Rachel Stephan, founder and snöballer-in-chief at her marketing firm, snöball, focuses on small numbers. Her work and thought leadership are credited for adding up to some very large statistics. This was never truer than Global Meetings Industry Day in mid-April.
GMID could have been one of the darkest hours for an industry desperate for bright spots. Imagine a day dedicated to event planning, adding to the list of events lost from COVID-19. Instead, GMID went on as a virtual event—demonstrating the power and ingenuity of event professionals.
More than 12,500 planners and suppliers from 173 countries connected on April 14, more than doubling attendance at in-person celebrations in 2019 and coming within a whisker of the Guinness Record organizers were hoping for.
If the two-week push to draw thousands to a virtual event sounds like a snowball growing as it rolls done a mountain, it should. Stephan was one of the masterminds of the marketing push. And while GMID took on a new form due to COVID-19, Stephan applied the same beliefs that have made her a household name in event marketing. It starts with the power of one. Full disclosure: Connect has employed snöball for multiple events.
“I don’t care about 2,000 people—I care about the one person who makes a difference for me,” says Stephan, a believer in organic growth over paying influencers to promote content. “Don’t underestimate the regular person attending your event.”
As an example, Stephan says to imagine a 500-person conference. If half of the attendees take part in your marketing campaign and pique one person’s interest, you’ve already doubled your numbers.
As conferences and Congress move forward in a post-coronavirus world, influencers will play a key role in convincing potential attendees when it’s safe to travel and meet. They will also determine which virtual events are deemed worthwhile in a sea of digital offerings.
The Snöball Effect
In the case of GMID, it was not about generating attendance to help one organization’s bottom line. Rather, the effort had arguably more importance: to demonstrate the events industry will rise up when the time comes.
LinkedIn and Facebook messages popped up from planners, speakers and many related, even tangentially to the industry. Snöball’s marketing efforts netted 25,000 page views and 59% of total attendance, according to industry estimates.
“I can’t think of any other platform that could have so perfectly illustrated the unity that the industry needs right now and facilitated the personal connection that we felt was a big part of GMID Goes Virtual,” says Anh Nguyen, principal and founder of Spark Event Management, of snöball.
Stephan demurs to the people she puts her faith in.
“It’s about spreading the word,” says Stephan, who lives in Montreal. “Why does the word spread? Because everyone is talking about it.”
Few would disagree with that notion, nor with the idea that brands need the right people to serve as their surrogates. But what sets Stephan apart is her disinterest in going for the biggest names you can find. It’s rather finding the trusted sources your audience knows and can rely on rather than pitching your event through traditional marketing and self-promoting.
Stephan likens it to raising her two children. “I can tell them to eat their vegetables but they won’t do it, but if someone else says to they do it,” she laughs.
With marketing budgets likely to take a hit as the economy recovers from lockdowns and quarantines, reaching out to attendees and gaining trust will make Stephan’s and snöball’s efforts even more valuable.
“They’re a true innovator in the events industry and their product will be more important than ever for marketing events in the new landscape,” says Nguyen.