Capitalizing On Market Opportunities With Low-Cost Or Cost-Neutral User Conferences

In our last blog post, Vicki pointed out that market share shifts are most prevalent during a down economy. This happens because some companies hold back and slash their budgets. Their brand suffers, and this creates a void with opportunities for competition. Sure this is a time you have to cut costs, but cut the right costs to divert resources to activities that create value. Just to name a couple of high-tech success stories in recent times, Microsoft and Intel both started in downturns. Pre-existing companies that made gains when the economy was down include Google, PayPal, and

So how does one take advantage of market opportunities, especially if the budget has been cut? Consider hosting a user conference. Your initial reaction may be to scoff and say that it would be too expensive, too time consuming and not possible. However, if planned properly, it is possible to create a low-cost or cost-neutral conference. Does this sound too good to be true? Well, we are here to tell you that it is not. Success comes from the proper strategy.
This would entail four key components:

1. Research:

Whether or not you have held user conferences in the past, it is imperative that you survey past/potential attendees to see why they would attend. In the survey be sure to ask what ROI they expect to achieve from attending and what they specifically want included in the program. Gathering this information with help you create a program uniquely suited to the pressures your attendees are facing. You might also want to ask about duration and potential venues. Specific questions will depend on your market and audience. Surveys can be an inexpensive means to gather this information…simple ones can cost less than $20 to conduct.

2. Budget

One of the most important things to do prior to committing to hosting a conference is to create a realistic budget that clearly identifies all expenses and offsets. When creating the budget you must carefully forecast revenues. Be sure to talk to all partners, suppliers and potential sponsors to see if they would be interested and willing to sponsor your event and what type of budget they have. Use the results from your survey and internal intelligence to forecast attendee revenues. Determine what type of cost offsets you can negotiate with the hotel and other vendors. You might want to consider co-locating your event with another program to share costs. Feel free to create a couple of different scenarios with must-haves and nice-to-haves to get a feel for possibilities. We recommend including a small cushion in your budget in case any unexpected expenses arise.

3. Content

Collaborate with your customers to be sure to offer the right value proposition. Your main drawing power will be gained from providing compelling content with knowledgeable instructors and presenters. You should be able to gather some topics from the survey, but be to sure to call key customers for their insight and identify what problems/challenges are “keeping people up at night.” Recruit a few industry leaders to participate in the program. If you can do all of this, attendees can justify the expense with the knowledge and skills gained to return to work as more productive to the company.

4. Marketing

Once you have the program, get your message out to your target audience. Messaging is a work in progress, and should be continually updated based upon the feedback that you receive, as you sell the conference. Be sure to incorporate different channels – direct mail, email, your website, advertising (preferably via media barter agreements), social media and the help of your sponsors to get your message out there.

User conferences are an excellent tool to get your value proposition to your customers. They can forge new customer relations, strengthen product and service positions, and help build a platform for growth. As an added bonus, if researched and executed carefully, they will incur minimal or no costs.

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