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How to Drive Retention and Loyalty for Your Events

A new study offers insight into why some attendees return year after year and how planners can make use of those loyal fans.

By Mitra Sorrells May 10, 2016, 7:15 AM EDT

The number of buyers attending the Global Pet Expo, which took place in March in Orlando, jumped more than 8 percent over 2015.

Photo: Courtesy of Global Pet Expo

Repeat attendees to exhibitions and trade shows come back for very specific reasons, and at the top of their list is a desire to shop and to learn about new products and trends. That’s the finding of the latest report from CEIR, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, which is the first in a five-part series titled 2016 Attendee Retention Insights. The results come from online surveys completed by more than 9,000 attendees and 75 planners, as well as in-depth phone interviews with 11 of those planners.

“Repeat attendees come with dual agendas to shop and learn. Their purpose is specific, very laser focused, and they come to a specific event because it is a proven event to achieve what they want to achieve,” says Nancy Drapeau, CEIR’s director of research.

Key findings from this first report, titled “Basics for Creating Your Attendee Retention Strategy: Tracking, Profiling, and Why They Come Back,” reflect that 77 percent of organizers track attendee retention, which most define as attendance at least twice in the past four editions of an event. Most of them, 98 percent, track retention on a per attendee basis while just 48 percent track retention on a per attendee organization basis. “That’s probably a lost opportunity for organizers to see if they have high penetration from top-tier organizations,” Drapeau says. “Seventeen percent of the time when somebody says they don’t go back it’s not because the organization is not committed to an event, but it’s a function that they’ve moved on to other roles in the organization.”

The survey also found that more than half of repeat attendees are final decision makers for purchases and work in a management role, exactly the type of attendees that exhibitors want to encounter. Drapeau says this affirms why planners should share their event’s repeat attendance figures with exhibitors when trying to sell space. The survey also found that repeat attendees have a very strong Net Promoter Score of 61 percent, so planners should use them as event ambassadors, for example by including their testimonials in marketing materials and other promotional efforts.

“Find those repeat attendees and ask them specifically why they love and come repeatedly to your event,” Drapeau says.

The Attendee Retention reports also offer charts comparing the preferences and wants of repeat attendees versus what trade shows are offering, so planners can identify gaps that may exist. The remaining reports, which will be released over the next several months, include details regarding floor features, education content, and special activities that foster retention, as well as a final report with full case studies from the 11 planners that CEIR interviewed.

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