Attendee Growth Hack Part Three: Referrals & VIP Programs

Attendee Growth Hack Part Three: Referrals & VIP Programs

Marketing & Sales working together as a finely tuned machine can be a huge advantage to any organization. Adding a methodical approach and the data analyzation to your marketing will only expound upon that advantage.

By: Bill McGlade, CEM, Sr. Director, Emerging Business at a2z, Inc.

The grand finale post on a well-calculated, well-executed methodical strategy that will help increase your B2B event’s attendance.

Failure is acceptable, remember this. Failure is what helps us achieve the ultimate success, that kind of success that we immerse ourselves in and hope to have last forever. Your first take on this approach may not work, that’s FINE! It takes several tries to get it right and even then, you must continually tweak the approach to make it a success.

Define success. That word means something different for each and every one of us. An organization may define success as 10% growth while another may define it as 5% growth. How about 0% growth but 20% more engaged audience? Define the end goal and put KPIs in place to ensure you are on track. Any approach is doomed if there aren’t any success goals and metrics in place to analyze it.

A key theme across the methodical approach is analyze. If it is not as successful as we wish it to be, we change, we tweak, we adapt. Human behavior is a fickle monster. It’s incredibly hard to predict, so don’t try to. Go with the flow. Go with the behavior your audience is putting in front of you and use it to help your campaigns. Once you have the engagement you wish, then and only then can you begin to shape the behavior to what you believe it should be.

You have put your methodical approach in place and it has been fairly successful. Your engagement has increased and your audience is beginning to approach you more on your various mediums. What’s next? Obviously, you can’t just quit your campaign, pack it up and say that’s it, that worked, my job is done. I wish life worked that way!

In the world of events, it is key to keep your audience engaged year-round. This helps cut the cost of your per attendee marketing because they are coming to you. Let’s not kid ourselves. Year-round programs and 365 marketing have been touted for many years and yet…here we are, years later, and it’s still not happening by all events. Why? It’s very time-consuming, difficult, and frustrating. Too bad, so sad. This is the world we live in. The digital age has already arrived. It’s time to embrace it and it’s time to give your audience what they deserve: your time, your effort, and your passion. The next step in the methodical approach can only be accomplished if the last two steps or segments have been successful. Ready? 


What?! Say that again! You can’t be serious! Oh, but I am. You have increased your engagement and now it’s time to ask for small bite-sized favors from your audience. Finally, you are in a place where your engaged audience can contribute to the future success of your entire strategy and campaign.

What type of bite-sized favors? Let’s start with a like here or a follow or a share there. Those are easy and those get them used to giving instead of always receiving. Next, step it up. Call out your most engaged, your top five, and give them crazy props on all of your social channels. You did something for them. Now, ask them for a blog post, an article, or a small interview. Have them be your content creators.

Why does this work? They have already been used to giving a little and receiving a shout-out in return. Did someone just ring a bell? Pavlov, are you there? We are genetically wired to give after receiving and to give a little more to receive even more. Rewards are a given natural part of human behavior and your marketing campaigns should 100% utilize that genetic trait.

The most engaged have been writing for you and you have been interviewing them and posting and sharing and they have been sharing to tout their own name. Your reach is growing, and at this point, you should be receiving “asks” from other engaged audience members if they can write articles as well. BAM! (Emeril Lagasse voice) They asked, so you ask. Why yes, we would love for you to write for us, can you also refer a few other new audience members that might enjoy your content as well as our “membership” benefits? Referrals out the wazoo and now you have others marketing for you.

VIP Programs

These have also been around for quite some time. Some are known as hosted buyer programs or incentive programs. These can be quite effective marketing campaigns. They are effective at bringing high-value audience members and enticing new exhibiting prospects to see the value of your event.

VIP audience members are defined by your own metrics. Decision-makers? Certain sales volume? It’s all up to you. Once you have them bought into your event and your organization, you can have them refer others as well as create content. The higher level a person gets the more they love to hear and see their name. We can treat them as VIPs and as a VIP they can help “mentor” others. I used this word purposefully. VIPs may love hearing and seeing their name out there, but they also love to help others succeed. Those are signs of great leaders and those are the VIPs you want to help grow your engaged audience.

How do VIP programs work? That is a whole other topic. Know this. They will be and are part of the future of events. CEIR’s 2018 How to Grow Attendance Series Report Two: Marketing Channel Mix and Other Tactics that Drive Growth documents that relationship and partnership efforts are rated effective by half or more that use them in driving growth. A personal touch really does go a long way.

There you have it. The Methodical Approach to growth hacking your attendance. This is not only for attendance. Can be for exhibitors, membership benefits you want to sell or utilize more, white papers, education webinars, and sessions. You name it, the Methodical Approach can definitely help grow your engaged audience.

Check out CEIR’s new How to Grow Attendance series for even more insight on growing attendance to your B2B event.

Bill McGlade, CEM, a 10-year veteran in the events industry, has been with a show management organization, a show organizer, and most currently a technology provider (a2z, Inc). His extensive and well-rounded experience allows him to impart knowledge on his fellow peers to help them grow and increase the value of their events. If you’d like more help in understanding how to segment and analyze your data, feel free to reach out. Bill can be reached at or 202-236-6490.

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