How AAAE Increased Early Annual Meeting Registrations by $20,000

Vivian Swertinski

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with Beth Arritt, Director, Marketing at American Association of Airport Executives for our first “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) webinar. We discussed the stellar results of Beth’s latest annual meeting campaign that drove over 25% more early registrations — equivalent to $20,000 in revenue.

Webinar Recording

Webinar Transcript

Vivian Swertinski, Informz: Let’s get started! I’d like to introduce to you Beth Arritt, Director of Marketing at the American Association of Airport Executives. Beth is a dear friend of Informz, and we are just honored, Beth, that you were able to take some time to join us this afternoon.

Beth Arritt, AAAE: Thank you for having me, I’m excited.

VS: I’m excited, too. For those that are not familiar with Beth, she has been recently recognized in Associations Now with an article focused on the campaign that she did where she was using web analytics to develop a strategy that ended up increasing event registrations by over 25%. Beth, in that article, which some listeners may have seen, you talk in a little bit of detail in the article, but nothing like the detail that we can get in today. I think folks want to know behind the scenes on how that even came about. To start us off, what kind of results did you get from an ROI perspective? Because I know most folks want to know — dollars and cents — what did this mean for AAAE?

BA: Well, if you want to look at ROI investment just in what we paid for Informz, it more than paid for Informz for a whole year, so there’s that, which was nice. But we are a very small staff, as I’m sure many of the people on this webinar are. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here wanting to know how to do more with less.

So we rely on automation and I’ve been pushing for automation and probably driving some of the people at Informz crazy going, “Hey, can I do this? How can I hook this up? How can I do that?” When we finally got the campaigns running and I got somebody on my staff who was as technically enlightened as I am, it allowed me to do more. Because I was able to rely on her, we were able to bounce things off each other, and we’d both used Informz.

We sat down and looked at our annual conference, which is our biggest money maker for meetings. We do about 90 meetings a year, so that’s saying something. There’s just basically me and my phenomenal marketing manger who I could not do any of this without. Today’s webinar is “ask me how I did this?” But no, no, I did not do this. We do this as a team. And then of course we have a designer, but that’s it. She is in charge of doing marketing for all the meetings except for annual we work on together. So I can’t take full credit for any of this, just to start off with.

We looked at what we wanted to do in terms of a goal. Our biggest goal was to increase airport attendance, particularly airports who had never attended. We know from data from past meetings that it’s difficult for people to get their organization to pay to go to a conference. It’s not cheap. So we wanted to look at how we could increase airport attendance.

We drastically increased the number of airports who attended. By doing the campaign that we did the way we did it — all of it geared towards giving them steps to be able to actually attend and how they could go after the budget money — we definitely got a great return on the investment.  We increased the number of airports from 191 to 215. So that was a big win for us, just aside from the actual money.

The other thing that we saw that was fantastic was that we got an increase in early registrations. We were tracking 25% ahead of where we had been, all the way through early registration and right up until the end when it dropped off a bit. But for us to be tracking that far ahead was phenomenal. Some of it was people who were just registering earlier because we had these touch points, so we were able to actually plan and not panic. When we’re in panic mode, we tend to send more emails, just throwing anything at the wall. So it gave us the peace of mind to be more strategic about the rest of the marketing because this was working so well over on the side all by itself once we set it up.

Part of the return on investment was just the time we had to do other things. Including some non electronic marketing, because we have a fairly large unsubscribe list. And then, of course, there was the over $20,000 that we were able to attribute directly to the campaign. We have no doubt that it was actually much more than that — the campaign influence — but using source codes we were actually able to track that we know over $20,000 came directly from people clicking on the link in the campaign and making a purchase. How often can you give those kinds of results? It’s fantastic.

VS: That’s excellent. Maybe you could take us back to really where did the idea come from. Were you thinking strategy first? Were you digging into data first? How did this idea come about?

BA: That’s a good question. I used automation with another software at another job, so I was very keen, once we got the campaigns, to figure out how we could do it. And then I discovered that Informz actually had the web tracking available. Thanks to working with you guys, I was able to get it to write back to our database. Our combination happens to be Informz and the iMIS database, but these are things that you can do just inside Informz or things you can do if you’ve got it linked with other databases. So even though I’m talking about that specific example, it definitely goes across other platforms.

We actually got it writing back, which allowed us to basically go in and just mine data for any one of our web pages that we had tracking information for. Thankfully, this was one area where sending a lot of emails helps us because we had a lot of tracking information. We knew we wanted to do an automated campaign. Sarah and I sat down and looked at what it might look like, what would get us those airport people in particular that we were really interested in. How we could do it so it would work smart in the background so that we could work smarter elsewhere?

