It seems everyone is event marketing these days. Barely a day goes by that I don’t receive an invitation to some occasion or another. I could easily spend far too much time at networking events and trade shows that are, frankly, worthless.

There’s no doubt these events can play an important role in growing any business, but you need to be selective. As I write this, the booking platform Eventbrite list almost 5,000 business events in London alone next month, so there’s plenty going on! This means you can be fussy about which you attend, but it also means that organisers have to up their game.

The value of networking

If you are trying to build a business, networking with the right people can be valuable. You can find suppliers who will contribute to your work, swap leads or contacts or even find clients at the event itself. However, before you head off to your next event you should make sure you are not wasting your time. Start by defining who are “the right people” for you and establish if they’ll be there too?

If you are an organiser of networking events the first question for you is “are you organising business events or just staging a coffee morning for a load of people with nothing better to do?”

In my experience far too many events are about the cake and coffee. You need to understand this should be about business and whether you are hiring the NEC to house five hundred exhibitors and stage workshops and talks all day, or gathering a few local business people together to talk business, solve problems and encourage cooperation, there are a few things you need to get right. 

If you are in any other kind of business and considering attending a networking or other kind of event, you need to question whether the event is truly justifiable as a business tool, or if you are just another lonely heart looking for someone to talk to.

Event marketing for organisers

Events are like any other marketing tool, they have to have a clear objective and KPIs, against which you will judge their effectiveness.

Nobody in their right mind would go to the expense and trouble of staging an event unless there was a return. So what’s yours?

Why are you event marketing?

An organiser’s purpose is usually to build a mailing list of prospects for their own business, in which case you should encourage invitees to bring their connections or publicise their attendance on-line. This will serve to expand your mailing list.

Alternatively, or in addition, you may wish to generate revenue from the event through entry or subscription charges or possibly take a commission on the business that is made by visitors to your event – although the latter is a bit tricky to manage.

What’s in it for others?

Whatever, if you want folks to turn up for your event – and especially if you expect attendees to pay for the privilege – you need to ensure there’s something in it for them. If all you are doing is providing refreshments the probability is the only business you’ll have impact on is the local soup kitchen! 

  • You can invite speakers to share their experiences or talk about new innovations.
  • You may even bring along coaches to share insights and know-how. 
  • You might make stands available for local businesses to exhibit their products and services
  • Alternatively you could set the whole thing up as a panel talk with your audience comprising delegates .

Event marketing isn’t just about the event

A mistake many organisers make is to limit their field of vision to the event itself, but like any other marketing tool, there’s a lot more to it than that. 

  • You have to get people to attend
  • Probably find speakers
  • Provide tools to help attendees leverage the opportunity the speakers represent
  • Follow up with dialogue that will turn any prospects that may emerge into customers. 

It all adds up to an integrated marketing programme designed to deliver qualified leads to your in-box.

Automate to reduce the demands on your time

Staging an event requires significant effort, but it doesn’t have to eat too much into your time. These days all you need can be found for free – or at worst at a nominal cost – on-line.

Using automated e-mail campaigns using one of the many e-mail marketing platforms like MailChimp, booking appointments through Eventbrite or Calendly, posting, or better still advertising on LinkedIn are all no-brainers and there’s a lot more tools where these came from.

Maximse your speakers

Much of the value derived from an event, both for organisers and attendees, emerges off-site, pre and post the event. If your content/speakers are any good, it makes sense to video the event, edit and share the video. You can do this using your contact database and/or your event website and, of course, social media like LinkedIn.

In addition, if you bring in a speaker and don’t promote their content, you simply not being thorough enough. Apart from anything else though, not to do so is just bad manners.

Speakers with anything worthwhile to say justify a fee and while some of us will deliver a free presentation every now and then, we can only do so if a) the audience fit’s our prospect profile and b) the organiser promotes our message and makes introductions simple. You need to make every speaker you invite aware of the audience you are aiming for in order both for them to tailor their presentation, but also to enable them to determine what value they will get and therefore the viability of their participation.

