA and ILEA member, and the marketing chair of the event industry non-profit, The SEARCH Foundation.