How We Transformed an In-Person Conference to Digital & Grew Attendance by 225%
MEP Force is an annual, 3-day conference hosted by Applied Software and eVolve MEP, and is the only conference entirely focused on Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing. Taught by and for trade professionals, attendees learn specific, real-world ways to get the most of the latest technology in their industry.
MEP Force is historically an in-person conference known for its interactive networking experiences, exceptional thought leaders, and hands-on training. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, MEP Force needed to successfully go virtual while still delivering on its promise and increasing registrations.
Registration for their 2019 In-Person Conference: 400
Desired Registrations for 2020 Online Conference:
Base Goal: 700
Stretch Goal: 1,200
We infused Behavioral Science and updated creative in every step of the user journey to increase conversion rates at each step, with the goal of reaching our desired number of online registrations.
This included focusing on rebranding MEP Force 2020 to optimize:
Pricing, Refunds & Registration
Top of Funnel Prospecting
Promotion & Referrals
Networking & Engagement
We started with discovery workshops and customer interviews to uncover what was most important to potential registrants, which would guide our main value proposition. What we heard from MEP executives during the workshops, as well as feedback from previous attendees and industry leaders during our interviews, aligned with our initial hypotheses — conference attendees primarily valued networking and as well as original content.
MEP Force uniquely provides software training and certifications taught by peers in the professions, which helps bridge the gap between product and productivity, providing a huge incentive for conference goers. Luckily, this training was still available in the virtual format.
Networking, however, would inevitably look different. Because our initial discovery work pointed to networking being the primary value prop, we needed to ensure the quality of networking was comparable with in-person networking. However, as you’ll read further on, we learned through our quantitative research and A/B testing that you can’t always rely on initial hypotheses, internal discovery work and qualitative research.
Based on our discoveries and qualitative research, we crafted their conference pitch and storyline to focus on virtual networking and content. We then brought this story to life by designing a new, modernized website focused on virtual engagement and interactivity. After we completed our quantitative research and recognized what individuals really valued, we edited the pitch based on our findings.
Pricing, Refunds & Registration:
With the shift to virtual, we adjusted their pricing accordingly. We used Behavioral Science concepts of relative choices and anchoring to implement a three-tier approach. Research shows as humans, we have a hard time making decisions in a vacuum, so we created three tiers to their pricing (providing relative choices). The first price tier we introduced was the cost for the in-person conference, inclusive of all additional costs associated with in-person (hotel, airfare, etc). Although in-person was no longer an option, we anchored folks to this much higher price, understanding that humans tend to latch on to the first price they are offered. This first anchor tier allowed us to make the value of a virtual conference more salient in our following two tiers, “Virtual Professional” and “Virtual Basic.”
Additionally, we created a refund strategy for the 150+ folks who registered for MEP Force 2020 prior to the virtual shift. Rather than receiving the in-person vs. virtual cost difference, we provided options to use the cost difference towards additional virtual registrations for their coworkers.
Finally, we simplified the customer journey by reducing friction and redesigning the registration process.
Top of Funnel Prospecting:
With our new pitch and pricing now established, we built a series of email campaigns and paid social media ads. Within our emails and ads, we performed A/B testing both in the email subject line and in the body. In the email subject line, we tested three value prop variations - networking, content and networking, and content. We consistently saw that content as a value prop had a 10% higher open rate than our other two value props.
We segmented even further, and within the emails themselves, we tested two variations of body copy - one with a deadline to register, and one without. With MEP Force now virtual, attendees did not have the same sense of urgency to sign up in advance. When we introduced deadlines for registration into the body copy, we saw a 75% increase in click rates.
At this point, we were experiencing ~2% increase in daily registrations. Slow, yet steady.
Promotion + Referrals:
Through Behavioral Science, we know people are more likely to do an action promoted by their peers. Using the power of Social Proof, we published a promo video, created swag bags, and launched social media banners and posts for all sponsors and affiliates. #MEPForce2020 was flooding news feeds everywhere, and registrations started skyrocketing.
Suddenly, the virtual conference saw ~15% increase in daily registrations.
Networking & Engagement:
With all these new registrations, the organizers were more encouraged than ever to deliver on their networking promise. Our goal was to recreate the hotel lobby bar experience, candid chatter, and all around good laughs that naturally came with the in-person event. By strategically formatting each breakout session, we encouraged side chatter via chat rooms and interactive Q&A sessions. We added happy hours, virtual house parties, vertical specific networking sessions, and even had a professional chef virtually teach attendees how to BBQ!
To ensure attendees were set up for success post MEP Force, we needed to familiarize them with our cutting edge software. We bought them lunch (via DoorDash gift cards), and set up specific demo times so they could experience the different software capabilities. We wrapped everything up with thank you emails, conference updates, and lots of memories by way of photos, video snippets and more.
MEP Force Virtual 2020 was a huge success. The final registrant count came in at 1,329 registrants, achieving 190% of our base goal and a 225% increase from last year’s in-person event. We can’t wait for next year!