What other marketing activities do you know of that gives you an opportunity to bring prospects into your world for an hour or two (or longer) and be completely engaged with you at the exclusion of all else?
They do sound more compelling when you say it like that, and of course many companies do try to run events as part of their marketing program, but often with mixed results.
Hopefully this post will help you think a little differently about using events in your marketing strategy.
First up, does event-based marketing work for every one? The short answer is absolutely not.
For starters consumer-based companies really don’t need their mass audiences to be attending events prior to a sales engagement. Their products and brands speak directly to the buyer. The purchase process is simple and the decision making is low-involvement/low risk.
At the other end of the spectrum, business-to-business sellers have a much more complex challenge. They have to build awareness, create interest, demonstrate competency and develop trust in the minds of potential buyers. And that’s why events, done properly, can work so well. They achieve all of those things in one go.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to making events a success and some of the things I find attractive about having them in the marketing mix.
- There are many kinds of events so let me be a bit more specific. For the sake of this discussion lets remove user group and major expos or exhibitions. I’m really talking about small seminars or boardroom briefings aimed at no more than thirty people in a room. Any more than that and you really can’t be flexible with your presentation and stimulate discussion. It’s also hard to meet and speak to everyone in the room – and you don’t want a one-for-one ratio of sales people to delegates. It can intimidate the audience and work against you.
- Marketing an event is often as good as running the event itself. Your event invitation can do a lot to position your company in the correct category, raise awareness about an issue or approach to solving a problem and because it’s an invitation, is not so quickly sent to the email recycling bin. In addition, if your invitation (online or offline) is well designed, looks professional and looks like it comes from a good-sized, confident organisation then you’re helping to build your brand. So, make sure your invitations look as good as the companies you sell to and what you aspire your business to be.
- Create once, run many times. Offer a continuous event series not just a one-off. You’ve done all the hard work in deciding on your content. In many cases the venue will be your own boardroom and catering is pretty simple too. So offer a number of dates for that event topic when you market it. Offering one date means you miss a whole bunch of people who can’t make it purely because of a date clash. You also restrict the opportunity for no-shows to simply re-register a new date which many will. Our own experience is that it’s not uncommon for some people to cancel and re-register up to three or more times. They’re still a good prospect and it would be a shame to end the dialogue just because your event was a one-chance-only. You’ve done all the work – leverage it and get some scale with your marketing.
- Re-invite attendees. This sounds counter-intuitive but it works. People who have attended good events will pass on the invitation when they get it again (make sure a refer a friend link is included in your invitation) and now your event is actually being sold by word of mouth converts. We have had entire teams of companies add themselves to our database and work through our event series over time as a result of this simple strategy. Very rarely do people who really enjoyed your event and got value from it unsubscribe because you’ve invited them again. One of our event series runs every fortnight and has done for more than 18 months.
- Make your event a ‘must attend’. I could write a few essays on how to create compelling events but the rules, based on our experience anyway, are these.
Don’t offer prospects the opportunity to learn about a new product or service unless the only people you are inviting are people who you know are explicitly interested in this. Who in their right mind would put themselves in an enclosed space with a sales team unless they asked for it? (Answer – those who are much further down the sales process and actually want a sales presentation).
If your event sounds like it’s going to be a sales presentation then registrations from prospects who are new to your organisation are likely to be low. Instead, provide agnostic insight and quality ‘must-have’ information that achieves the following: a) positions you as experts with experience because you are explaining best practice and sharing your knowledge in a way that would be hard to find elsewhere and b) shows you are confident about your ability to add value to a client.
- In your event give your prospects a preview of what it might be like to work with you if they were to become a client. Are you demonstrating thought leadership, presenting truly new ideas, being altruistic in what you share, being consultative as you present, being friendly and engaging? Is your boardroom clean and tidy, was the welcome at reception organised and pleasant, are your back office staff wandering around in jeans or in suits? (Whichever is appropriate depending on what you sell and who you sell to) it’s the whole package.
- Invite people who are interacting with your other marketing channels and telling you their interest areas. Email marketing which involves downloading content can provide some good insights into what your target audience finds interesting. Build events that map to the sort of feedback you’re getting from the market. Often people who are engaged in some of your other marketing programs are more likely to come to an event.
- Use personal, emotive language in your event invitation subject line. You’re asking an individual to give up their time so make your topic appeal at an individual level.
For example, ‘Everything IT managers need to know about planning their career in the era of cloud computing’ will probably do better than ‘Introducing our company’s new career advisory service for IT managers’
One topic is offering to deliver a personal benefit, the other is talking about the company putting on the event.
- Use good integrated event marketing tools to give you control and scale over your marketing. Ideally one software application should be responsible for email invitation distribution (and analytics), pre-registration survey tracking, event registration, confirmation email distribution, telemarketing management, post-event surveys, lead status scoring and opportunity identification. We use StrategyMix for ourselves and many of our clients but there are other platforms out there in the lead automation software sector which are also worth considering. Having the right tools will link your event marketing together intelligently rather than forcing you to create activities from scratch each time – which can be a lot of heavy lifting.
- get your database right. It’s unreasonable to think that 20 people out of 100 are going to come to your event. The statistics just don’t support that sort of response rate unless it’s an amazing event that is very well targeted. Check that your data is up to date, add to it by using defined commercial lists so you have a good prospecting base, opt them in to receive your content and market to them regularly. The number one issue with poorly performing events (aside from poor topic choice) is the database it is being marketed to. Time spent on cleaning or validating data will be time well spent (and it will improve the response rates from your other marketing channels as well).
In all, there’s plenty of evidence that a good event series can attract prospects to your firm and help position you in the market. They don’t need to be top-of-the-line productions to be well received, just make sure the content truly delivers value and is delivered thoughtfully.