6 New Rules of Event Marketing

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Ten years ago, planners sent postcards and, if they were really tech-savvy, email announcements to get attendees to register for their events. Now, they’re reaching potential attendees with mass text messages and promotional YouTube videos as part of their event marketing campaigns. “In the past, national campaigns went out over two networks and hit everybody,” says Maurilio Amorim, CEO of The A Group, a full-service marketing and media firm. The current move is to micro-campaigns that target specific groups via specific mediums, says Amorim. The shift is a result of the explosion of social media, web-based tools and the use of mobile devices. No longer passive consumers of information, we play an active role, subscribing to RSS feeds and following Twitter users to get the information we want, when we want it and on the device we choose. Event marketing is getting more complicated, but also more exciting. Planners would be smart to incorporate the following advice into their marketing plans. 1. A robust website is a must. What’s the first thing most people do when they hear about an event or, for that matter, anything they want to learn more about? They Google it. And what they’re looking for is a website with information. If your event doesn’t have a website, it needs one. And if you don’t have a good one, you should invest a little money to improve it. An event site should have registration information, persuasive messages on why to attend, destination facts, attendee blogs and speaker Q&As. “It should have strong calls to action on each page and connect with visitors emotionally,” says Christopher Uschan, director of Internet marketing for Omnipress, the leading producer of educational meeting materials. Uschan recommends providing a list of 10 reasons to attend to help employees convince their supervisors an event is worth the cost and time away from the office. “Give potential attendees the tools to negotiate because the money’s probably not coming out of their pocket.” A website should also include post-event resources, such as blogs, articles and highlights from keynote speeches. “Get the content out there for three months after the event,” says Uschan. “Every two weeks you have a new piece of content that drives people back to your website, [which becomes] marketing for your event in the future.” 2. Social media is your friend. It’s time you stopped saying you’ll get around to social media—it’s not going anywhere. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and blogging can help you connect with potential clients and attendees on a personal level. For planners new to social media, establishing a presence on social networks begins with selective strategizing, says Liz King, social media entrepreneur and owner of Liz King Events. You don’t necessarily need to be present on every tool. “Look at what [your audience’s] interests are, what their goals are and why they would use social media,” she says. An organization with a number of young professionals might find potential event attendees on Twitter, but an organization that skews older might consider LinkedIn first, based on user statistics for those outlets. With social media, consistent communication is key. “Social networking is not as effective if you can’t [regularly] update,” says King. When planners use social media, they’re generally focused on their message and what information they want to get across. They’re also focused on boosting friends and followers in an attempt to justify social media costs or find new clients. “Take a step back and remember that the power is in relationships,” advises King. “If planners can only update two to three times a week, maybe Facebook is the best option. With LinkedIn, it’s acceptable to [update] weekly.” Planners already active in social media can take the next step and brand themselves as authorities. Avoid selling to your target audience; create dialogue instead. “As you form more relationships, people remember you and start to think of you as an expert,” says King. “The bigger your network gets, the more difficult it is to connect with every person, but I suggest following up with people who follow you, who engage on Facebook, who watch videos and respond to comments and, whenever possible, meet face-to-face. When you’re not coming from that marketing/sales perspective, people are much more receptive to hearing what you have to say.” Allow attendees to share an event registration link on Facebook or other social media sites after they sign up. If they’re connected to a number of industry peers, sharing a link creates impressions and gets others interested. “I can send as many emails as I want and will typically reach about 20 percent of my target audience,” says Uschan. Talking about your event is great; getting other people to talk about your event is even better. This becomes especially important after an annual event has had a few successful years, and the objective becomes getting people back year after year. King recommends having speakers and attendees blog about the event on a semi-regular basis. “Think of it not as an annual campaign but a yearlong campaign,” she says. 3. Don’t ignore email marketing. Social media is the new kid on the block, but email is the direct marketing juggernaut. To best market using email, keep messages clean and concise with a peer-to-peer mindset. “If you’re in a hotel lobby and you ask me what I do or what our company does, I give you an explanation,” says Uschan. “Then you go to my website and you get the standard ‘we provide world-class service’ copy. That’s not what I sound like in the lobby. Don’t speak to me like someone in the marketing communications department who [only] writes in big words.” Don’t spend unnecessary dollars going after new clients when you’re more likely to have greater success by emailing already-established connections. “People often forget about ‘low-hanging fruit’—the audience you already have a relationship with,” says Amorim. “It’s much more difficult to get brand-new clients through marketing than it is to incentivize your supporters, giving them tools to recruit for you.” 4. Not all print is dead. “Sometimes email marketing doesn’t work,” says Amorim. Direct-mail pieces can be expensive and they’re definitely competing with and struggling against new marketing tactics. “But you’ve got to measure success not in ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’ but in actual cash and results,” he says. “A mix of marketing [that includes] direct-mail campaigns, depending on the event, will help you assess what has worked well and why.” Today, direct mail is effective for the same reason email campaigns were a decade ago. “My email inbox has 150 inbound messages a day,” says Uschan. “But when I look at my mailbox, it’s one or maybe two pieces per day, and 10 years ago, that was flipped around. If I get something in the mail worth reading, I’m going to read it.” 5. You get what you pay for. Consider your audience’s demographics when looking into paid advertising such as TV, radio, Google or online spots. “It’s expensive to do a traditional marketing campaign today, like buying air time, so think about your audience. Is it a Google AdWords campaign that matches your product?” asks Amorim. Google AdWords helps you micro-target, says Uschan. “For example, for someone looking for engineering education, my website might not show up, but I might have a Google ad for the 2011 Mechanical Engineering Conference. You can target [an ad] to keyword searches. You can set your budget for $100 a month, two to three months before your event. You’re only set back $300 and you can measure results.” Uschan also recommends placing banner ads strategically on websites that already have your audience’s attention. “I’m amazed at the number of associations that don’t have house ads for their events,” says Uschan. “Don’t place the ad on just one page and expect that to be the only place I look. Also, industry bloggers and community websites within your industry [are] areas to place banner ads. Set up an agreement with the blogger to place an ad on [his or her] page; give them a discount to the event.” 6. Think ahead. Marketing tactics continue to evolve, and it’s important to keep up with the trends that will continue in the near future. First, relationships and the social aspect of events will take center stage. “We’re moving from a broadcast mode and returning to a two-way mode,” says Adrian Segar, a 30-year planning vet and author of “Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love.” “People want to have relationships with the people whose events they’re thinking about attending. They want to be able to ask questions, get answers. They don’t want to just see static information.” King echoes this sentiment. “It’s going to become much more about the relationship. It’s our responsibility as event planners to make sure that people can figure out who else is coming to our event and that they have consistent emotional contact with the brand.” Amorim believes marketing will become extremely individualized. “Search engines and social media aggregators have information on people that will allow [marketers] to customize information. I was in Singapore not long ago, and there were signs [in the mall] to ‘turn on your Bluetooth if you’d like to get a coupon for this.’ I see that continuing.” In the future, personal connections will precede the proffering of services. “I see more mobile videos as a way to get information in front of people,” says Uschan. “People spend a lot of time in front of their mobile devices but no one wants to be sold to anymore. They didn’t want to be sold to years ago. Smart marketers will realize that and connect with their potential attendees on an emotional level.”