We looked at the data, we sliced and diced it about 100 different ways and we came up with the tipping point seemed to be right around five visits in a session. There were a bunch of ones and twos and then there were five, seven, twelve, visits in a session. By looking at the data that we already had, we were able to figure out five was our tipping point. We set it up so that if somebody visited five pages in that session, it would trigger dropping them into the campaign over in Informz.

If somebody went to the registration page, it would also put them into that target group in Informz so they would get put into the campaign. And then we also started collecting names through Informz Landing Pages for people who are interested. We hadn’t done a ton with them, so we put those people into the automated campaign as well, since they were obviously interested if they took the time to give us their information to get updated on the annual conference.

Between all of those things, we ended up dumping somewhere close to 2,000 people into the campaign. We then decided “what’s going to get these people to go.” On our website we had what we called the “Five Steps to Attend.” And it was basically just a one, two, three, four, five walk through. Basically little short digestible bites of different things that were going to help you get the money to attend because we recognize that these airports who weren’t attending definitely needed a way to convince their bosses.

So one talked about the different sessions and what you would see. One talked about the exhibit hall and how you could see the solutions in our industry. It happens to be very important to a lot of the people who make the decisions to actually see those products first hand before they invest a lot of money in them. We talked about saving money, that we provide eight meals, so there’s $200-$250 that you don’t have to spend on food. We have hotel deals.

Then we gave them a justification letter that they could just fill out and use. It was just blank, so fill out this information and turn that in to your boss to try and get the money to come. And then we also challenged them to explain to their boss what they would bring back to the organization. Commit that you’re going to give a presentation about what you learned when you get back. Talk about how you’re going to share that information.

We took those five steps and turned them into the five emails you see outlined on the screen. Again, we try to keep it short with lots of links to different pieces of information. Not just our site, either. We wanted it to be more informational and less “only go to our site.” So I think for the travel thing I think we probably linked to an aggregator to search a bunch of different flight sites. Different resources for other things you can do while you’re in the city, that kind of stuff, so that it looked like a real resource and it wasn’t just buy, buy, buy. We weren’t an infomercial, we were trying to be informational, not infomercial.

The other great thing about it is that it hit them right when they were interested. That’s just one of the fantastic things about web tracking campaigns in general. They didn’t get an email two minutes after they visited; I think we set it to go about 45 minutes or something like that. It looked coincidental. We felt like it really helped with the campaign. It seemed more genuine and less like big brother is tracking you. But we knew it hit them right when they were ready to make a purchase.

For our members, one of the complaints we get pretty consistently is that we hit them with too much email. Everything that we’re doing in terms of targeting and the database interacting with Informz is meant to target as much as humanly possible. Everybody expects that Amazon marketing experience, but we don’t have Amazon’s money. I wish I had Amazon’s money.

We’re always looking at how we can do the best we can on a slightly smaller budget than what Amazon spends. This was just a great way for us to touch them when we knew they were ready. When we knew they were interested, and to reinforce whatever they walked away from the website with just as they were starting to lose it, about 45 minutes to an hour in. All of the things that we do with an integration are really aimed at that type of thing. To reinforce what we’re doing, to reinforce the message they’re getting, and to hit them with information they want and when they need it.

VS: Right. If you could clarify for the audience, most people do event campaigns and you’re sending out to everybody you want to invite. So that was still going on while you are nurturing those folks that basically raised their hand digitally, because they looked like they were very interested. Did that campaign continue going on as well?

BA: Oh yeah, absolutely. The nice thing about this campaign running in the background is that it gave us a nice foundation and framework. We knew that was going on, and we knew that people were constantly getting the basic information as they came in about all of the ways that you can convince your boss to let you come, all of the reasons why you should be here. When the rest of the campaigns were able to focus more on the here and now and the timely information. Here’s the new information we’ve got on the tracks, the latest list of exhibitors, the Monday night event. We have this even every year, the Monday night event, that’s incredibly popular. Our members always love it and it’s a huge bash. They love the time to get together, so they look for information on that.

We were able to focus on highlights and the new information and know that as people were coming in to the campaign and as people were becoming aware of it and checking in on the conference, they were getting that information. We didn’t have to worry about trying to include that and making our emails longer. They were getting that on a different schedule as they were looking for it, not when we thought we should send it again and again.

VS: You had mentioned that that first triggered email came about 40 minutes or so after somebody qualified based on their behavior. That may have been some really sweet timing. I’m looking at your metrics for that campaign and that first email, out of the five that went out, actually had the highest open rates and the highest click rates. It had 54% open rate and a 25% click rate on that email that went out 40 minutes after the behavior. All of the other open rates were in the high 40s, as well, but that one stands out as the one that performed the highest. And it makes sense because, as you said, you came back at them with information at the time that they were looking for it.

