Today I took my car to the dealer for a recall and got a loaner. Once upon a time, the loaner car was any old, beat-up car they could spare. Now the dealership has a fleet of brand new, fully loaded, clean cars. This particular car that I have today even has SiriusXM radio.
Why is the dealer investing so much money in loaners? Because they know that for someone like me, with a 9-year old car, the loaner is an effective advertisement. Every time I jump into that new car, I think, “why should I keep driving my tired vehicle with the heat shield vibrating off when I could be zooming around town in a sleek, quiet, fast, clean, new car?” This strategy works because I get to sample the new car driving experience. I get to try it out before I buy. I get to experience what my everyday life would be like with a beautiful new car. Now I have proof that brand new cars are a lot nicer than 9-year old cars.
Conferences are kind of like this.
For a member to go, they have to pay for registration and airfare and a hotel and meals and maybe a sightseeing trip or too. Even if conference registration is only $450, the entire cost of the trip could easily be $2,000. Some member’s employers will pay for this without batting an eye, but many members need to advocate for this expense, or they need to search out funding, or they need to pay for it themselves. If funding is even a tiny bit difficult it is easier for members to say, “oh, I don’t really need to go” or, “maybe I’ll try to go next year,” or “perhaps the conference is just not worth it.” So how do you prove the conference is worth it?
You sample. Just like a car dealership.
Sampling doesn’t have to be difficult (like offering your attendees the chance to drive a new car). It can be much easier and still be effective. Try a 3-minute video of the greatest hits from last year’s conference. Release a few 30-second testimonials from happy past-attendees. Remind research report readers that if they find the results of the report interesting, they will love the dialogue on this study at the conference. Live interview the keynoter. Provide a webinar from one of the speakers. Offer an online panel and each time you interview or webinar or panel you say, if you liked this, then you will love the conference.
Give members proof that the conference is worth it by providing them samples of conference-like value now.