How Can Personas Drive Attendance?

by MYB, on November 5, 2019


Most associations understand that conference attendance is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. People come to your association’s meetings with different backgrounds and needs. But often, associations look at attendees solely through the lens of membership categories: Full members, student members, associate members, and so on. More sophisticated associations might further sort by volunteer subgroups, such as emerging professionals.

That kind of categorizing may tell you a little bit about who’s showing up. But attracting new attendees---and getting more engagement from your current ones---requires more than looking at tiered memberships and a handful of subcommittees. It requires a more holistic understanding of the behaviors of your members and customers. Who participates in your association’s meetings, with what regularity, and why? Answering those questions can help set you on a path to more robust attendance growth. To do that, we utilize research tools to analyze the member data and develop - personas for people who engage with an association.

 What’s a persona? Simply put, it’s a sketch of a key segment of your audience that identifies commonalities. Studying data around members and conference attendees can provide insights that break down into a handful of personas, which can then be used for custom marketing.

 A persona can represent a professional role within an association’s membership---an administrator, for instance, or a researcher. A persona can also represent behaviors---an inclination to mentor, or disengagement from meetings. In this regard, personas are as much art as science: They need to be true reflections of the distinctions among groups engaged in your association, but not so granular that you can’t meaningfully connect with them. Marketing to seven different groups for your next conference is feasible. Twenty-seven? Not so much.

 Recently, we conducted a persona analysis for a large medical society to better understand motivations and perceptions around particular member groups. Our research identified seven attendee categories, from active and loyal researchers to students and trainees, to less-engaged physicians, to non-engaged and vulnerable researchers. In every case, we pinpointed some common behaviors and attitudes. Those loyal researchers submit often to sessions and crave mentoring opportunities. Non-engaged researchers like relationship-building and believe in the association’s mission, but felt the quality of sessions was subpar and saw a lack of content in their specialties.

Exploring even further, we were able to identify persona types among those who submitted abstracts for the conference, such as people seeking career opportunities, “recognition seekers” looking for chances to present, and “specialty knowledge advancers” who are late-career experts. All three of these groups can be hesitant to submit for reasons involving cost, or prestige, or a feeling that the conference is an imperfect fit for their work.

Getting and organizing this data isn’t always easy---associations don’t necessarily collect this information in their AMS database, or the data is siloed in multiple locations. But data consolidation is an essential tool for understanding behaviors and creating personas. Layering on attitudinal data from survey responses provides a complete picture of an individual’s engagement with the organization. With a complete data set---something we’ve done for many organizations over the years---you can start using this information to make valuable improvements to your conference. Those loyal members will want to know about your mentoring programs. Less-engaged attendees can be better informed about the networking sessions. And early-career attendees on a budget can get a signal boost about on-site career-focused sessions or early-bird discounts.

In a perfect world, every attendee at your conference will feel like the event was custom-made for them. Well-crafted personas are an essential first step that can go a long way toward creating that feeling.