By Brent Taylor
Let’s talk marketing. It seems today that there is a plethora of marketing materials, opinions and experts advising us on how to best market any product or service we have to offer. Why is that? Why is there so much attention being given to marketing?
I recently read Seth Godin’s books, All Marketers are Liars and Purple Cow. I recommend both these books along with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I was intrigued by what Godin identifies as a “post-consumer society.” This is the nature of the society we live in now where consumers no longer make purchasing decisions based upon what they want or need. They buy because of how the purchasing process makes them feel. This, coupled with the unlimited options and noise generated by competitors makes it incredibly difficult to draw attention to our own product or service.
This new era has rendered traditional advertising and marketing techniques no longer effective. Buyers have been placed in the driver’s seat. The consumer decides who they are going to allow to market to them and how they are going to be marketed to. We have progressed beyond mass advertising campaigns.
Marketers are using all sorts of methods to reach today’s consumer. They tell stories; the story of their organization, of the product and/or the people their product helps. They are engaging in gamification and creating experiential activities for their customers. They may also focus on social or environmental causes and the benefits of buying or using their product or service.
What does this mean for us as event professionals and for our events?
Events require marketing, and because they require marketing we need to adapt to ensure we can continue to fill seats. Budgets don’t always allow us to engage marketing firms thus we need to take the time to learn everything we can about marketing. We need to learn how to make our events more experiential. How to incorporate social and environmental aspects. How to emotionally connect to tell the story of our event and the difference it will make in the lives of our attendees.
Over our years in event management, my team and I have identified several principles and best practices that help us move events forward. I would like to share some of these with you.
Develop your database
Invest a lot of effort in building your database of prospects, past attendees and other stakeholders. Your database provides you with the ability to market directly to these individuals by email or phone. Direct marketing to this highly targeted database will be your greatest resource in driving attendance for your event.
With anti-spam legislation now in place, building a database takes time as individuals must grant you permission to use their email for marketing purposes. An effective way to obtain this permission is to have a field on your website where visitors can sign up with their email to receive ongoing updates and other event information. Maintain this even after registration opens as there will be those who do not plan to attend but still want to be kept current.
Target specific niches
One marketing message no longer speaks to all. Segment your target audience and determine which messaging will speak to each demographic. This will require multiple email marketing campaigns being run simultaneously, but allows you to deliver the messaging with the strongest call to action.
We manage an annual sponsorship conference with attendees representing many different sectors. Our marketing communications to our potential municipality attendees needs to be quite different than our message to potential association attendees. By running separate campaigns we can better paint a picture on how our conference will impact them and their organization.
Enough cannot be said about collaboration. We are in the age of collaboration and cross-promotion. This is evident all around us. We see Tim Horton’s selling Upper Deck hockey cards, Wal-Mart partnering with Mr. Lube and Star Wars with Lego.
What organizations may have a stake in the success of your event? Can they be more than a sponsor? Do they have a database that can be reached to help drive your attendance? Are you able to drive their membership up if they help drive your attendance?
Are there any stakeholders that can benefit in co-hosting meetings or events in conjunction with yours? An example of this is Meeting Professionals International recently collaborating with the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence to launch the SITE + MPI Global Forum which was held in early 2018. Not only does this promote attendance, it saves on the cost of producing separate events.
Make it experiential
Create an engaging experience for your attendees. The sky is the limit as there are unlimited ideas and resources to enhance your event. Prior to your event, consider posting videos of your speakers and staff talking about the benefits of your event. Use scratch-and-win or other contests to deliver registration discounts.
Interact with your attendees using gamification and audience participation tools. Popular right now are wireless Q&A microphones in a ball that can be tossed between attendees to ask their questions. If your budget allows there a many apps to deliver event content and contests where your attendees can earn points for engaging in activities.
Exhibitors are no longer just handing out business cards and promotional products. They are creating experiences in their booths to draw your attendees in. Help your exhibitors find ways to create engaging experiences that are fun, entertaining and memorable.
Feed the FOMO
You are likely familiar with the term FOMO (fear of missing out). This can be very effective in driving attendance for your event. As individuals, we inherently don’t want others to have the upper hand on us; to have a coveted experience that we miss out on.
FOMO finds its roots in social proof. This is where we assume those around us collectively possess more knowledge than us about an opportunity and that we could be incorrect in our assessment. In other words, we look to others in making our own decision to attend an event.
It is important to facilitate discussion on social media prior to the event. The use of videos by your speakers, past attendees and your staff will help to shape your potential attendees’ perception and will feed the FOMO. Another option is to post feedback and social media posts on your event website.
Get creative with incentives
When it comes to incentives event professionals are very quick to consider utilizing discounts. These can be effective but makes it more difficult to meet our event budgets. Consider focusing more on value. As individuals, we make priority for and invest in what we value. When you effectively communicate the value in attending your event, the potential attendee will work hard to find the resources to attend.
When you use discounts (such as an early bird registration) keep in mind that not every discount will speak to everyone. Again, this is why it is important to segment your marketing database. Offer customized discounts to each demographic of your target audience.
These are just a few thoughts and ideas to help you market your next event. We are in an industry with so many resources for best practices and nothing surpasses the value in getting connected with other event professionals. Get involved with industry organizations like Meeting Professionals International (MPI), International Live Events Association (ILEA), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) or the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP).
About the author
Brent Taylor is a partner with Timewise Event Management and Event Technology Solutions based in Edmonton, Alberta. He has 24 years of experience as an event professional and is very active in helping advance the industry. He was recently appointed to the International Board of Directors for Meeting Professionals international (MPI). For more information visit www.timewise.biz.