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How to Win (and Lose) at Event Marketing

Your event is scheduled, and it’s time to start thinking about marketing. Any event in today’s digital world has a lot of possible touch-points, so where do you start? What should you skip? Below are some Dos and Don’ts from some of the people who wrote the book — literally, in one case — on event marketing. We’ve parsed out their knowledge into three sections:

  • Pre-Event Marketing: Planning and Posting
  • During Your Event: Your Marketing is Your Message
  • Post-Event Marketing: Remember and Recycle

Breaking down your campaign into these three basic categories will help you capitalize on your marketing efforts, and avoid some huge and potentially costly mistakes.

Pre-Event Marketing: Planning and Posting

In an online, networked, socially-driven world, your event begins long before the doors open and the lights dim, or long before the webinar panelists log on and the screenshare starts. Your medium is your message, and your marketing is part of your event. Effective pre-event marketing requires a proper planning strategy that includes a maximized social media campaign.

Plan Your Campaign the Right Way

Beginning a pre-event marketing campaign can be a big project. There are lots of tips and tricks to keep in mind along the way, but two major themes will help you create a big-picture plan:

  • Do: Define specific goals and objectives
  • Don’t: Plan in a vacuum

Asking the right questions will help you define your goals and objectives, and bringing as many people as possible to the table — from across your organization — will help you avoid the planning vacuum that can create narrow marketing campaigns.

Do: Define Goals and Objectives

Plan your campaign collaboratively, and give your entire team visibility into the process. This way, everyone will know the event’s specific goals and objectives.

“The event objectives and messaging should inspire and influence all of the specifics: location, venue, set design, décor, etc. Ask yourself, ‘What actions do I want the attendees to take?’ Do you want them to sell more? Learn? Network? The answer should drive purposeful design and execution of the event.” - Paula Balzer (@TBAGlobal), CEO, TBA Global

The event includes your pre-event marketing, so this big-picture planning will define your campaign before kick-off as well. Decide how you want attendees to engage with the event, and design your marketing to encourage these interactions.

Don’t: Plan in a Vacuum

Sharing goals and objectives across the entire marketing team, and defining success together, will also ensure that you are not planning your pre-event marketing in a vacuum. The "right people" to have at the table are pretty much all of the people.

“Align all the internal stakeholders and agency resources at the onset of concept development. Involving these teams from the start will help generate fresh ideas from a multi-channel perspective, and help to integrate all event promotional efforts into the rest of the brand’s channels.” - Steve McCall (@AMP_Agency), SVP of Integrated Marketing, AMP Agency 

Plan the pre-event marketing with every part of your marketing team — from consumer insights to branding — to make sure that you’re getting the best ideas and telling one big story on every possible channel.

Don’t be afraid to reach out beyond your organization, either.

“Getting speakers and/or performers involved in creating content that will attract your potential audiences will push out quality, relevant content to the right audiences.” - Julius Solaris (@ToJulius), Founder and Editor, Event Manager Blog

Developing and sharing these strategies with your entire marketing team will create a branded, unified pre-event experience for attendees, and it will also help you define and highlight successful pre-event marketing efforts.

Social Is Trending

Social media has become an essential part of events and event marketing.

“Optimizing an event using social media is important for keeping the event content alive online beyond the actual event. Use social media as a means to create social stories that will promote future events — and increase search and social visibility — ultimately attracting media attention and allure for future events.” - Lisa Buyer (@LisaBuyer), Author, Social PR Secrets

Social’s popularity doesn’t necessarily dilute its effectiveness, but to stand out on social, you can’t use it at random  you need a strategy. These four sub-strategies will help you succeed in social promotions for your event, even on saturated networks:

  • Do: Create high-quality content
  • Do: Create shareable content
  • Don’t: Use the wrong channels
  • Don’t: Forget the non-attenders

Do: Create High-Quality Content

Social media is fast-paced, and content posted on social often has a short shelf-life, but that’s no excuse to produce sloppy pre-event advertising.

Putting out year-long hashtags that continuously draw attention to the content of the event is the best tactic for Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn offers a great deal of opportunities with professional audiences, thanks to groups and discussions. A strong marketing and sales driven campaign usually results in poor outcomes. Content is what matters, and updates should reflect that.” - Julius Solaris (@ToJulius)

Social media is still media, and the key to winning at media marketing has always been to create good content. What that looks like will vary slightly from one network to the next, but content has a short shelf life on every social channel. That means that good social media content is direct, memorable, entertaining, and valuable.

Do: Create Shareable Content

Once you’ve created valuable social content, take it to the next level and make sure it is shareable.

