Other than the proverbial worm, everyone loves early birds—especially event professionals. When event attendees buy tickets and register in advance, it simplifies planning and budgeting, and provides a welcome preliminary cash flow.
Sure, discounts can do a lot to attract early signups, but you may want to consider other incentives to land advance registrants. Here are six savvy suggestions to help you get sales off to a quick start, cut down on last-minute RSVPers, and make early registration a habit for frequent event attendees.
- Reward repeat attendees. “If you have an annual event, the first thing you should do is announce the event to last year's attendees," writes Rachel Leist, senior manager of growth marketing at HubSpot. “The people who came the year before may be your biggest supporters. Offer them a special discount for signing up early."
- Promote your keynoters. “Events are about aspiration," says Mandy Zaransky-Hurst, chief marketing officer at Ragan Communications. Your keynote speakers personify the success stories that will attract your target crowd. Leverage the insights and wisdom they offer to convince potential attendees to sign up early. “We like to showcase speakers talking about interesting topics in articles that also mention the conference," Zaransky-Hurst says. Promote those articles to inspire readers to secure a spot at the event.
- Strictly limit the deal. Resist the temptation to set a soft deadline. “By extending the deadline, you are rewarding people for waiting, which is not the desired behavior," advises the Event MB blog. "Don't favor the procrastinators. Give them a deadline and stick to it."
And Zaransky-Hurst cautions that if you're going to prod slowpokes into registering by warning them that the previous year's event sold out, tell the truth. “It's unethical to say you sold out of 400 seats when you only sold 250," she notes.
- Turn early birds into sales pros. Encouraging attendee referrals is “a frequently missed opportunity," according to Eventbrite. Event planners who focus on bringing in new attendees may forget the potentially killer marketing tactic at their disposal: The power of persuasion of those who've already registered early for the event. Consider making it worth their while to promote your event, and its early bird perks, to their networks—for instance, by paying attendees a referral fee for new signups, or giving them discounts on pre- or post-event workshops.
- Switch "early" rewards to "late" penalties. A slight change in wording can have a big impact on ticket sales. “I have found that an early bird registration doesn't do much to incentivize early registrants," says Karen Waturu Nakaoka, director of membership at the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. “However, there is much more engagement when I use the same dates with no 'early' registration and add a 'late' fee. People don't seem to mind missing out on a deal as much as they don't want to pay a perceived penalty."
- Offer VIP perks. Consider giving early birds VIP status with enticing perks or swag only available to them (see our previous post on sweetening the deal for VIP attendees). To add more heft to your VIP offer, tie early bird registration to guaranteed seats at likely hot-ticket sessions and presentations.
Fear of missing out (or FOMO) can be a powerful motivator for early bird sales. Be sure to remind registration latecomers of all the savings and goodies they'll miss out on by waiting until the last minute to score their tickets. Hopefully, they'll be inspired to pull out their credit cards sooner rather than later.
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