BA: Yeah, it was good timing. Chances are they were also probably still at their computer at that point in time, which was helpful. I think it’s a really good time to do it because you’re not hitting them right afterwards. But you’re still hitting them close enough that they haven’t forgotten. They’re like, oh maybe I didn’t see that, maybe I didn’t see the steps to attend. Maybe they hadn’t really thought about how to hit them. The other thing that was really remarkable about it is for all of the people that we had go through that campaign, only three people unsubscribed.

VS: I know, I saw that. I thought that was fantastic. Some people are worried that if I pull them into a campaign and I’m going to nurture them and send them five emails over the next 20 days, what is that going to do? I saw that and I was like “that’s fantastic, only three people out of all of those unsubscribed from that!” One of the questions is, in total, and I don’t know if you know this off the top of your head, how many emails were sent as part of your event campaign? So how many emails do you send to promote your annual conference? I don’t know if you have a ballpark number. You start months ahead.

BA: Yeah, I’m going to go with, if you don’t include the campaign, probably ballpark would be 40-50. And that’s general. There were probably some that counted as “one,” but we either broke it down by story or targeted it so much that it was probably more like four or five emails, but it was one email concept, if that makes sense. Just with targets it might have been four or five emails, or it might have had four or five different story targets inside of it.

VS: Yes. What was the qualifying behavior that pulled someone into this specific campaign again?

BA: After looking at the data we decided that visiting five pages on the site in a session was the tipping point. We looked at last year’s annual and what people had looked on so far on this year’s annual to see how much time people would spend on the site. We looked a little bit at registration data, too, to see of those people who had registered, who was active and engaged versus people we didn’t necessarily know.

Three were a lot of different pieces. It’s one of the beauties of being able to write all the information back to our database. We take all of the powerful information we get from Informz and then marry it to all of the stuff we know about people who are going to the website in our database. We were able to look at a lot of different pieces. Registration, visits, and then engagement. Visits ended up being what we quantified specifically. We chose anybody who had visited five or more pages in a session.

VS: Okay. Or had, what? Clicked on the registration.

BA: Sorry, yes, if they’d gone to the registration page. If they’d actually gone so far as to find out how much it cost, we put them in there. And then anybody who’d filled in the form on the landing page who had specifically asked for more information. We put them into the campaign as well.

VS: Do you recall how many leads did you get from that landing page collection effort?

BA: I honestly can’t remember right now. I’m sorry, I should have looked that up before I did this.

VS: Oh, that’s okay. Some folks are interested in the content of those emails and as you had mentioned, Beth, a justification letter, which I know in talking with previous clients, everyone is like, “I want to see that justification letter. Please let me see the justification letter,” because this works really well. I noticed this opportunity for your subscribers to download this justification letter was in every one of those five emails. I thought that was brilliant. At whatever point they were ready to go, “Yeah, you know what? I’m going to my boss, I’m going to do this,” and you had that available for them to click on.

BA: And that was Sarah, the marketing manager here. She did a phenomenal job with the content. She just did an amazing job with the content.

VS: Yeah, so on everyone’s screen you should be able to see a copy of the justification letter. It continued a little bit more, but the meat and potatoes of it is all there for you to see. I think is really something that anybody can do. It makes it a lot easier for folks to help them through basically the decision and the approval process.

BA: Almost every time we’ve used justification letters. We try to use them sparingly so people don’t get sick of them, but we’ve used them. Every time we’ve done one, we’ve gotten at least one member write us and say thank you so much for doing this, this makes my life so much easier. Thank you for giving me a way to justify spending money with you, I really appreciate it.

VS: I know that one of the goals you had was to get new people to the conference, people that wouldn’t normally attend. And you were able to see some new faces there this year?

BA: We were, definitely. One of the things that we try to do in particular — we want new people, but we also want to increase our airport representation — because obviously exhibit halls are a big part of our conference, as you can see in that picture. We want to get as many different airports in front of our corporate members, exhibitors, and our sponsors as we can. If you’ve got 500 people and five from each airport, you’ve only got 100 airports. Then yeah, they’ve met 500 people, but they’ve only met 100 airports. We went from, I want to say, it was 191 airports last year, to 215 this year. Which is a huge jump for us.

VS: Excellent, yes. Absolutely. Folks are wondering if they can get a copy of the justification letter to use as a template? We can certainly send that out to the folks that would like that.

BA: Oh yeah, absolutely.

VS: Just looking through some of the other questions here. Some folks are wondering which of the Informz products were you using to make all these data point connections?

BA: There are a variety of things that we did other than that, too. Obviously we have campaign manager and we are integrated with our AMS database, so it’s writing information back. We use the web tracking inside Informz. We have web tracking on all of our web pages. And then we’ve also used the survey module. We use landing pages, obviously, because we did a couple things, like the form. We also did what we call a mute campaign. To avoid too many unsubscribes, especially with our annual conference (we send a lot of emails!) we do mute campaigns.