Create excitement by posting sharable, likeable and pinnable content before the event even starts. Connect to your audience with lots of blogs, tweets, and strong visuals.” - Lisa Buyer (@LisaBuyer)

But not all good content is necessarily shareable. Make sure your team knows the fundamental differences between each social network, and understands what works on each. Sometimes, making a piece shareable has less to do with the piece itself, and more to do with the tools you use to promote it.

“Encourage user-generated content with strategies such as a photo contest using Instagram and the event’s hashtag, and then feature a page on your website or blog to help the storytelling aspect of the event. Then, cross-promote user-generated content across all social channels.” - Lisa Buyer (@LisaBuyer)

Remove the barriers to sharing and give users incentive to get involved. That incentive can range from a chance to win prizes in exchange for re-posting your content, or simply the opportunity for users to improve their own clout by sharing your valuable content with their own followers and networks.

Don’t: Use the Wrong Channels

Don’t use social networks just for the sake of going social. As important as it is to know how to use each social network, it’s just as important to know when to abandon ship.

“If you do not add value in different communication channels, stay away from them. Internet users are becoming increasingly sensitive to being spammed and sold at. I like the comparison with a first date: You don't want to be pushy, otherwise you'll just get a slap in the face. Keeping a relationship going means investing time in providing value while selling tickets.” - Julius Solaris (@ToJulius)

If you’re not sure which networks to use, or how to best use them, it’s time to figure it out. You might try surveying your existing clients to learn which networks they are involved with, and how they use each one. Demographic information for the major social networks is readily available, so you can find your target audience on their favorite channels. Once you find out where your prospects are, set up an account yourself and jump in so you can learn what kind of content — text, pictures, video, etc. — works best on each one.

Eventually, it will come down to at least a little trial and error.

“An event marketing person should be aware of the weight of each channel in drawing attendees or generating awareness. If you don't have a clue what your best channel is, there is no workaround; you need to experiment. Try to invest a little bit in a few selected channels, and at the first positive sign, invest a bit more.” - Julius Solaris (@ToJulius)

Some networks are not reaching your audience, or just won’t work with your event. That’s okay. If your prospects aren’t on Twitter, don’t waste your time there. If your event doesn’t lend itself to excellent photos, stay away from Instagram. Social is essential, but you don’t have to use every network. Use what works for you.

Don’t: Forget the Non-Attenders

Finally, when creating valuable, shareable pre-event marketing pieces for social networks, don’t forget the non-attenders.

“Whether planning events big or small, it’s important for a brand to think beyond the immediate audience. Every piece of social content — whether it is a tweet, Facebook update, Instagram post, Pinterest board, blog, Vine, press release, or YouTube video — should be planned for the ones who could not attend the event.” - Lisa Buyer (@LisaBuyer)

Social media content that adds value to anyone who sees it, whether or not they’re attending your event, is good content that is shareable and has the potential to go viral.

During Your Event: Your Marketing Is Your Message

Event marketing isn’t over once the doors open. In many ways, it only becomes more immediate. You're now marketing an event that's happening now, instead of describing an event in the future. Your event itself actually becomes your marketing, playing out in real time.

Events are about drawing people together. If you feel lost at an event it usually means someone did a poor job planning the concept. Before engaging in any trick or tactic, I believe the event concept should be thoroughly researched. Traditional formats bore attendees no matter how skilled speakers, performers or staff are. Innovating the format of our events (and involving attendees in making decisions for the event) leads to happy faces.” - Julius Solaris (@ToJulius)

Focus on the purpose, and develop a plan to engage and communicate with your audience throughout the event.

  • Do: Use a variety of communication channels
  • Do: Create immersive experiences
  • Don’t: Ignore the online audience (of physical events)
  • Don’t: Use tech for tech’s sake

Your marketing during the event will determine your audience's experience. It will also influence how they feel about, and relate to, your brand.

Do: Use a Variety of Communication Channels

Leading up to the event, you used multiple communication outlets and styles. You stretched your story from one channel to another to engage users in a variety of ways. Keep doing that.

“Using several different levels of communication during the event is a must: presenters, entertainment, videos, multiple screens, social media activity, etc. PowerPoint presentations don’t cut it. Identify your audience, and the actions you want them to take during and after the event, and choose the right communication methods accordingly.” - Paula Balzer (@TBAGlobal)

All of your effort to create a buzz about your event will be lost if the event itself gets static.

Do: Create Immersive Experiences

In a hands-on, digital world, your event will need to do more than entertain. Create an environment and an experience that engages your audience completely.

