Corporate meetings and events all share common objectives – connection, networking, learning, celebration, etc. But oftentimes brands box themselves into focusing much of their efforts on the onsite event itself. And while this requires a tremendous amount of planning and financial investment, it’s critical event organizers think beyond the event to maximize those investments and think strategically about the overall experience of attendees long before the meeting, and long after.
This design thinking helps lay the framework for what we call the attendee journey.
But First, Let’s Talk Attendee Journey Strategy
Before putting pen to paper on any tactical element of experience design, and for any event to be a success, you must first set clear, realistic goals. These goals should all ladder up to a purpose – a mission statement for your event. These function as the WHY for your event, and the north star that should inform all strategic decisions. Be specific when determining what success looks like, and set KPIs to measure your return on investment. This can be as simple as positive survey scores, or include specific financial outcomes with your sponsorship strategy.
Having a unified purpose helps set expectations, guide your design thinking, and aligns everyone involved. Some key questions to ask as you begin:
- What would you like this event to accomplish? (higher customer service ratings, increased sales, improved communication, etc.)
- What are key takeaways your attendees should return home with?
- What changes in behavior should result from your experience?
- What do you want your people to think, feel, do?
- What’s most important?
Because of this, identifying your purpose must come before budgets, venues, speakers, and everything else. Having distinguished goals in place allows you to craft an attendee experience that targets your specific outcomes.
Anatomy of an Attendee Journey
You’ve brainstormed, you’ve toiled and determined a clear strategy for your event. Congratulations, the hard part’s over! Just kidding, we’re just getting started. In its simplest form, the attendee journey is the entire lifecycle of your attendee and how they interact with each touchpoint of the experience. It is the visualization of your plan and a detailed overview of how and when you will deliver messages, the platforms you’ll use and the experience you’ll offer.
Think of your attendee journey as a roadmap segmented into three phases: Before, During and After. And within each of those phases are all of the tactical tools you will utilize as part of the planning process to engage your attendees. Sounds simple, but by developing a clear strategy, mapping out this journey and filling in the tactical elements within each will help you craft an experiential plan that maximizes your planning efforts and your financial investment.
Design a Roadmap for Success
Communication is critical and setting the tone long before your event helps build excitement and momentum. Design a communication plan that charts out your announcement of the event itself and how you want to introduce key themes of the experience. The more you prime your audience, the more receptive they’ll be to your onsite message.
Your plan needs to include not only the content that you’ll distribute but your means of distribution as well. Be thoughtful about the frequency of communication. Give attendees time to process what they’ve learned and allow for some buzz to generate.
It’s also important to determine what those channels look like. Develop a campaign that incorporates a variety of digital touches beyond just email, e.g. video, surveys, user-submitted content, and if possible, physical touches. Shipping physical items can be costly for large audiences, but even low-cost items can have high impact.
Now for the fun part. Your attendee journey should tactically account for various phases of the onsite experience, including arrivals, registration, entering the experience, content and learning, networking, celebration, and the departure experience.
Every experience is unique and should be aligned with your strategic goals and purpose, but also with your culture and values. By building out a roadmap for the onsite experience that breaks down these key areas, it allows you to stay focused and sets up everyone for success. It’s also important that you account for blank space in the onsite experience. Yes, attendees want to learn, network, and celebrate, but they also need appropriate time to decompress, catch up on email, and check-in with family back home.
Another important consideration as you map out your onsite journey is the different types of attendees. While everyone may be with the same organization, some are attending for the first time, while others have attended many experiences. Additionally, think about those new to the organization vs. seasoned executives, or home office vs. field employees. Each has varying expectations of the experience and designing towards that can have a significant impact on your goals and their engagement with the brand.
This is often the most missed opportunity for many organizations. Such high levels of energy and engagement are achieved onsite at your experience, and many are guilty of getting right back to where they left off once returning home. Deploying a strategy and tactical steps as part of your attendee journey can help sustain that onsite momentum, reinforce key messages introduced at the experience, and provide the right tools to propagate those desired actions and behaviors.
Consider various ways to leverage all that content that was both delivered and gathered onsite, and how that can be part of a continued communication campaign. What are ways you can leverage content to promote the next experience and build on what was strategically developed? This again should be thoughtfully planned to align with your goals coming out of the experience and what those steps are in the attendee journey.
Not sure where to start? Our team works with brands through our experience design process to help guide them on developing this journey and how to implement best practices. Let’s talk! See you out there.