Basically at the bottom in a little paragraph — so that it’s much more obvious than the unsubscribe button — we have “not coming to annual, not already registered (because we pull those people out), not interested in hearing about it, just click here and mute all of the conference emails.” So you’ll still get the other important stuff from annual conference. And then it was just a landing page and we used everybody who subscribed to that particular landing page as a suppression list for the rest of our emails. They didn’t get anything and then if they visited the website, that list was also suppressed in the campaign. They never got the campaign if they visited the website, too. We do surveys, too, because it’s loaded the same way.

VS:  I love that, I think that’s a great idea. Because there are going to be a lot of emails to go out and there’s legitimate reasons sometime where folks know they’re not going to be able to go, they can’t travel during that time, or whatever. So to give them an option to just get out of the event campaign loop. I think that worked really well for you, but I think it’s a really creative idea.

BA: We saw a huge difference in not just unsubscribes, but in the way members thought about our emails, with this option. They definitely felt a little bit better about our emails. Like I said, we always get complaints about too many emails, but I think everybody does. But it definitely changed how they felt about the emails.

VS: Right. That’s great. And I think it’s very considerate. Your audience recognizes that as being very considerate. When we were chatting recently and you had said that you’re putting a framework together to help your own team think through the automation process and how to use some of the web tracking. You were gracious enough to share your framework, which is I think hot off the press, but something that you were putting together. I thought we’d share it today here for the folks to let them know your train of thought as you’re trying to put together what that next campaign is.

BA: Yeah, we’ve started using it to talk through web tracking campaigns for some of our other meetings as well as some of our products and services and certifications. There’s no end to what we can do with this. Especially when we tie it into information in our database. We’ve been talking with a lot of different departments and using this to walk through the conversations. It’s based in large part on the thought process from when we came up with the original web tracking one for annual conference.

VS: That’s great. And this will be available for everybody. I think this just helps people walk through the process. Because you’re going to need to flow that out, so you need to kind of think it through. This is very helpful, thank you so much for providing that.

BA: Of course. I’m always happy to answer questions for people, too, about how we did something if it’s not clear. Because like you said, that’s sort of my thought process and the framework. If something’s not clear, people can always contact me.

VS: Right. We’re five minutes out from wrapping up, so any parting or closing thoughts? For folks that say I get it, but I don’t know that my boss gets it. Or I don’t know if the board gets it. Quickly, how do you become the change agent and push innovation?

BA: Well, it is difficult, definitely. People are reluctant. They’re so busy and they’re reluctant to spend time on something that isn’t proven. And they don’t know how it works or they don’t understand it. Sometimes if it’s really technical it’s hard to explain because you’re like “I get it, why don’t you understand? I’m telling you it’s good!” Two things that we did. One, we have an innovation accelerator and the guy who runs the innovation accelerator is all about innovation and he’ll try just about anything.

We’ve been very lucky that we’ve tried some things with him first and with his meetings and the accelerator itself that have had some really good results. That’s given us some good internal case studies to use. That’s been a huge help. Just find one person who’s willing to give it a shot, then market yourself to the rest of the organization. You market your success. I literally all but dragged people into my office going, “Look what we did for Chris, don’t you want to try that?

The other thing that we did was an update on our iMIS database after a year in. We decided to do a campaign to show everybody the power of the campaigns. I was having a hard time getting people to buy into it. We focused on how the integration was really helping us get the most out of iMIS and allowing automation.

We created a campaign that emailed all of their phones and email accounts while we were standing up there presenting. Timing was perfect. And that campaign sent them an email saying here’s a summary of what we’re talking about, here are the benefits. If you’d like to be contacted about how we can help you use this to help you, click here. Take this quick survey.

If they clicked on the, “Yes, I’d like to be contacted,” we had a secondary campaign running, and that campaign sent a notification to us letting us know that they wanted to be contacted. Every time we’d get an email, we’d email them back or we’d call them up. It really drove home all of the power and capabilities of the survey feature. It definitely helped us when people saw it in action as opposed to hearing about the abstract.

VS: I love that you used it with them on them so that they could see. I think that was effective.

BA: It was very effective.

VS: I love it. Okay, well thank you, Beth, so much. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you everyone who has listened to our webinar. We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to give us a ring and we’ll be talking to you soon. Thank you, everyone.

BA: Thanks!

About the Author
Vivian Swertinski

As the Strategic Services Manager at Informz, Vivian partners with clients to maximize their digital marketing efforts with customized strategies leveraging the Informz marketing automation platform. Outside of work Vivian enjoys shopping, boating and volunteering her time to help disabled individuals in the community.