Create a simple website

Good events have a website where bookings are made, the principle of the gathering is explained, philosophies are aired and content is shared and discussed. This should be the hub of your activity and the point to which all your attendees, speakers and participants are channelled. Once there you can start to work on developing relationships with them. There are no excuses these days. Anyone can create a website using one of the many available platforms.

Event marketing for participants

You can participate in networking events in a number of ways. There are those where you can be an exhibitor, you can just turn up and be part of the general audience, mingling and networking with other attendees. You may also be a speaker at an event, but, as is the case for organisers, you shouldn’t miss the bigger opportunity these events provide to develop relationships outside the day of the event itself.

Leverage the opportunity

If you are attending an event as an exhibitor you need to look as if you care. I can’t believe how so many small businesses pay to exhibit at some of these events and fail to leverage the opportunity. 

I conducted an informal audit of one local trade show I attended recently and 80% of the “stands” didn’t promote a proposition. Put yourself in the position of a visitor. Firstly they want to know at a glance what you are selling and secondly they are looking to be convinced that you have something new to say about your subject. What is your brand promise or proposition? 

As a speaker you need to do the same checks you would do as an exhibitor or attendee. Will you be talking to people who care? If not the event isn’t going to do you any favours. The audience or subject of the event should also influence your decision on whether to charge a fee. Sometimes, if the audience is big enough and reflects your target market, it might be worth offering a freebie.

If you do so though, be sure the organisers cover your expenses and give you access afterwards to the delegate contact list. Any worthwhile organiser will have invited their attendees to elect for receiving post-event information when they subscribed, so there’s no worry about GDPR and anyway, you don’t have to be given the list as long as the organiser eases on your content. It’s up to you to make sure the content you supply is compelling and has a call to action.

Be true to your brand

Going back to the presentation of your message, of course, you could cause a lot of website of failure on this point. How many of the sites that you visit actually have the organisation’s proposition or brand promise front and centre? Pitifully few I guess. Few businesses have grasped the importance of the brand promise that sits at the heart of every brand model, but this is especially the case with start-ups and small businesses. If you are a speaker you’ll often be able to set up a pull-up poster at the venue and you should be offered free advertising in the event’s collateral. Don’t waste it by making vague announcements. Ensure the most prominent message on material like this is your brand promise or proposition.

If you think this stuff is the preserve of big business, think again. Way back in 2008 Time Magazine published an interview with John Mackey and Kip Tindell, the founders of  Wholefoods Market and Container Store respectively. Today these businesses turnover $16billion and $895million, but their founders emphasised the importance of one of the first things they did when setting off on their respective journeys. In both cases they created what we would today call brand models, and they proved essential to maintaining the integrity of their vision – or brand.

So, don’t waste the money you are putting into your stand. Ensure anyone is clear what your proposition is as they walk toward it. It’s the same message that should appear on your website home page and probably every other page along with every other item of collateral you.

Every encounter is the start of a pipeline

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to collect business cards from anyone you can at any of these events, but do yourself a favour and try to mark each one in some way to denote their point of interest. You can invent your own code for this purpose. When you get back to the office you’ll then be able to add them to the appropriate segment in your sales funnel or pipeline and include them in your account-based marketing campaign. It makes your lead generation programme far more efficient.

Whatever you do, don’t just put them in a drawer and forget them. You’ve invested in these, you need to use them and if you chose the right event in the first place most of them will be valuable.

If you are a speaker leave your audience with a gift. Something they can download later that will enable you to start a one-to-one conversation with them.

I hope I’ve helped  you better understand event marketing  and so gain more from what can be a very useful business tool when tackled correctly. By all means attend events just for the company if that’s what turns you on, but be clear that doing so isn’t really business, but a hobby.

Phil Darby
February 10, 2020

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