Maximise attendance, minimise stress: Top marketing strategies to avoid late registrations

11 April 2024 by
Memcom, Rachel Appleton

Post-pandemic, the return to in-person events has been largely celebrated. However, it hasn’t come without complications. From hybrid event models to personalised attendee preferences, the event world is rapidly evolving.

One of the sector’s more concerning trends is the hot topic of late event registrations. Some event professionals are reporting surges in last-minute sign-ups, causing both logistical and financial headaches. It’s a challenge we all need to understand and mitigate against. But why is it happening – is it a cultural problem? A technological problem? Or is it simply that the sector is becoming more competitive?

Either way, late registrations have significant implications for event planning and execution. From fluctuating headcounts to cashflow challenges, they force event planners to rethink their strategies and build more flexibility into their planning processes.

So, is late registration a passing phase or the new normal? Or, has the event-rollercoaster always been this way to some extent? And if so, what can we do about it?

To get some insights, we chatted to experts Lisa Collins of Dovetail Creative, Katy Reilly Specialist Event Marketer, and Catherine Jones Copywriting Consultant, to understand the extent of the late registrations problem, explore the possible reasons behind it, and share marketing strategies to mitigate its impact.

“Hold your nerve”

Lisa Collins is the founder of Dovetail Creative, a specialist agency focused on membership and community growth, recruitment, retention, engagement and data management. Over 25 years, Lisa has worked in a variety of industries with a wide range of membership organisations.

Q:  Hi Lisa, what’s your take on the problem of late registration?

A: I think we’ve seen an increase in last-minute registrations since the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are lots of reasons behind it. People now have a choice of hybrid and online options, they might worry about getting sick closer to the event date, they might have uncertainties surrounding travel and costs. They also might be waiting to see more details about the event’s content, speakers, and schedule before deciding whether it’s worth their time and investment. And that’s something you can get ahead of by advertising your top speakers as early as possible.

However, we have to be upfront about the fact that there will always be late registrations. I’ve worked on so many different events where we’ve put incentives in place, the early bird discounts etc, but still had late bookings. Because some people will still leave it until the very last minute. Yes, you’ll get a group of people that want to take advantage of the discount. And they’ll be the first ones to book because they’re incentivised by the money, but there are so many other people where time is precious, and they will leave it until the last minute to make sure that they’ve got the bandwidth in their diaries – and there is there’s nothing you can do about that. So you need to have a flexible strategy to accommodate them. And this is why segmenting and understanding your audience is so important.

Q: What are the consequences of late registrations, in your experience? 

A: Late registrations obviously have an impact on your logistics – things like catering and fire regulations. Some venues can be very rigid about these requirements, so it’s important to build in a certain amount of flexibility in the planning stage, and work with flexible partners wherever possible.

You can avoid some of the problems by educating delegates on the limitations of late bookings – for example if there’s a strict venue policy on numbers, or explaining that it won’t be possible to accommodate special dietary needs at a later stage.

Running events is a rollercoaster by nature, and in my experience you have to work with it not against it. An Association may want all their tickets sold by a certain date for cashflow reasons, but in reality it doesn’t happen like that. However, the bookings do come. You just need to factor that into the planning and hold your nerve.

“As an events professional, there’s an educational piece there about if you book early, we can ensure your needs are catered for.”

Q: How can Associations manage late registrations?

A: In my experience, organisers should plan for fewer initial registrations and allow room for expansion and flexibility. It doesn’t make business sense to turn away late bookings, so let’s incorporate them into the strategy. Beyond that, the tried-and-tested marketing practices work for a reason – such as creating sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) through effective messaging, showcasing your speakers with videos and interviews, incentivising early registration not just with discounts but with added value and exclusive offers, and segmenting your audience to understand their buyer journey – especially if you have prior data on when they bought the previous year.

I would advise against reintroducing discounts later in the registration period, as it could disappoint those who registered early under the impression they were receiving the best deal.

“Be proactive”

Katy Reilly is an event sales and marketing specialist, with comprehensive experience across digital marketing, social media management, B2B events (both live and virtual), and brand communications. She provides strategic consulting to drive event bookings and help teams work cohesively to achieve their KPIs.

Q:  Hi Katie, what’s your take on the problem of late registration?

A: I think we’ve always had people who register late, even before the pandemic, it might have been exacerbated since the pandemic and the return to live events. But for me, I think that people have busy lives, so we have to work with that.

And I think the market is getting more competitive. Something that I’m seeing a trend towards is organisations and companies running their own events as part of their marketing mix. Which makes it harder to stand out. So, the earlier you can bring the marketing team into the planning and strategy, the better.