"The key to creating an immersive and ownable brand experience is to integrate the following core elements into your event:

  • Interactions — Look for ways to create on-site activities that make sure your brand or product is the hero.
  • Visualizations — Use video displays/projections, photos, and product demonstrations to offer interactive opportunities for consumers to really understand your product and its benefits.
  • Connections — When brands encourage attendees to use their devices on-site, they are one step closer to creating connections that last beyond the event footprint.
  • Branding — Just like your website, an event footprint provides a unique layout that must have consistent branding across all touch points." - Steve McCall (@AMP_Agency)

People like to participate. Get your audience involved in your event, and let them be involved in meaningful ways. People want to participate.

“It’s crucial to involve your audience. Ask them questions, give them tools to easily provide real-time feedback, and encourage them to share about the event on social media. Making them part of the event will make their memories, learning, enjoyment, and brand support stronger. Added bonus: Their social media activity will help extend your event (and marketing) beyond the event’s live attendees.” - Paula Balzer (@TBAGlobal)

The technology and marketing that you use during your event should create a unique environment for your consumers — one where they never get bored with the information you’re sharing and the relationship they’re developing with your brand through the experience. Whether they’re physically present at your event, or participating online, your audience should have a chance to interact with you, your brand, and your team members.

Don’t: Ignore the Online Audience (of Physical Events)

As you are creating a physical event experience, don’t forget your online audience.

“Your goal should be to bring the event alive for your online audience.” - Lisa Buyer (@LisaBuyer)

Just because your online audience couldn’t travel to your event site doesn’t mean they’re not attending. In fact, if your pre-event marketing has engaged them, and you’ve created a branded environment for your event online, there are probably more people tuned in digitally than there are in your building. Keep your communication to them coming through a variety of channels, and create an immersive, online experience in which they can also participate.

Don’t: Use Tech for Tech’s Sake

Be sure you’re not getting in over your head, either. Just like you don’t want to use social media networks that don’t work for your brand or your event, don’t use technology that doesn’t add value.

“Don’t use technology for technology’s sake. Make sure it is appropriate for your target consumer, brand and objectives.” - Steve McCall (@AMP_Agency)

The goal of your on-site marketing should be to create an experience that is unique but also relevant for your audience and the goals you set for your event. If your venue isn’t visually outstanding, don’t promote an Instagram hashtag. If your presenters aren’t quotable or your attendees don’t tweet, don’t display a live Twitter feed.

Post-Event Marketing: Remember and Recycle

When your event is over, it’s time to put one more spin on your marketing campaign.

  • Do: Document your content
  • Do: Collect feedback
  • Don’t: Isolate the event from your brand

Do: Document Your Content

All of the content from your event can be repackaged and recycled. Think about how you can turn your experience and your sessions into additional materials. For example, you might repurpose your event content into the following assets:

  • Videos - Content for your YouTube or Vimeo channels, or DVD sets
  • Downloadable audio files, podcasts, or CD sets
  • Blog posts
  • Workbooks or ebooks
  • Infographics or images that will circulate on social networks

Repackaging and recycling your event content keeps your brand in front of people, and continues to add value long after your event is over.

Do: Collect Feedback

Never assume that your event was a success or failure based on your own perception. Collecting feedback from attendees is crucial.

“It’s vital to start communication with your audience before the event to entice them to attend, and even more vital to continue that communication with them after the event. Collect feedback from your audience. What interested them most? Which members were most positively vocal on social media? You can use this information to improve future events, and also to develop deeper relationships with your most active fans to encourage their continued brand support.” - Paula Balzer (@TBAGlobal)

Collecting feedback after an event isn’t just about gleaning insights and data. The survey process itself communicates trust to your attendees, and helps to develop the relationship they have with your brand.

Don’t: Isolate the Event from Your Brand

At the beginning of your event marketing, you defined goals and structured your campaign around them. Now, it’s time to revisit those objectives and weigh your success in achieving them.

“Define objectives and implement tactics to measure each objective, but don’t treat those measurements as moments in time. Make sure that they tie into long term business goals.” - Steve McCall (@AMP_Agency)

The big picture behind each event is building your brand. Measuring successes from one event or one marketing campaign to the next will help you build a strong brand over time.

Winning Event Marketing

When in doubt, you can always go back to the basics. What is your brand about? What is your story, and how does this event fit into the timeline of that story? Digital or analog, social or unplugged, we live and breathe stories. Tell your story — in as many ways, with as many good pictures as you can — before, during, and after your event. Invite people to intertwine the narrative of their stories with yours, and you will create something uniquely irresistible.