Should our association offer an early registration discount?

Having a pre-registration discount period, often called an “early bird” registration, has several advantages for your association meeting or conference. Among them are:

– It provides an incentive for attendees to register early for your association’s event, giving you a better feel for the registration trends and required on-site resources. This early trend information can be very important if the trend is down because it may still allow enough time for supplemental marketing efforts.

– It rewards loyal attendees of your association event by offering them a discount if they register early (which, in theory, loyal attendees may be more likely to do than irregular or first-time attendees).

On the downside, the early bird registration period has a few negatives for your association event:

– It may reduce the overall income for the association due to the discount (this is a somewhat theoretical argument involving net extra or incremental registration dollars, but testing would likely bear this out).

– It reduces the overall value of your association’s event in attendee’s minds because the show is essentially worth only its lowest price.

– It creates an uneven registration pattern that may make year-to-year comparisons of your association event registration to-date difficult if the early bird deadline changes.

Despite the potential negatives, the trend information provided by the early bird registration period may be so valuable to your association that the tradeoffs are acceptable. However, you should try to optimize the early bird timing and marketing efforts so as to maximize revenues for your association event by doing the following:

– Make the early bird date as early in the registration period as possible.

– Don’t extend the early bird period.

– Reserve some of your marketing for just after the early bird period has ended.

Early registration discounts can be valuable tools in your association event marketing plans. However, it is important to be careful in their implementation so you don’t inadvertently reduce your overall association event revenues below their optimal level.

Does your association offer an early registration period? Where does the early bird registration deadline fall in your overall registration calendar? Have you moved that date in recent years?

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