Q. What are the consequences of late registrations, in your experience? 

A: From my experience, late registrations can make everyone stressed and put the whole team under pressure, especially when you don’t understand why it’s happening. When you aren’t hitting those KPIs then it can cause a type of panic that’s quite unique to the events industry.

Understandably, if you haven’t achieved your expected targets in your registration window you’ll worry about cashflow and operational issues. A reactive approach can mean people take drastic measures like heavy discounts on conference tickets – but these ultimately reduce the perceived value of the event.

I think you have to work with what you know. Cancellation culture might have been made worse by a post-pandemic, convenience-orientated mindset, but it’s not a new problem. It comes down to knowing your audience and having the right strategy.

“Bring marketing people into the conversation at the event design and concept stage.”

Q: How can Associations manage late registrations?

A: To mitigate late registrations, I recommend ensuring that events are launched with compelling content strategy right from the start, including confirmed speakers and a clear, attractive value proposition. A strong online presence and consistent brand identity is key.

You have to fully understand your buyer journey, and create content for each stage and type of person. I also think you should harness your full promotional network with borrowed channels – for example providing a press pack and marketing assets for your sponsors, speakers and attendees to share – this will extend your reach and impact.

Lastly, the registration process needs to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Carefully consider what information is essential at the point of purchase, and don’t make forms too long or off-putting at this stage.

“Know your audience”

Catherine Jones is a B2B brand strategist and copywriting consultant. She helps brands find their unique identity and voice, creating compelling messaging and content that resonates with their target audience.

Q:  Hi Catherine, what does brand identity and copy have to do with late registration?

A: Think of your brand identity as the personality of your event or organisation. It’s how you present yourself to the world and, more importantly, to your potential attendees. This identity should lie at the heart of your strategy, so your visuals, your messaging, your tone are cohesive and aligned with your audience’s needs.

If your brand identity and messaging is clear, consistent, and truly resonates with your target audience, people are going to feel that connection early on. It’s not just about professionalism – they’ll identify with your brand and event. You’ll be creating something they want to be a part of.

Copy is the execution of your brand personality, and done well, effective messaging will build awareness and drive action. To do this, your brand voice needs to be consistent across all channels – telling stories, sharing benefits, tackling potential objections and highlighting what’s unique about your event. And this applies across your landing pages, website copy, email sequences, video scripts and social media.

“Write simply and clearly. Copy shouldn’t be a barrier for the reader.”

Q. What are the best copywriting practices to drive event registration?

A: As with all marketing, being reactive instead of strategic is the biggest barrier to effective messaging. You need to develop your brand guidelines and marketing strategy as early as possible, so everyone on the team is singing from the same hymn sheet. Then you can create your main assets, and plan your campaigns and tactics.

Follow these messaging principles to ensure your messaging is as effective as possible:

1. Consistent messaging:

Inconsistent messaging can confuse your audience and lose you credibility. If your social media posts, emails, website content, and PR materials all tell a different story, are written in different styles, or present conflicting information, you won’t grow your audience and build engagement.

To be effective, copy need to be clear, accessible and interesting to read. It’s important that the way you write doesn’t become a barrier, but conveys value in an easy to understand way that drives action. It should help your audience make decisions, in a consistent voice that expresses your brand personality. Less is more!

2. Understand your audience

Not all your attendees are the same, and they’re all at different stages of their buying journey. So it’s important to segment your audience and create messaging that speaks to both who they are and where they are in the process. For example, first-time attendees will have different needs than returning ones. Create customer avatars to ensure your messaging is specifically tailored to each segment’s needs and priorities.

Buying stages go from ignorance, to awareness, to consideration, to decision. Each stage requires different information and reassurances to move the potential attendee to the next step. If you create each piece of content or messaging with a clear purpose and audience in mind, it will be far more targeted and effective.

3. Anticipate objections

Quality content is crucial for educating, engaging and converting potential attendees. It should provide value or answer key questions to help overcome objections. This can be in the form of blogs, emails, interviews or website content that you can direct readers towards. Your audience needs to easily understand not only the benefits of attending, but also how well you understand their concerns and priorities. This helps establish your relationship and will encourage them to engage.

4. Effective email 

Email is a vital tool for event marketing, but to be effective it should be used strategically. To avoid low open rates or poor engagement, it’s important your emails contain genuine value and are tailored to each audience segment. It’s crucial to show respect for your audience by not bombarding their inbox with spam, and keeping the email content itself concise and focused – to drive engagement with carefully chosen content they will find valuable and interesting.

5. Support the user experience

All your copy needs to be written with the reader at the front of your mind. What do they need from this piece? What are they looking for? How can you help them? Where do they go next? Engaging copy isn’t just about personality, it’s about being relevant, concise, clear and making information easy to understand and navigate. Above all, ensure there’s a strong call to action that can’t be missed!

Memcom, Rachel Appleton 11 April 2024
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